Spoilers for the anime Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni) below.
A few days ago I watched Land of the Lustrous to see what all the fuzz was about. I was met with an intriguing production. It being fully CGI, though not being able to live up to the charm of 2D in my opinion, allowed for very satisfying action scenes. Its mystery still has me deep in thought today. And its colourful cast of characters were as interesting as they were fun to look at (the ones that got screen time that is). But where it shone for me was the way Land of the Lustrous handles the character development of its main character, Phosphophyllite.
In Land of the Lustrous certain characters, such as Yellow Diamond, are thousands of years old. But it doesn’t seem like they’ve changed much during that period. Each character received a job long ago, and has been pursuing it since. Phos is the exception to this. According to Sensei they (referring to Phos as they cause they’re genderless) weren’t cut out for anything. Because of this Phos does not have a task and spends their days lazing around in the grass fields. But the tiniest of changes sets everything in motion.
Phos is assigned to write an encyclopaedia, but being the sluggish gem they are, they never get much done. In an attempt to learn about the shore animals, Phos does seek out Cinnabar however. I just want to point out that Phos has been alive for 300 years, and has never met with Cinnabar prior. I think that just goes to show how little alteration the gems and their daily routines undergo. Phos talks to Cinnabar for the first time because of the encyclopaedia, which leads to their promise. And in order to discover ways to fulfil this promise Phos later delves into the depths of the ocean, uncovering more mysteries than any of the other gems ever have, in a matter of minutes. These gems are clearly habitual creatures, but in Phos’ case, even the slightest disturbance has grand-scale consequences.
Of course, we all know Phos’ aquatic trek ends in calamity. But this is where things get really interesting. The promise has given Phos purpose, and though they may no longer work on the encyclopaedia (of which they didn’t fill out a single page anyways), their new legs open up a large array of possibilities. It’s when Phos receives their agate limbs, that we see some major character development. The aimless, slothful, aquamarine gem is suddenly expending energy. They train under the Amethyst twins, leaving them exhausted at the end of each day because they are so worried about possible attacks. And after the twins are almost taken by the Lunarians, Phos despises themselves for being unable to act, punishing themselves by staying awake during the hibernation. Ever since the reception of their new legs, Phos has been fuelled by an unstoppable desire to improve themselves and to help Cinnabar, one-third of their personality has been rewritten. Unfortunately this desire, paired with a unthoughtful comment from Antarcticite, leads to both the loss of their arms, as well as their memories of the promise.
Phos then obtains a new pair of arms, made of a gold-aluminium alloy. But shortly thereafter Antarcticite is taken, and they are filled with grief. Phos’ next shift in personality is a lot more noticeable, obviously their appearance changes, but their personality differs significantly from their previous iterations. They’re colder, almost emotionless, and haunted by their past, making them an insomniac. Their desire to bring Antarcticite back becomes their incentive for living, replacing the forgotten promise with Cinnabar. She kills countless Lunarians, briefly revives the short-lived Padparadscha, interrogates a Lunarian, and even does the unthinkable: doubting Sensei, all to achieve this. And when Phos does finally remember their promise, they merge the two objectives by asking Cinnabar to help them.
I think it’s really unique to have the character development tied to the replacement of body parts. Phos becomes unrecognizable compared to their former self in the span of twelve episodes, maybe 1/2000th of their entire lifetime (yes I roughly calculated that). I don’t think all of Land of the Lustrous’ character development functions this way, after all, Dia and Bort had a pretty sweet revelation towards the end of the anime and they never had any of their parts replaced. But it is what really sets Phos apart from all the others. It also perfectly explains why Phos has decided to chase the mysteries surrounding Sensei and the world, while all the other gems have an unspoken agreement to trust in Sensei. Phos has lost two-thirds of her memories of Sensei, so it’s only natural that she trusts him less and wants to learn more about him. It makes Phos a brilliant vehicle for the viewer to explore this exquisite world and its enigmas. It was a touching experience seen through the eyes of a very unorthodox character.