Houseki no Kuni – 12 (Fin)

Padparadscha isn’t around long (she falls asleep mere hours after waking up for the first time in over two centuries), but makes the most of their time, and thanks in no small part to androgynous voice expert Romi Park, “Paddy” (my nickname, not the show’s) makes an impact both on me and Phos.

The last time Paddy was awake, Phos was just a cute “little pebble” hiding behind Master’s robes. Now Paddy seems impressed with the person Phos has become. While walking and talking—Paddy’s open shirt, tattoo-like chest spots, uneven socks and method of sword-holding all call to mind a wise old samurai—Phos trusts Paddy enough to mention wanting to talk with the Lunarians.

Paddy gives Phos some sage advice: pure truth can leave wounds as bad as lies; Phos must keep her composure and be mindful of her actions. Later, Phos—motionless and covered in butterflies—ponders the next move.

Like Paddy, Zircon showed up late in the story, but as a foreground character, Z’S little self-contained story works well enough. Around the same age as Phos, Z has a crisis of confidence when partnering with Bort, who doesn’t say a word the whole time. Z doesn’t think she can compete with Phos after being “surpassed”, but Phos, not only more capable but also more confident than Zircon, assures Z Bort’s silence is a good thing.

Meanwhile, Yellow Diamond, having lost Z as a partner, seeks Paddy’s company as fellow old farts, only to find Paddy is asleep again. While these little stories of Paddy, Rutile, Zircon and Yellow are interesting, they also come in very quick succession, suggesting the kind of grab-bag final episode trying to offer as many different tastes as it can in the event a second season never comes…which would be a huge shame, IMO.

Back to Phos, who is trying to remember Kongou’s training, but considering how much of Phos body has been lost, memory gaps hardly come as a surprise. Phos does remember a nice little memory of being taught by Kongou as the older Gems watched, in awe of lil’ Phos’ cuteness. Like Sengaku Nadeko, Phos was once quite spoiled, indolent, and reliant on cuteness. Now, where the memory can’t serve Phos, Phos goes to those who can, like Alex and the large archive of Lunarian lore.

Alex also clears up a misunderstanding Phos and others may have cultivated: it isn’t love or admiration that drives Alex to study and pore over the details of Lunarians; rather, it’s Alex’s enduring hatred of them, especially after they stole Chrysoberyl away.

Adequately brought up to speed on Lunarians, the next time Phos encounters them, Phos immediately makes an attempt to isolate one of them within the alloy membrane in order to attempt communication.

All Phos gets out of the Lunarian is the appearance of eyeballs in its eyes, and “F–” which could’ve been a gasp, or the beginning of a word. It is interrupted when Cinnabar swoops in to destroy the Lunarians, obviously unaware of Phos’ intentions and simply assuming Phos was in danger. However, just watching Cinnabar work gets Phos thinking about the promise to find “new work.”

That line of thinking leads Phos back to Cinnabar (much to Cinnabar’s shock) where Phos finally announces she’s found something other than night watch for Cinnabar. A blushing Cinnabar, ever vigilant about the details of such an important promise, reminds Phos that the promise was for a “better” job, not just a different one.

Phos can’t promise the job being offered will be better, and even predicts it could be much, much worse (truths opening new wounds an all that). In a powerfully-acted dramatic, even romantic scene I would have never have expected of early Phos (except in jest of course), Phos explains the need to have someone by Pho’s side to offer an opinion, even and especially if it differs from what Phos sees.

Cinnabar counters that no partnership can be accepted unless Phos has a plan for the hard part, after their investigations, if Master Kongou turns out to be the bad guy. Phos accepts this, then departs after deeming Cinnabar “extraordinarily prudent and clever.” But Cinnabar, trying to fight back the seething distrust of all others, catches up to Phos, and could be open to simply teaming up after all.

After that, another day in the life in the Land of the Lustrous starts, and Phos is suddenly summoned by Kongou. The little pebble who hid behind him is no more; Phos is on a mission to find the truth, but doesn’t necessarily want to destroy the harmony of the land because of that truth. All Phos can do is report to Kongou, maintain her composure, and be mindful of her actions.

Does Kongou know of Phos’ plans and suspicions? In that case, would he be open to hearing Phos out, as Phos is eager to hear him out? Or would he be eager to silence or neutralize her as an imminent threat to the harmony? There are so many possibilities: Gems taking sides for and against Kongou if the truth spread; an en masse loss of innocence to match those of Phos and Cinnabar.

