Land of the Lustrous is set on a world that has been battered by meteors several times over the course of its history, to the point that all life was driven into the ocean. Some of the surviving beings eventually sank to the bottom and were consumed by microorganisms, transforming them into inorganic substances that eventually formed into crystals (I know, it’s bizarre, but just try to accept it). Those crystals eventually became 28 (ish?) genderless gemstone-based beings that washed up onto the shore. Those gem beings are the series’ good guys. Beings from the moon, called Lunarians, periodically attack the gem beings so that they can capture them and break their bodies down into weapons and decorations.
The series’ main character is a gem being named Phosphophyllite (Phos). Phos desperately wants to become a member of one of the watcher and fighter pairs that protect everyone against the Lunarians, but unfortunately Phos is so brittle that that’s out of the question. So far, Phos has been unsuited to every task they’ve been assigned to, which is why I suspect the latest task Kongo, the group’s leader, has come up with is probably just busy work. Kongo asks Phos to compile a natural history.
Phos starts off by talking to the tragic and dangerous Cinnabar, because that’s who everyone keeps saying they should start with. After that, Phos spends some time with the Diamond fighting pair, Bort and Dia. And then there’s an incident with a giant snail.
This volume was weird. I requested it after reading Katherine Dacey’s review, so I knew going in that it would be beautiful and strange, but reading a review about it wasn’t quite the same as actually experiencing it. I loved it, at first, but then I became unsure, and the whole thing with the snail was just odd, like it was aimed at a different audience than the rest of the volume.
After I finished I let it percolate for a while, which turned out to be a wee bit too long. Suddenly my library due date had arrived and I couldn’t remember enough details about what had happened to write a proper summary. I didn’t quite reread it, but I did flip through the whole thing in order to refresh my memory, and to my surprise I liked it more the second time around. The world info was even weirder after giving myself some time to think it over, and, although the artwork was still gorgeous, the gem characters were still a bit hard to tell apart, but...there was something appealing about it all.
The artwork was a large part of what drew me to this series in the first place. Dacey’s review has one of my favorite sequences, the horrifying and beautiful moment when one of the Lunarians is sliced open to reveal arrows made of a captured gem being. Although the history of the gem beings was just plain bizarre, it was the Lunarians who were truly alien. They were perfect, beautiful, and incredibly creepy. I’m curious about them, but part of me hopes that Ichikawa will opt to keep them a mystery.
Unfortunately, there were times when the artwork definitely aimed more for style rather than clarity. The battles were gorgeous but occasionally difficult to follow. Also, like I mentioned earlier, the characters were sometimes hard to tell apart. Those things are part of the reason why I’d like to see the new Land of the Lustrous anime - muddled manga action scenes sometimes turn out better when adapted for anime. That said, it seems awfully early in the series' run to be turning it into an anime.
The world and characters grew on me, although this volume didn’t exactly give readers much. Phos was one of those borderline annoying characters that everyone just sort of puts up with. I’m crossing my fingers that Phos at least manages to come through for Cinnabar, as unlikely as that seems. Dia and Bort’s relationship intrigued me, and I’m hoping there’ll be more on them in the future. The whole thing about Dia’s arm confused me, though.
Of all the characters, the one that intrigued me the most was Cinnabar. Most of the gem beings are only active during the day because the organisms that hold them together feed off of sunlight. Cinnabar is the only exception, having been essentially banished to night patrol for everyone else’s safety. Lunarians have never attacked at night before, but it’s the only time Cinnabar can patrol without risking hurting anyone - Cinnabar unintentionally oozes (and sometimes vomits) a poison that destroys everything it touches. The poison can even cause irreversible damage to the otherwise immortal gem beings.
The properties of all the gem beings are based on the properties of the real minerals on which they're based, so each gem being’s hardness is based on the Mohs scale (the numbers are even used in the text). Since I knew nothing about cinnabar, I looked that up and was delighted to learn that Cinnabar’s poison was probably mercury. So those tidbits were kind of cool, and I’m wondering what other gem-related info Ichikawa might work into the series.
I don’t know at this point whether this series is one I’d recommend, but I’m intrigued enough to want to continue on.
This one was a toss-up between 3 stars and 3.5. I settled (uneasily) on 3.5. I'm letting beauty and intriguing strangeness trump clarity and focus, at least for now. I may change my tune after reading volume 2.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)