First Impressions: Houseki No Kuni (EP.1)

Another series of which I had read the original manga but dropped for (probably) legitimate reasons and placed on my watch list for this season is Houseki No Kuni (Land of the Lustrous)  – the brainchild of Haruko Ichikawa. Houseki No Kuni began its serialization in Afternoon magazine in October 2012.

To celebrate its first volume’s publication, a promotional video was made by animation studio Studio Hibari in July 2013. The PV featured snippets of the first and second chapters of the manga and its art style mirrors the manga’s original artwork. The manga is ongoing at seven volumes and is being translated into English by Kodansha Comics USA since June 2017.

The animated adaptation of the fantasy action seinen story is produced by Kodansha and TOHO animation, with animation studio Orange handling the anime. It is set for twelve episodes.

Like all fantasy-genre stories at their beginnings, there is a grand need to explain their extensive world. For Houseki No Kuni‘s first episode, the story concentrates on the two races featured in the story’s world. One group is the 28 houseki (gems) who are essentially invincible beings made from crystal. Each gem is a specific crystal. For instance, the character Dia is made from diamond. The houseki are assigned two tasks: they can live as warriors or as healers in their colony. Although houseki appear feminine and have feminine-sounding voices, they do not possess a gender. Listening to the Japanese audio and my little knowledge of the language after watching a lot of anime, the pronouns assigned to the houseki is male. For the sake of this blog post, I’ll just use “they/their” pronouns.

The houseki’s body can be damaged but is able to regenerate if their broken limbs are put back together. As we learn in the first episode, if the damage made to a houseki is too great (ergo if they are damaged via poison), then there is a chance they may suffer from memory loss if their wound isn’t treated properly. The houseki are constantly on alert because they are being hunted by Lunarians, who want to capture them and use their bodies for their own needs.

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Lunarians, the spoopy goopy moon people whose appearances are based off of Asian deities are thirsty for some bling-bling.
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The Lunarians collecting all that bling-bling. #allthatglittersarepiecesofbrokengempeople

There are quite a number of characters who are introduced in the first episode and have gained enough screen-time to have a personality. Our protagonist, Phos (short for Phosphophyllite) is deemed as a useless houseki because they (or he) have a very delicate body and are extremely clumsy. Phos has a light-hearted personality (as in, they’re the loud, cheerfully obnoxious yet cute lead protagonist we’re familiar with) and aspires to become a warrior gem. They’re assigned to become a historian – whelp ain’t that kinda familiar – writing down information in an encyclopedic volume of work for future generations of houseki to use as a guide.

Another notable character is Cinnabar (a.k.a the sad lonely more competent gem who may eventually become the best rival friend of the protagonist) who possesses a dangerous ability in that they (or he) can produce liquid poison from their body and use it to dissolve anything, anyone and everything around them.

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Poor Cinna having to live in the most dangerous part of the island because they’re a danger to everyone. °(ಗдಗ。)°.

As best rival friends, the personalities of Phos and Cinnabar are opposites. Unlike most shonen friendship pairings where the cooler character possesses a slightly arrogant personality, Cinnabar vocalizes their dislike of violence and their desire to end their life because they cannot cope with their intense loneliness (due to everyone pretty much banishing them for who they are).

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And of course, poor Cinnabar literally suffers as they use their ability despite having a weak body like Phos. #notfun

The animation that studio Orange uses for this anime is in part 3D animation mixed with digital art, which offers a lot more flexibility in creating special effects for Cinnabar’s ability as well as putting in the “kira kira” in all of the characters’ hair. When compared to the manga artwork and the promotional video, the anime’s art style loses a bit of the original source’s cute soft lines to gain brighter colours and a whole shit ton of shine (to the point where I need a pair of sunglasses to watch some scenes, I joke you not).

The camera angles used by Orange is another aspect that really works in entertaining me. Not only is it used to showcase the difference in status and power between characters, it adds visual tension to the moment it is used in and makes action scenes more dynamic.

For instance, Master Kongo is always shot from a lower angle, emphasizing his position and status as the authoritative figure among the 28 houseki. It makes him appear daunting with his tall stature compared to the other characters as well.

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There’s no doubt that he will crush you.

The visual tension added to this scene set at a lower angle helps the viewer understand a number of things:

  1. As stated before, Master Kongo is basically a tree compared to everyone else.
  2. Their sanctuary is hella big.
  3. Despite how far the subjects are in the frame, Master Kongo’s voice reverberates, adding to the power he possesses in his relationship to Phos.
  4. The dandelion fluff is significant because its symbolic of Phos. Phos is still developing as a gem but is moving along at a leisurely pace in their growth because they aren’t deemed as anything great. This scene foreshadows a “big” change in Phos’s life, which is also pointed out in Kongo’s line.
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The lighting in this anime is hella intense.

The action scene featuring Morga and Goshe against the legion of Lunarians features a camera that moves along to the characters’ movements, which makes the scene a heck of a lot cooler. Switching from an extreme close-up of Morga’s face as they flip backward to avoid arrows and the shot changes to a far shot that remains on Morga as they run forward toward the camera.

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The characters’ movements are pretty slick in the action sequence.

Once Morga grows closer to the camera, the shot becomes a middle shot before returning to a close-up shot of their face.

I found that Studio Orange did a great job with the landscapes and detailed shots in the anime.

 

The music in the first episode did well to illustrate a scene’s mood. The music playing at beginning of the episode, for example, is a little piano melody which captures Cinnabar’s sadness in their solitude to a perfect S. The same melody builds in the proceeding seconds to a lighter melody to reflect Phos’s light-hearted character.

As I mentioned in my watch list, the opening song of Houseki No Kuni, Kyoumen no Nami by YURiKA is a true gem to my ears. The translated English lyrics I found online  deals with water imagery (including words like water’s edge, evening showers, evening dew) matching the look of the opening sequence to the anime.

My concluding words?

I’d like to binge the rest of the episodes once I get the chance.

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2 thoughts on “First Impressions: Houseki No Kuni (EP.1)

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