Whenever a new manga hits shelves I get a little excited. Not just because it’s a new thing recently translated into English, but because it’s a thick volume of the first chapter. They not only push boundaries as far as storytelling (so many mangas tell stories you’d never see in the States), but they usually shine a light on a culture that’s not our own in interesting ways. Enter Land of the Lustrous, a manga being pitched for fans of Steven Universe. So it’s a bit odd, okay, that sounds different.
Creator: Haruko Ichikawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
In a world inhabited by crystalline lifeforms called The Lustrous, every unique gem must fight for their way of life against the threat of lunarians who would turn them into decorations. Phosphophyllite, the most fragile and brittle of gems, longs to join the battle. When Phos is instead assigned to complete a natural history of their world, it sounds like a dull and pointless task. But this new job brings Phos into contact with Cinnabar, a gem forced to live in isolation. Can Phos’s seemingly mundane assignment lead both Phos and Cinnabar to the fulfillment they desire?
Why does this book matter?
The creator, Haruko Ichikawa, was the winner of the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize which should certainly put it on your radar. It’s also incredibly unique visually, not just catering to the usual manga tropes we’ve become accustomed to. Based on its summary, it also introduces a world that’s incredibly different and strange. If world building has those two things it’s probably worth investigating.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Visually it’s its own thing.
Boy is this manga weird. Not so much in a “why was this created?” way, but in a, “what is this world and how does it work?!” way. Ichikawa drops you into this world with very little explanation. Three seemingly normal looking girls (editor: who are actually genderless)–okay maybe they’re a bit thin–are are amongst some long grass. One tells the other the sensei needs her and they talk for a bit. Then a buddha like god appears in the sky and two of these girls fight for their lives. We soon learn these girls defend against some kind of threat that wants to snatch them up as they are made of precious gems. We soon learn these girls have complex relationships with each other, with the main character being unhappy with her station in life and jealous of the others.
You can tell Ichikawa has thought the dynamics out between these girls very thoroughly as they seem very familiar with each other. Again, Ichikawa drops us into this world with little backstory as we must play catch-up to understand who these girls are to each other. Over the course of the entire manga you get a sense that they have a purpose, but maybe they don’t even know why they do any of this.
Ichikawa’s art immediately reminded me of Last Days of an Immortal with its thinner line and more abstract choices with angles and backgrounds. It’s quite beautiful, and Ichikawa captures a kinetic energy that flows almost like water. These girls may be made of gems, but the flow of their clothes, hair, and long limbs is ever present.
Really the entire work reminded me of Last Days of an Immortal (seriously, you should read this!) because of its philosophical underpinnings. There are clearly bigger ideas at work, but at face value it’s centered on girls made of gems who bicker. It’s hard not to see a purpose to it all, and yet there are no real answers. It’s the type of work that makes you press on even when it can feel frustrating because a deeper meaning is just beyond the next page.
Some incredibly beautiful images in this manga.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The obtuse nature of this manga is not going to be for everybody. There are portions of this manga where the characters are talking about seemingly nothing and then switch topics without much explanation. I felt at times the manga may have been written on a whim from page to page, but by the end there is some cohesive arc to it all. There’s also little to no explanation as to how this world works or if it’s part of our own or some made up place. There are hints that maybe it’s the future, but I’m not sure. The attacks from the gods in the sky can sometimes be so abstract it’s befuddling too. What you’re seeing is difficult to grasp, but in a way that’s also an incredible achievement.
Is It Good?
Though at times frustratingly obtuse, Land of the Lustrous always feels unique and genuine. Visually stunning and the most thought provoking work in the visual medium of 2017 so far.