Unfortunately, I have no idea when or even if we’ll be able to witness Land of the Lustrous explore these possibilities further in anime form. A overlooked Fall underdog that surged from under 7 to over 8 over its 12-episode run, Hoseki no Kuni turned out to be a revelation, and Phos’ transformation from clumsy layabout to possible hero to all gem-kind is one of the season’s best arcs.

I’ll miss Phos, the rest of the Gems, their gorgeous world, ethereal foes, and elegant combat, and sincerely hope there’ll be more to watch down the road.

Advertisements

Houseki no Kuni – 11

One of the many enduring charms of HnK is how every character’s traits are derived from their namesake gem in creative ways. Take Alexandrite, AKA Alex, AKA Lexi. The two nicknames are apropos, as Alex/Lexi has a split personality; extremely timid when green-haired; but going berserk when looking upon a Lunarian.

Real-life alexandrite changes color depending on the light; green in daylight, red in artificial light. While moonlight is reflected sunlight, there’s no doubt that the moon’s reflection adds another dimension to it; if we consider the Lunarian to represent moonlight as opposed to daylight, Alex/Lexi’s color change (and personality change to boot) makes sense.

Lexi proves handy with a sword, but only manages what Dia and Bort managed: to cleave the Lunarian into smaller and smaller clones of itself, albeit less and less threatening ones, kind of like a Matryoshka doll with its nested duplicates of reducing scale.

Before long the hulking beast is reduced to dozens of fluffy half-sheep, half-puppies, but when the gems round them all up, they merge back into that single hulking beast. Phos is ready to lure it away with another new alloy membrane trick: making an all-alloy decoy of a gem.

Phos’ vigilance proves unnecessary once Master Kongou appears. Despite its size the Lunarian is as docile as its one hundred-plus mini-clones; and even does a series of tricks at Kongou’s command. Phos finds it odd that Kongou calls the beast “Shiro” and acts very familiar towards it. It leads Phos to suspect there may be some kind of connection between the master and the enemy that he hasn’t revealed.

Phos goes out to ponder this and comes afoul of Cinnabar once more. Cinnabar bears two “gifts”: Bort’s loafers, and the last piece of the fluffy Lunarian. Cinna also has news for Phos: most of the Gems already knew about Kongou in relation to the Lunarians, but as he seems so committed to their care and safety, they’ve decided to trust him. Cinna is on the fence, and actually seems to take interest in what Pho plans to do…only to turn around before Phos can answer.

Phos has a little alloy malfunction while calculating the amount of courage needed to confront the master…but Phos wants to know the truth. When Phos returns to HQ, Kongou is asleep beside the beast (with many gems curled up asleep in its fluffy tail).

Before Phos can open her mouth, she has a vision of Antarc, who shushes Phos. The last “puppy” merges with the larger beast, which disperses in a cloud of light, having become whole and, in Kongou’s words, “found peace.”

After that, Phos gives her report on her partnering with Bort, stating that all Gems should have the opportunity to work with Bort. Phos, however, wishes to pursue another matter on their own: regarding Lunarians. Believing the only way to get answers is to ask them directly, Phos stands on guard awaiting their return.

From there, the episode shifts to something completely different, hastily introducing the new character of Padparadscha, an incomplete gem Rutile has been painstakingly reconstructing in the lab. While the prospects for this character are intriguing, especially when they open their eyes to end the episode, it feels like another episode altogether.

The awkward, arbitrary nature of the transition was almost enough for me to bump this down to a 7. However, this episode managed to earn my recommendation anyway, thanks to the interesting development of the “Shiro” incident, both with its ingrained comedy and its role in giving Phos a new goal to pursue.

Houseki no Kuni – 10

Old Phos used to cause trouble and get in the way. New Phos holds court—with Alex (AKA Lexi) over detailed descriptions of Lunarians; agreeing to take on Jade’s patrols while Kongou sleeps; and even with Bort, who wants to team up with Phos.

But always not far from Phos’ thoughts is the ghost of Antarc. While Phos might initially hesitate over teaming up with Bort (a little of the Old “what a pain” Phos seeping out), it’s a step Phos has to take in order to get stronger and learn more about how to fight properly.

