Genre(s): Action, Fantasy, Horror
Aired: Oct 2017 – Dec 2017
Also known as: Land of the Lustrous, Country of Jewels, 宝石の国
Summary: In the distant future, a new immortal (and genderless) life form called Gems roam the planet. These 28 Gems must fight against the Lunarians, who regularly attack to abduct them.
300 years old Phosphophyllite is the youngest Gem and is currently not assigned any particular role. Phos wants to join the battle against the Lunarians, but they are simply too fragile for battle. However, Kongou-Sensei decides to make them in charge of compiling an encyclopedia, which leads to a sequence of events that will end up permanently altering Phos’ life.
Review: The term, anime of the season, or AotS, is of course very subjective. But I would fervently argue with those who don’t believe Houseki no Kuni is deserving of at least a shot at the elusive, renowned title of being AotS (for the Fall 2017 anime lineup).
I consider Houseki no Kuni to be a bit of a deconstruction. At the very least, my expectations kept being subverted and I kept being surprised. For instance, the fact that the premises involves gems led me to believe that the series would be just fluff and sunshine, but it was actually closer to NieR:Automata in terms of its ambivalent melancholy and somber tone. And this is all due to how well the series balanced and managed the mood. At times the series became a drama, then a mystery, then an action flick, and then a comedy. Wow, Houseki no Kuni was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. Even the action scenes don’t blindly follow the tried and tired conventions, which is refreshing. Sometimes strength of will and of body isn’t enough to save someone.
The characterization exceeded my expectations, too. Initially presented as weak and irresponsible, Phos is a rascal who is unpopular among their peers. As the series progresses, however, Phos grows in capability and as a person for better and for worse. This isn’t a series where the main character gets free boosts at no cost. Phos changes and these developments come at a price. There’s even symbolic meaning behind her development, believe it or not. The result is a personal journey that comes full circle with parallels, callbacks, and wistful, bittersweet visualization. I wouldn’t blame you if you felt sad as you watched Pho grow up.
As for the side characters, I would say that Houseki no Kuni manages to keep them memorable without turning them to walking embodiments of quirks. Despite the fact that they have limited screentime (the premises mentions 28 different Gems, after all, even though I’m not quite sure if the viewers have the opportunity to become acquainted with two dozen Gems), each Gem remains distinct and they feel real with their own motivations that do not necessarily revolve around the main character (besides Cinnabar, of course). Phos is a lovable and endearing protagonist in my opinion, but the others are just as charming.
The CGI element in Houseki no Kuni also surprised me. The Western audience is quick to dismiss CGI in anime for being “weird,” for being out-of-place, and for looking cheap. However, Houseki no Kuni has more or less made such complaints to be invalid. Sure, some CGI shows or shows with CGI can look tacky or clunky, but this series is basically rendered completely in CGI yet it looks beautiful and and fluid. I ain’t no sakuga expert, but doesn’t this look amazing to you? There are spoilers in these clips, sorry.
I’ve only praise for the music and OST. The OP is particularly pretty and a joy to listen to and the original instrumental tracks are stellar. The songs that play whenever the Gems fight against the Lunarians are excellent at conveying how alien and mystical these aggressive invaders are and how dire each of these battles truly are. There are even different arrangements of the same themes, which, admittedly, is standard for most shows. However, this differentiation really stood out in episode 10 during a scene that serves the climax for the series as a whole. Said scene also features excellent cinematography that takes full advantage of CGI’s strengths (admittedly, said episode was also directed by a 2-D expert so the episode benefited from this marriage between 2-D and 3-D) in order to include an extra long pan that keeps the viewer engaged and tension high. The scene is something you’d expect from theaters, essentially, which is simply amazing.
The fact that the gems are supposed to be genderless makes discussion regarding this series interesting. It certainly adds another layer to the relationship between Phos and Cinnabar, which is jammed packed with tension and longing. There’s other ships, of course (Diamond and Bort, hello), but it’s probably the most obvious with Cinnabar and Phos.
I do believe that Houseki no Kuni is a strong contender for AotS or even AotY. Even though I dislike the terms in general, I’ll stand by this statement.
Some people may still find the visuals in the series to be jarring (CGI is undoubtedly CGI, but studio Orange has now set a very high bar) and the fact that a second season may take a while to arrive to be off-putting since the ending isn’t exactly conclusive (although it still remains satisfying). Nevertheless, I still can’t recommend this series enough. What a way to end 2017.