The back cover of this book describes Land of the Lustrous as an “elegant action manga for fans of Steven Universe!” I always dwell on that when I see it. Someone I used to know jokingly called Steven Universe the “shiny rock gijinka anime.” Little did we know that Land of the Lustrous, which started serializing less than a year before Steven would first air, would later give us an actual shiny rock gijinka anime. I was intrigued by the prospect, so I decided to read the manga.
In Land of the Lustrous, humanoid gems inhabit an Earthlike planet and spend their days fending off the Lunarians, fellow humanoid creatures that inhabit the moon and seek to capture the gems and use them to decorate their homes.
Our protagonist, Phos, is a snippy, lippy brat of a gem, who seems to think before they act and doesn’t treat their fellow gems with much kindness. They have a low hardness level, which means they shatter relatively easily. Because of this, they aren’t allowed to fight the Lunarians like the other gems. Stuck inside and bored out of their mind, they try to find stuff to do but usually get into trouble. The head honcho of this gem clan, Kongō-sensei, gives Phos the task of recording the gems’ natural history.
Phos doesn’t mind the task too much but would clearly rather fight. Trouble seems to follow them around, as the Lunarians are a looming threat each chapter. Phos is attracted to another gem in their clan, Cinnabar, who has a volatile fighting style paired with a lethal poison that kills natural life. Phos feels for the lonely Cinnabar and tries to find another job for them. This only seems to get her in more and more trouble as different adversaries get in their way throughout these chapters.
Land of the Lustrous is a startlingly unique manga from a visual standpoint. “Elegant” is an accurate way to describe the artwork here. Ichikawa’s lines are quite thin, and the fight scenes feature very dynamic angles and choreography. Her page layouts are very simple – the pictures almost never bleed out of the panels, and pages generally have an average of four or five panels, rarely getting more complex than that. The character designs are distinctive and vibrant, which is no small feat given that these gems of various colors star in an entirely black-and-white comic. I’m inclined to say that of all the contemporary manga I’ve read, Land of the Lustrous is probably the most beautiful. I will say, though, that if body horror is one of your triggers, this series may test you. Ichikawa is not shy about depicting gems in their shattered state, and battles against the Lunarians are explicit in physical violence. Try the free preview on Kodansha Comics’ website (link below); the passage there includes an instance of this that’s comparable to what you’ll see throughout this volume.
Most early reviews of this volume cited that the plot was difficult to follow, but I didn’t find this to be out of the ordinary. A lot of the manga that I’ve read (and written about for this site) recently starts off slow and doesn’t set up a grand plot; Clear Card and Soul Eater are some examples. Land of the Lustrous does set up a simple plot – Phos has to record the natural history of the gems to keep busy – that eventually is at odds with their intent to help Cinnabar. The pacing is pretty quick throughout this volume, and the action ramps up by the last chapter, so I was entertained throughout. This volume is content to build the world, and I thought it worked well.
It doesn’t hurt that the cast is so fun. Phos is a neat protagonist to follow, one who longs to be better than their potential would suggest, but who’s also quick-thinking and isn’t careful with words. They don’t get much sympathy from their fellow gems as a result. You feel for them, but also hold them accountable for the their part in the state of things. It’s an interesting feeling to have towards a protagonist, but it’s refreshing in a way.
Land of the Lustrous is off to a good start. I like the cast, I like the world, and I especially like the artwork. I’ve got the next three volumes on my shelf; color me excited to check them out.
Land of the Lustrous is written and illustrated by Ichikawa Haruko. It has been serialized in Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon since October 2012, and it has been collected in eight volumes as of November 2017. It has been licensed for release in North America by Kodansha Comics, which has released five volumes as of March 2018. Check out Kodansha Comics’ page on the manga here.