Phos’ only concern is how Diamond will feel; Bort is basically dumping Dia sight unseen; Dia hears it from Phos first. But Phos has Dia’s blessing; after all, it was Dia who told Pho she needed to change back when Dia was Phos’ only advocate.

That being said, Dia still seems awfully dejected, quietly picking flowers for a lonely-looking bouquet as Bort departs with Phos. Unfortunately for the pair, their first mission as partners is not an easy one, as an entirely new and powerful Lunarian emerges from a “double sunspot.”

Bort plays right into the Lunarian’s trap. Bort’s first strike only multiplies the apertures, through which more than four limbs emerge and grab Bort. Phos delivers a gold-plated assist, but the fuzzy white many-armed beast isn’t going to go down easily.

As “recklessness is for the inept”, Bort grabs Phos and falls back to HQ, then tosses Phos at the bell to strike it six times (an order for all other Gems to hold position). Bort’s plan involves luring the Lunarian to Kongou, who will hopefully awaken in time to destroy it.

But the Lunarian doesn’t follow Bort and Phos…it goes its own way, which turns out to be where Diamond is sulking. From here until the time Dia takes the upper hand, the episode takes on the flavor of a creepy horror movie where the protagonist must quietly hide from the monster hunting them.

Dia watching the flower vase jostle from the monster’s booming steps is a neat Jurassic Park reference, and some niftily subtle animation to boot (the way Dia gently arranged the flowers earlier was also an elegant moment).

Diamond eventually gets sick of hiding and decides to do what Bort always yells at Dia for: get reckless. This is Dia in full-on Badass Mode, without a care for how much bigger or stronger their opponent is.

Dia’s first strikes don’t do much (even a diamond limb-as-a-weapon doesn’t make a major mark), but Dia only needs one leg to rush the Lunarian, dodge its swipes, and deliver a killing blow before collapsing into a half-shattered pile—just as Bort is watching from outside the window.

But even that isn’t the end of things, as Dia’s strike only managed to cut the one big enemy into two smaller ones. With Dia out of commission, it falls to Bort to face the pair, which Bort does without fear, as usual.

But as tough as Bort is (tougher than nails, literally), I’d feel a lot better if Phos, other Gems, and hell, why not, Master Kongou arrived in time to assist Bort. I tell you, these Lunarians get nastier and more devious with each passing week.

Houseki no Kuni – 09

In the winter days and weeks since the loss of Antarcticite, Phosphophyllite has been busy. As the snow and ice starts to melt, heralding the start of spring, we get a very cool slow-build reveal of the individual Phos has become: serious, dutiful, efficient; calm, cool, and deadly. Sounds kinda like Antarc, doesn’t it?

The time jump to Spring wasn’t a surprise, so much as the intense change in Phos, and I have to say, I like it. Even Kurosawa Tomoyo’s lower, sterner voice emulates Mariya Ise’s Antarc’s tone and cadence. There remains a measure of the old Phos’ spunk and rawness (Kongou catches Phos at the end of a successful Lunarian battle) but overall, Phos has become a polished and capable member of the group—and the only one with a alloy membrane that can take any form.

Phos kind of had to, after Antarc was lost; but more than necessity, it is how Phos honors Antarc’s memory; no more slacking off or complaining. Phos also keeps a small shard of Antarc’s remains, and has vivid hallucinations of Antarc resurrecting from the wooden bowl, only to shatter and force Phos to relive Antarc’s final moments. It’s a full-blown case of Gem-PTSD, and Phos can’t forgive herself…or sleep. She also cries gold tears, which is both sad and very cool.

When the other Gems wake up (and are issued Summer uniforms), they’re initially shocked at the change in Phos, then scared of Phos’ alloy membrane, then fascinated to the point of surrounding and demanding that Phos perform a variety of tricks, or be poked and prodded every which way. Phos creates a nifty galloy decoy to thrown them off, but they’re pretty relentless.

Before all of the events that made Phos the way they are took place, Phos was often derided as being dead weight and a source of stress and extra work for everyone. Now Phos has never been more popular (in a good way rather than bad). The thing is, it’s the old Phos who would have loved such adulation; New Phos doesn’t quite know how to deal.

I imagine part of that is Phos long-term isolation, which aligns Phos more closely with someone like Cinnabar. Phos briefly forgets who Cinnabar is, but when the two meet during a patrol, Cinnabar is as cold and aloof as ever, clearly trying not to dignify the changes Phos has gone through with a reaction.

