First impressions for volume one of Haruko Ichikawa’s manga series “Land of the Lustrous,” published in 2017 by Kodansha Comics.
So, I Was Wrong . . .
This is a bit of a weird post, but hear me out. The story goes like this: I’m sitting here ready to sell the first five volumes of Land of the Lustrous that I own because I wasn’t going to continue reading it. Ever since the anime enchanted me back in late 2017, I have been eager to find out what happens in the story beyond the adaptation. Everyone online is always hyping up the manga each time a new volume is released, and I wanted to join in on the fun. (This all began when the manga started being released in English, of course.)
But as soon as I flipped open the cover, I didn’t understand any of it. The characters all looked the same, the art style was visually attractive but hard to follow. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t even get past the first chapter. So, I put the book(s) back on my shelf, thinking I just wasn’t in the right head space for reading manga.
Months pass. I distinctly recall trying out that first volume again, but didn’t get beyond the opening act. A year goes by, and this series is still sitting there looking pretty. Before I know it, 2020 is here. At some point I tried again—couldn’t do it. What was I not understanding? Was the writing beyond what I could contemplate? Why was everyone raving about this series each time a new volume was released when I couldn’t even get past the first fifty pages?
“A Perfect Adaptation”
Just the other day, Jack of Under the Scope over on YouTube put out this video titled “Land Of The Lustrous: A PERFECT Adaptation.” Now, I know Jack to be a pretty smart and reasonable guy. But this was a pretty big claim, even for him. So I watched it, eager to hear what he had to say—and what I, apparently, was not picking up.
Through his tight-knit, formal analysis comparing the anime and the manga, I walked away having entirely different thoughts about Land of the Lustrous than I held going in. I was reminded of all the wonderful things the anime series did, and why I wanted to pick up the manga in the first place. Really, my kudos go out to Jack and his editor.
I’m only writing this post now because, as you can imagine by the title, I finally completed volume one of the series—and all in a single sitting, no less! Thanks to watching Jack break down how Haruko Ichikawa constructed the manga (even if it was only his interpretation), I was able to understand so many new things about this book I had neglected for the past couple years.
For one, the panel composition is brilliant. (And no, I’m not just saying that because Jack did.) I get why it’s intelligent compositing; the word bubbles naturally guide the reader through the page, following the action, emotions, and anticipation built up before flipping to the next one. Some of Phos’s dialogue actually had me grinning, whereas many of the comments made by Cinnabar and Diamond made my heart ache with sympathy.
And the fights between the Lunarians and the Gems are unbelievably gorgeous and fluid, nightmarish and dreamlike. Ichikawa’s mastered a strong eye and steady hand for crafting all kinds of tectures: glossy hair and glassy eyes, brittle arms and blowing fields, viscous liquids and vile substances. I seen now that Land of the Lustrous is a tactile experience as it is a narrative one. Much of this is accomplished by the stark use of flat black vs. round white shapes to catch the reader’s eye, but it’s also the Gems themselves that carry the weight of this unique story.
It Was Always This Good
As graceful as the action and writing may be, a common criticism of the manga series is that it’s hard to tell characters apart. But, as YouTube friend Simply Gee pointed out, perhaps that’s part of the point. Phos lives in a world where their individuality is a stunningly hard thing to achieve, despite there only being 27 other Gems to compete against for Kongo-sensei’s attention. They all have the same body shape, wear the same clothes, and live in the same construct. Thus, it’d only be natural for characters to gradually become more defined—physically and emotionally for themselves AND the viewer—as the story progresses. Everyone will have their chance to shine eventually.
I realize this post was less of a “first” impressions and more of a commentary on the series as a whole, but the bottom line I’m getting at here is that Land of the Lustrous is very intelligently designed—and that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying to enjoy it. Heck, still I don’t know a thing about mineral hardness and Moh’s scale, but I love Dia’s caring personality and Jade’s stern, no-nonsense attitude nonetheless.
Elegant, unique, and bizarrely stylish, Land of the Lustrous is about searching for purpose in life. However, as one might expect, the book reads very different than the adaptation. In this instance, it took me needing a little push to understand why the manga is so beloved by others. But I believe learning what makes a work of art “good” will always be worth it. After all, I’d certainly rather be in the club that enjoys reading Land of the Lustrous than not—because it’s very good. Then again, I suppose it always has been.
What if you tried making a big change in yourself? Maybe try something you never do would help? — Diamond
I can’t recall if I’ve ever written a manga first impressions before, given that I don’t read much manga. If this is the first, however, I’d love to hear what you thought, as well as whether you’d be interested in more of these! I’m definitely keeping Land of the Lustrous on my shelves, and will continue reading until at least until I’ve read those five volumes I bought a while back. After that, well, I suppose we’ll see! I imagine the series only gets better, though. Thanks for reading, and until next time!