This review was originally published on The Fandom Post.
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After last week’s Phos-focused episode, this week focuses far more on Diamond and Bort. Neither of them have gotten much limelight since episode 2, but this episode gives both more than enough development to make up for it. It turns out Bort’s new interest in Phos was actually interest in how powerful Phos has gotten. Bort approaches Phos to give them some harsh advice and suggest that they team up so Phos can learn to improve their fighting skills. This is the first time that we’ve seen anything of Bort that wasn’t hostility or protectiveness, and it casts them in a completely different light. Bort’s attitude may be as blunt as ever, but as they lecture Phos on fighting techniques and ask them to team up, it gives the sense that Bort actually does care about Phos, but doesn’t know how to relate to others except through combat.
Phos is understandably flustered and takes some time to consider whether to team up with Bort. It’s here that we start to see more of the old Phos come through. The way Phos gets flustered while talking to Bort, and later comically asks some jellyfish whether they should join up with Bort is far closer to the old Phos’ goofy attitude. It’s a bit of a jarring shift from the more melancholy Phos we saw last week, but somewhat understandable since interacting with the other gems seems to help cheer them up. Even so, Phos still can’t help but compare themself to Antarc, who Phos has practically put on a pedestal now. Regardless, Phos clearly hasn’t gotten over Antarc’s capture, and likely won’t for some time.
Phos finally does agree to join up with Bort, but not before making sure Dia’s okay with it. After an amusing moment where Dia freezes up, they agree and encourage Phos to team up with Bort while Kongo sleeps. With this shift, Dia is suddenly in the same place Phos used to be; they’re too brittle to fight for long, and they’re left feeling unnecessary, just like Phos originally did. Even then, Dia doesn’t overcompensate with the kind of brashness Phos used to use. Instead, they keep up the same cheerfulness they always have, even while they clearly feel left out. It’s a small detail, but it does an excellent job of highlighting the parallels between Phos and Dia while also emphasizing their differences. Land of the Lustrous has always excelled at developing characters through small details like that, and it’s part of what makes the anime such a treat to watch.
Phos and Bort quickly encounter a Lunarian attack, but something’s different about this one. Instead of simply shooting arrows from their platform, the Lunarians summon a giant six-armed beast that seems to force its way out of a rip in the sky. The creature itself is monstrous in a way that even the regular Lunarians aren’t; they mostly look like statues, while the monster they bring is clearly a flesh and blood being, which adds a whole new layer of intimidation. The ensuing fight is one of the best yet, even by Land of the Lustrous’ high standards. As Phos and Bort switch in and out, you get to see the contrast between Phos’ reliance on the range from their gold and Bort’s raw power. The entire battle is only two or three cuts, but each one is far longer than would be feasible to animate in 2D, and they make full use of the CGI. Instead of switching to new shots from different angles, the camera moves around Bort as they fight, adding a sense of momentum to the battle without ever becoming disorienting. None of this would be feasible in 2D, but it’s far easier in 3D, making Land of the Lustrous one of the few CGI anime to use the 3D to its full potential.
Phos and Bort quickly discover that the beast is too strong to fight, so they flee back to the school to wake Kongo. Once they arrive, however, the beast runs off into the school and finds Dia. The following sequence, where Dia hides and tries to avoid the beast, is one of the most nerve-wracking moments yet. The entire sequence is done in a single shot, similar to Bort’s fight, but this time the camera movement is used to create a sense of unease as we wonder where the creature is in the same way Dia does. Dia ultimately decides to fight, out of the same sense of inadequacy that Phos originally felt, and manages to defeat the creature, but not without cost. Dia’s arms, legs, and face have all been broken off, forcing them to use the shards of their arms and legs to walk and attack. It’s the same situation Phos was in at first, but thankfully Bort arrives in time to gather the pieces and face down the two smaller creatures that spawn from the larger one.
This might be the most action-heavy episode yet. The battle against the Lunarian creature and the increased focus on Dia and Bort is a refreshing change, especially because of how well the episode fleshed them out. Phos’ sunnier mood is kind of sudden considering their colder demeanor last week, but that’s a small complaint in an otherwise great episode, one that will hopefully be addressed soon. Aside from that one detail, Land of the Lustrous continues to give us the quality we’ve come to expect.