While Phos can now perform all manner of dazzling parlour tricks (but no longer has any intention of performing them for amusement) Phos doesn’t seem to mind demonstrating to Amethyst twins how much has been learned during the solo training and learning from Antarc and Kongou.

Phos is truly a force to be reckoned with, and has absolutely no trouble throttling another Lunarian attack, to the twins’ amazement and elation. But not every Gem is impressed. Bort cannot believe this is the same Phos who used to cause so much trouble and contribute so little, to the point of suspicion. I imagine a test of Pho’s combat abilities is in the offing.

Houseki no Kuni – 06

We meet Yellow Diamond and Zircon as they battle Lunarians. Zircon’s head is cleaved off, but Yellow performs repairs, letting Rutile rest. Yellow is the oldest of the gems, and one of the costs of being the oldest is that you’ve seen the most Gems taken to the moon.

The reason we haven’t met Ruby, Sapphire, Green Diamond or Pink Topaz? They’re all on the moon, and they were all former partners of Yellow. As such, Yellow doesn’t like or feel deserving of the respect and veneration given by the other Gems simply for knowing when to run.

Phos has incredible speed now, but can’t yet control it, leading to an amusing encounter with the also speedy Yellow, who thinks Phos is intentionally running away. Yellow catches Phos without harming them by grabbing the fabric of their robe.

Despite the lack of control, Phos still wants to join the fight against the Lunarians. Master Kongou asks why Phos is hell-bent on participating despite a thorough lack of fighting ability; Phos says out loud what all the other Gems think: Kongou has a special place in Phos’ heart. I believe it’s the first we’ve heard of the Gems loving their master.

Kongou agrees to let Phos join the battle. But as Phos can barely hold the lightest sword in the armory, a pairing with Amethyst is most suitable, since Amethyst is actually two twin Gems—#84 and #33—and they can handle themselves on the battlefield.

What Phos quickly learns is that 90% of patrolling is waiting around, doing nothing, and anticipating. Every little sound or movement in the sky, on the ground, or in the water, spooks Phos, who expects the Lunarians to pop up at any time.

The constant stress levels quickly exhaust Phos, who is sluggish at a most inopportune time: when the Lunarians suddenly pop up. I will never tire of their elaborate entrance from the sky, otherworldly beautiful, ethereal, and deeply unnerving in equal measure.

The Amethyst twins (voiced by Itou Kanae) seem to have things under control…at least initially, springing into action, tossing their sword sheaths and working in tandem to eliminate all of the Lunarian minions before cross-cutting the larger “leader” in the center of the cloud.

But the twins are just a bit cocky, and in showing Phos How It’s Done, they turn their backs on the Lunarians, who break out a new trick: Venus Fly Trap-like jaws with blue crystal teeth that may well be the remnants of the late Sapphire. Since Sapphire is harder than Amethyst, the twins are shattered to pieces.

Only the timely arrival of Bort, Dia, Yellow, and finally Master Kongou—who obliterates the Lunarian cloud with a flick of his hand in an impressive demonstration of his power—saves Phos. We see pieces of Amethyst being collected, so the twins are probably okay, but Bort is furious, and has questions, like why Phos sat by and did nothing, not even running away on those new legs to alert others.

In Phos’ defense, it was their very first battle, freezing up can happen, and even the Twins were caught off-guard by the Lunarian’s new weapon. But regardless, will Phos’ first battle also be the last?

Houseki no Kuni – 03

Land of the Lustrous continues to be, one of the strangest and most otherworldly beautiful anime of the Fall, and I am loving it. After their encounter with the Lunarians’ giant snail, Phos has…changed. That is to say, they no longer have a humanoid body. They’re still “alive”, as much as all of the Gems of this land are.

But while the standard rules of flesh-and-blood humans don’t apply to Phos or any other gem, there are other considerations that do: their “humanity”, i.e. the network of interpersonal relationships that define Phos to others.

Despite being shiny gems, these people have the same social structure as any normal human group. Which explains why the overriding reaction to Pho’s apparent transformation into some kind of semi-sentient invertebrate is…indifference. Apathy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-ness.

The Gems are largely a pragmatic and practical bunch; if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem; if you don’t have an immediate, measurable use, you’re of no value.

