Houseki no Kuni – 04

When Master Kongou finally wakes up from his slumber, it’s from a strange dream in which he is in the center of a mob of Lunarians, and destroys them all with a kind of chakra. He regrets sleeping too long.

Jade, Bort, and Diamond then brief him on everything that’s happened, including the snail eating Phos, mining and reconstructing Phos from the snail’s shell, and the fact that only Phos can understand what the creature is saying, leading everyone to think Phos has gone crazy.

In defense of Phos, we can hear the creature too; their name is Ventricosus, king of of the Admirabilis, and in her current form, she’s pretty cheeky (she’s also voiced by Saito Chiwa).

Despite the indignity of a tossed Ventricosus landing on his head just right, Kongou not only believes Phos, but uses Phos as an interpreter to initiate a dialogue with the creature. He orders Phos keep the creature close while continuing work on the encyclopedia (at present, the amount of work Phos has done on that is…naught).

When Phos speaks on Cinnabar’s behalf, Kongou interrupts, stating that not only is he still working on the matter (and has yet to find a solution), but that it was Cinnabar’s decision to go on night watch to begin with, going into exile rather than sit around HQ doing nothing. It’s not ideal, but Kongou maintains the best way Phos can help Cinnabar is by doing what he ordered: work on that encyclopedia. Later, Phos and Venty get to talking, and Venty mentions that there is someone who resembles the Gems back in her homeland under the sea.

Phos, not making any progress on the land with Cinnabar, decides it’s work a look, and prepares for the trip by applying a salve to the “skin” that should protect the finish from the saltwater. Rutile tattles on Phos, and Kongou categorically forbids such a trip, reminding Phos to do what he asked and not worry about Cinnabar for now.

When it’s clear Ventri isn’t getting the proper nutrition she needs away from the sea (Phos even believes Ventri has died momentarily), Phos and Ventri have a very in-depth discussion on the nature of death (something neither the immortal Phos nor any Gem may can fully grasp the finality of), then Phos breaks the rules once again and heads underwater.

Once on the sea floor, Venty suddenly transforms into a beautiful jellyfish-queen form, and here is again where the 3DCGI fluidity really shines. Now closer to home, Venty starts to remember certain information; a kind of oral history about a race called “humans” who walked the earth.

Things happened, and humans split into three distinct forms: flesh (Admirabilae like Venty), bone (the Gems) and soul (the Lunarians). “Vague stories” also point to the fact that the Lunarians are seeking a revival of humanity by uniting the three forms, capturing them by force.

While that’s their goal, the “flesh” in the equation are content with their existence under the waves, while the “bone” would clearly prefer not being attacked from the sky all the time.

Alas, Ventricosus is hiding something, and exploits their newly-formed bond to deceive Phos. There is no malice in her actions, but her brother is being held by the Lunarians, and she means to offer Phos in exchange for his freedom.

With the sun almost down and Phos greatly weakened, the Lunarians prepare to capture Phos, smashing Phos’ arms and legs. But I’m sure Venty’s betrayal hurts far more than Phos’ loss of limbs, and the fact that Phos once again needs rescuing after disobeying Kongou’s commands to try to help Cinnabar.

It isn’t just the animation that’s beautiful in HnK, although it certainly is that; it’s also very well-written and performed, with a wealth of clever quips in the dialogue and some surprisingly profound discussion on the varying natures of existence of the three kinds of beings.

It remains a mystery what happened to humans, or what exactly Kongou is besides caretaker to the Gems, but if we take Venty’s stories at face value, we now know a lot more about why things are the way they are in this world, and have a clearer picture on the Lunarians’ goals.

Not that that puts them in the right; despite being human myself (I think), there’s something sinister about eliminating three new forms of life that emerged naturally for the sake of reviving one. It seems reckless and hubristic; akin to swimming against the waves of evolution.

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.

Houseki no Kuni – 01 (First Impressions)

There are instances where 3D CGI has turned me off (Ronja, Berserk) and instances where it just…works. Polygon’s Sidonia no Kishi is one such example, an Orange’s new series Houseki no Kuni is another. Characters are crisp and elegant, with elongated designs reminiscent of fashion illustration and jewel-like hair that casts reflections on the shoulders of their black uniforms.

Another thing HnK has going for it is…it’s just so bizarre. Forget jewel-“like”—the 28 characters are actually humanoid manifestations of gems, all with a “hardness” matching the gem they’re named after. They’re genderless, and also immortal; no matter into how many pieces they shatter, they can be reconstructed.

That’s good, because they shatter often while fending off the Lunarians (Moon-Dwellers) who try to use them to make jewelry. Phosphophyllite, the main protagonist this week, is voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo (Kumiko from Euphonium), who brings a lot of brightness and humanity to the role of the youngest (and one of the weakest) Gems.

After shattering to pieces simply after their leader Kongou-sensei shouts, Phos is assigned to create a natural history encyclopedia. Their peers, most of whom dismiss them as useless, lazy, dumb, or all of the above, suggest they seek out the reclusive Cinnabar for info on nature, as they’re essentially all alone on the night watch.

While looking for Cinnabar, Phos finds herself nearly a victim of the Lunarians, but is saved by Cinnabar at the last second. Cinnabar (voiced by Komatsu Mikako) has a kind of Midas Touch that turns everything to ruin, and vomits out a poison that consumes the charging Lunarians in an intense but beautifully executed action scene.

Phos tries to lend their arms to keep Cinnabar from falling—and they shatter off—but both Gems are safe, and Phos finally managed to meet the person they were looking for.

The encounter makes Phos feel bad for Cinnabar, and after being repaired by Dr. Rutile, goes back out to where Cinnabar is wandering. Cinnabar (the only Gem with a hardness factor lower than Phos’)  voices their desire to be taken to the moon where there might be a decent use for her, but Phos doesn’t like that fatalistic talk one bit.

After getting some material for their encyclopedia, they vow that they’ll find something better than the night watch that only Cinnabar can do…so Cinnabar can quit talking about leaving for the moon. It’s the beginning of a friendship between two misfits whose collaboration could benefit both in contributing the maximum amount to the group effort.