It’s that time of year again! With every new season comes a new batch of anime to sort through. Premise lists and first episode impressions abound as everyone tries to figure out which show’s a keeper and which one isn’t worth a second glance. But in the midst of this very fine season, there’s one show I’m willing to bet few even gave a chance. The sad part is that people probably ignored it purely on account of its aesthetic. You may be wondering, what kind of anime would be judged so harshly on its animation style alone? The show in question, my friends, is none other than our latest computer-graphic-animated series, LAND OF THE LUSTROUS.

LAND OF LUSTROUS Phos
This is Phos, but it’s also me thinking about LAND OF THE LUSTROUS | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

3D animation isn’t exactly uncommon in anime these days, but it’s still far from popular. Compared to shows that center more on traditional hand-drawn animation, the pristine look of computer-generated imagery, CGI, tends to put people off. To be fair, it’s understandable. Sometimes 3D shows just look awkward, especially for viewers used to the streamlined cartoony drawings that populate anime today. But, as a result, even the better CG anime end up overlooked and forgotten because they’re CG. That’s a fate I’m hoping LAND OF THE LUSTROUS, which perhaps has the best reason for and execution of 3D elements I’ve ever seen, will avoid.

So What’s it about?

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS follows a group of immortal humanoid gems in a barren world resembling Earth. The story centers on Phosphophyllite or Phos for short. Phos is the weakest of the group, as judged by their hardness of 3.5 on the Mohs scale. Thanks to this fragility, their peers consider them useless. Much of the story focuses on Phos searching for a purpose, or just trying to alleviate their boredom. In the meantime, the jewel people must also frequently fend off attacks from the Lunarians, enemies from the moon.

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS lunarian
Diamond defends against the Lunarians | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

If this all sounds a little out there, that’s because it is. There’s no exposition given in the first episode before jumping right into a gorgeously-animated battle and witnessing lovingly-detailed shots. This early in the game, LAND OF THE LUSTROUS isn’t interested in explaining things to us. It’s throwing stuff at us. And in doing so, it’s showing us the beauty of its world and the gems that inhabit it.

And honestly, what a beauty it is. Stunning color-work and choreography don’t even begin to explain what makes this show’s visuals work so well. 3D animation still has a long way to go in winning audiences’ favors, but LAND OF THE LUSTROUS, with literal jewels at its heart, wouldn’t be as good as it is without such a style.

The fact is, if this show was purely hand-drawn, it would just look bad. So why? How exactly does it take such an impressive advantage of its 3D elements? Why would I go so far as to say it only works with CGI? Let’s get into it.

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Glitter and Gold

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS dia
Our radiant Diamond | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

Let’s start with the biggest reason 3D animation is the only way to go for this show: its source material. Like I said before, the entire premise revolves around literal jewels. Character designs utilize this fact exceptionally well, with each character’s hair and nails resembling the gem they’re named after.

As they move and talk, they sparkle and refract light. Parts of them are actually translucent. These details get even more emphasized when our characters shatter upon impact, revealing the sharp fragments that make up each of their bodies.

A day in the life of Phos | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

CGI allows the gems to look as they are — beautiful, solid, fragile, and with all that tricky light-reflecting goodness to boot. Such feats would be much more difficult to accomplish with hand-drawn animation. Even if its done well, it just wouldn’t strike the same tone and visual effect that digital imagery can incorporate.

Getting a little more behind-the-scenes, LAND OF THE LUSTROUS’ CGI also gives more flexibility to the production process. Typically, voice acting is one of the last jobs of an anime episode’s completion. Actors and actresses come in once everything’s already drawn and then record their lines according to what they see onscreen.

With LAND OF THE LUSTROUS, however, they actually record their voices beforehand. Then, the animators can adjust details and movements according to the tonal fluctuations that they hear. As a result, we get some nice audio-synchronized character acting not often seen in other TV-length anime, let alone other CG ones.

Polished Art

Next up is LAND OF THE LUSTROUS’ incredible scenery and the digital effects that bring it to life. This section really just boils down to — the show looks good. In particular, the fourth episode features its most stunning work yet, with extended scenes of lovely underwater environments.