Diamond, perhaps the most altruistic of the Gems, scoops up the creature believed to be Phos and seeks help first from the doctor, but Rutile only knows how to heal Gems, and would only dissect and kill the creature if left alone with it. When presenting it to other Gems, most see Phos’ metamorphosis as an improvement, and in any case wouldn’t know where to start in terms of changing Phos back.

There’s an almost Christmas Carol quality to this…if Scrooge were a slimy slug being carried around by an anthropomorphic diamond, and the Gems were the various ghosts who visited him. So, basically, A Christmas Carol exactly. :D

Dia ends up far out in the country, and their observations of “Bio-Phos” indicate Phos might not care or want to change back. The creature eats plants, poops them out (like watermelon seeds), then curls up and falls asleep, like any biological organism would do. Dia laments that Phos had such crappy connections to the others that they’d care so little about Pho’s present situation.

Where is Cinnabar, I kept asking myself, what with their unique poison gooey properties. Well, Cinnabar is where they always are; far. far away from everyone else, on the night watch. They spot a bright light they believe to be Lunarians, but turns out to be a dozing, but still dazzling, Diamond.

Despite not taking any active role, just being in contact with Dia proves crucial to Phos’ return to corporeal form. You see, on the isolated shores of the country there are a good number of snails, and Cinnabar observes that those snails eat stone to restore and harden their shells.

The snails who eat red stone turn red. Those who eat white stone turn white. So a snail who ate phosphophyllite would have a minty glint to their shell. That’s when it hits Dia: the creature isn’t really Phos. Phos’ crystalline structure is now in the shell at the bottom of the pool back home. We saw the answer, those green crystals, in the opening moments of the episode.

Now knowing what to do, Dia rushes back as fast as their diamond legs can carry them in a gorgeous, lyrical sequence that really illustrates the great distance that must be covered and neatly establishes the scale of the land, along with Dia’s determination to cross it and save Phos. Even the stern Bort can’t refuse that determination; indeed, Bort averts their eyes at the sheer brilliance of it.

And so Dia, who unlike Phos has strong bonds to all of their fellow Gems, calls upon everyone to assist in heaving the great shell to the surface, carving out the Phos deposits from the shell, and delivering them to Rutile, who reconstructs Phos in another gorgeous sequence that makes full use of the 3DCGI.

Phos awakens, surrounded by the other Gems, and is immediately off on the wrong foot, attacking and yelling at the creature Diamond is holding rather than, you know, thanking everyone for saving them once again.

And yet that act of communicating with the creature and responding to its noises reveals a new and potentially groundbreaking fact: Phos can understand what the creature is saying. That makes Phos unique and potentially valuable…for once.

Phos endured quite a bit over the last couple episodes—to an extent worse than the routine smashing into pieces—and seems to have made some kind of connection that may even prove useful in future dealings with the Lunarians. If only Phos would take their ordeal to heart and start mending relationships with others.

Houseki no Kuni – 02

After a beautiful (if somewhat hard-to-swallow) explanation of how the gem people came to be, we see that gaining crystalline form hasn’t changed the fact that people still procrastinate and whine, as Phos does for most of this episode.

They’ve assigned themselves the role of finding another role for their new friend Cinnabar, but ends up making zero progress with the encyclopedia Kongou instructed her to compile.

After getting no love from Jade, Phos goes out to meet Diamond, who is on patrol. Diamond is very pretty and ethereal to behold with their irridescent features and gentle Kayano Ai voice.

But Dia doesn’t have much to tell Phos either; Phos may look up to Dia, but Dia wallows in the shadow of the just-as-hard but also tougher Bort, who swoops in to save both Phos and Dia when there’s a Lunarian attack.

Bort also exposes Diamond’s hidden missing hand, making Dia a liability in the field. Then another Lunarian cloud appears, but it passes right over the three gems and heads to HQ, where it dumps a giant shell at colonnade.

The Lunarians are dealt with by Bort, Dia and Jade, but while they are, a snail emerges from the shell and slurps up Phos, who instantly starts to melt and dissolve in the snail’s digestive juices. Phos’ impudence may be grating, and I assume they won’t die from this, but their rapid dissolution was still graphic and upsetting. They seem to be a magnet for trouble.

One thing’s for certain: this snail looks like just the kind of threat Cinnabar could deal with when no one else can, due to their corrosive poison. I realize Cinnabar is stationed pretty far off, but their complete absence from this episode was nevertheless conspicuous.