What better way to move into the year than by staring determinedly backward at the year that was? I did several write-ups about the Fall 2017 season and the year in anime as a whole, as well as some podcasting for those of you looking for an audio version. Short version: rocks own my heart, and it was a quality year for gay.
I am incredibly proud of this piece–perhaps one of the best I’ve ever written. If it leads to new awareness in the industry, I’ll be happy.
Land of the Lustrous has proven to be a sleeper hit of the Fall 2017 season, with its beautiful melding of CG and traditional art, creative direction, likable characters, and penchant for cliffhangers. It also made minor waves by deciding to refer to almost the entire cast with neutral “they/them” pronouns. In an industry that has historically elected to choose binary pronouns for characters who aren’t gendered or are gendered ambiguously in the original text, this marks a small but important—and most crucially, conscious—shift.
The season’s a full half over, so it’s time for a temperature check on how things are going. In short: new Kino let me down, Magus Bride makes me uncomfortable (but the OVA is still good), Kotonoha Kitan sure is a yuri anime for the male gaze, and all of these rocks are my children.
As of 2017, we now officially have two series about sentient queer rocks. But while there have been too many variants on “Land of the Lustrous is anime Steven Universe” to count, the similarities more or less end with the basic premise. LoL’s rocks are not small gems with manifested forms made of light, but actual bodies made out of rock whose ability to take a hit is influenced by the Moh’s Hardness Scale; and while both touch on the issues of societies mired in stasis, their worldbuilding is wholly different. And finally, both series were in production in 2012, making it a true coincidence at least on a conceptual level.
A group of children all meet and decide to play together. One kid takes it upon himself to assign everyone roles, and the other kids agree to it—Tim’s the best at coming up with interesting stories. So one little boy becomes a knight, and a little girl the princess, and another boy a dragon; Tim watched a fantasy movie a few weeks ago, and the ideas are in his head when he makes up his story. They have a good time.
One day, the little girl shows up with a super rad toy mecha. Everyone is very admiring of it, and they get back to playing pretend. At some point, Tim declares that the princess has to give the hero (him) her Mega Holy Ultra Robot so that he can defeat the bad guy. It’s the only thing with enough power. He gets to play with the robot for the rest of the day.
Hypotheticals are something of a cheap trick, I know—they inevitable reduce complicated situations to brief sketches that fail to fully take complex situations into account—but in this case, I thought it might help illuminate an issue that many find difficult to pin down. In spite of the free and frequent use of the word “meta” in internet discourse (usually for fourth-wall breaks or format experimentation), meta-criticism as it relates to narrative is often excluded from common understanding.
And just so we’re not speaking entirely in abstract terms, let’s also talk about a perfectly imperfect series that’s been dear to my heart this season: Land of the Lustrous.