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS ocean
Phos takes a trip to the ocean floor | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

Sunbeams shining through the ocean’s surface instill serenity and peace and genuine beauty in a world almost completely devoid of lifeforms. Gentle ripples of waves; splotches of mercury rising like the sea — this show definitely has some strong work in liquid animation. No small surprise, given the extra levels of care the animation team put into creating realistic water effects, as detailed in this interview.

Also to note is the careful impression of weight and slight imbalance as Phos tries to walk underwater. Compare that to the airy float of their slug friend, who is returning to her natural habitat. These effects aren’t impossible hand-drawn, but done digitally the clumsy movements hold a real sense of humanity to them.

At this point, I have a confession to make. LAND OF THE LUSTROUS is actually not 100% computer-generated. However, its inclusion of 2D drawings in digitally-rendered surroundings is still just to support its 3D elements. It uses subtle traditional animation to emphasize certain aspects of scenery or battle while still maintaining a smooth visual experience. Take, for example, its background art drawn by an ex-Ghibli illustrator. Or its 2D effects during CG-animated action scenes.

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS fight
2D effects give the fights more impact | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

Most facial expressions and close-ups shots are also done in 2D. In LAND OF THE LUSTROUS, hand-drawn animation isn’t absent, but its presence only serves to further enhance the magic of its 3D base. It’s a subversion of usual anime fare, which makes for a wholly refreshing watch.

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Clean-Cut Camerawork

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS is also an exciting watch, in the most literal sense. It’s a general fact that 3D backgrounds lend to dynamic camerawork in anime series. It’s frankly very difficult to achieve a moving camera effect for several entirely hand-drawn sequences, hence why it’s so rare. With a massive animation team and a whole lot of time, maybe we’d see more of it. But for your average show, 2D backgrounds mean 2D movement and a fairly static camera. That’s why, lately, even shows with a 2D base have been relying on occasional 3D backgrounds to make use of more exciting movement. Just look at POKEMON!

And if there’s one thing LAND OF THE LUSTROUS is having fun with, it’s that exact kind of dynamism. From the very first episode, it’s obvious how much this show loves its tracking shots. The camera is its own living being, craning around characters and angling keenly to follow movement or reveal new details in settings. It might get excessive at times, but it’s fun and lends to truly breathtaking sequences.

land of the lustrous light refraction
Dia’s eyes refracted through her blade | Image: Amazon Anime Strike

Long takes with moving backgrounds in hand-drawn anime productions are uncommon simply because of how many frames and small adjustments to detail it would involve for key animators. With CGI, LAND OF THE LUSTROUS can avoid those restraints and milk it for all its worth. Besides tracking movements, we also get a solid sense of the depth and space in the areas the characters inhabit. As a result, action scenes benefit as well. They’re easy to follow without losing any excitement or fervor. The camerawork is as sharp as the gems themselves, allowing a clean and precise style that fits seamlessly with the show’s premise.

A New Light

I’ll be the first to admit that initially, I had next to no interest in even trying out LAND OF THE LUSTROUS. Like many others, I had my reservations about 3DCG anime. “It looks kind of weird, so I’ll avoid it,” I thought. But now? Wow, am I glad I didn’t. CGI anime may still have a way to go in terms of a wholly cohesive visual experience, no one can deny that. But solid execution and vision can elevate certain material leagues beyond the limits of traditional animation, too.

Of course, I’m never going to say that one style is definitively better than the other. Obviously, each has its own strengths and weaknesses to be incorporated depending on the story and subject matter. It just so happens that 3D animation suits LAND OF THE LUSTROUS, and we’re lucky enough that the director and producer recognized that. This show isn’t good despite its CG. It’s good because of it, and I’m certain that any other animation attempt would only result in a weaker version.

CGI isn’t the end of anime as we know it. It’s a new technique, a step to the future, a different way to tell the stories we love in the way that’s most respectful to them. LAND OF THE LUSTROUS is only one example of that. And now (even though I never thought there’d come a day where I say this) I’m excited to see what other CGI shows are on the horizon. It’s 2017, so let’s welcome the digital age with open arms and minds.

Featured image screenshotted from Amazon Anime Strike.

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One Comment

  1. Shiny Diamond

    November 15, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Me reading the article😍😍😍 https://t.co/QV7Nb8DJzK

    Reply

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