Review/discussion about: Houseki no Kuni
(For a better fundamental understanding of characters, please check out my previous essay on this exact topic, “Houseki no Kuni, Toy Story, and Understanding Characters”.)
The geological timescale views singular months and years as unregistered blips on a radar.
To us regular folk, though, even just a tough few hours at work can seem like an eternity. We value our time greatly, thinking about that joke we heard the other day or looking forward to that cool party in the weeks to come. And, as the saying goes, “Time flies when you are having fun.”
That’s why the here and now is so precious; the present is a valuable existence we can almost never take for granted. In this time, a curious anime titled Houseki no Kuni emerged, and the fact that we’re lucky enough to have it around should not go unnoticed.
Rorshach-summoned moon entities called Lunarians invade an Earth-like land inhabited by anthropomorphic crystals who devote themselves to their caretaker as difficulties unfold. Such a unique premise sounds rather intriguing, perhaps impossible. Houseki no Kuni, however, embraces this synopsis from the start, refusing to let its initial pull falter.
An excellent script gives this pull a lot of strength throughout the season with plenty of opportunities. The fun dialogue and the sharp scenes lead to surprisingly comical moments and lively interactions between the rocks as they go about their daily business. It can be trying to “wake up” Sensei, Phos fed up with an unlucky slug, or the lot of them clambering to see a new sight. Whatever the case may be, the anime brings with it a robust sense of timing and direction that equates to an engaging string of events.
This sense of flow also carries over into the dramatic elements which Houseki no Kuni touts on a regular basis. From a broken body washing ashore beside Cinnabar to the futile attempts of saving another, it becomes clear that its emotional weight balances out its comedic elements with a seriousness that warrants exploration of its meaningful themes.
Such themes align extremely well with the geode motif at hand. Personal discovery. True purpose. Innate worth. They are just a bunch of rocks, defined by their hardness, durability, and chemical composition, yet they are more than just a smattering of numbers or a litany of letters on a page. Rather, their aspirations of being more, their motivations of proving themselves demand a greater calling. For if even the very stones of the mountains wish for a grander presence, then surely these ideas must have some reputation somewhere.
Unfortunately, Houseki no Kuni does not always get it right, especially when particular story beats lack buildup on a writing level. The complication behind Phos, their arms, and the ice floes occurs over the course of a few minutes; Dia separates from Bort and then faces that separation within the span of the same episode; Rutile fixes up their long-dormant friend Padparadscha out of nowhere only to have them sleep again right away. Despite the impressive comedy and drama nearby, these instances demonstrate that the show sometimes values getting to that next crucial plot point over letting it simmer for better impact.
There’s also the trouble of how the last few episodes proceed. That this season definitely comes off as a first-parter when it essentially leaves many of the mysteries up in the air: the Lunarians, what Sensei seems to be hiding, those fish people who were hardly referenced after the first quarter of the season. Meaning, it concludes with a twinge of disappointment at the fact that its plot hasn’t really progressed past anything exactly pivotal.
This last grievance can at least be excused somewhat since the opposite is also true: that it does not attempt to rush towards an unsatisfying conclusion. Plus, the anime deserves further recognition for the consistent tone in its narrative as well as the frequent-enough action scenes which showcase a cooler side of the show. So, while the story couldn’t quite reach the loftiest of heights, it still pulls along a respectable amount of clout.
ART & ANIMATION
If Houseki no Kuni should be remembered for anything in the history books, its artistic vision no doubt claims a chapter. For it is not a stretch to denote this anime as a landmark project for the medium regarding the CG approach it daringly takes and the notable execution it ultimately achieves with it.
The show immediately takes advantage of its near-constant extra dimension with slick camera work. Following perspectives and dynamic shots enable the show to go for tougher angles and more interesting possibilities that are just not as feasible in the normal space anime occupies. Not to mention that the general cinematography for the various scenes allows the CG-ness to flourish.
It then goes for those extra steps. While regular stuttering in the actual animation reminds the audience of its 3D nature, it has a certain charm in that the anime isn’t afraid to embrace its computerized roots. Nevertheless, very smooth movements are common as Phos and the others engage in skirmishes and play off one another. The flowing of gold and the richness of fur also catch the eye.
When it isn’t typifying CG usage, the show still remains a sight to behold. Amazing backdrops not only set the stage for the ensuing battles and the calmer downtime they experience but also add context to the loneliness these characters feel and the wonder that their drive manifests. More to the point, Houseki no Kuni integrates flashes of 2D art (rather than the other way around in traditional shows) for its facial expressions and even particular scenes. It’s often subtle, but this melding affords the anime new options around most corners.
The character designs also deserve praise. Their attire coincides with the genderless state of their beings: casual suits and formal ties during the day; bathrobes before bed at night. However, their hairdos garner the most attention. The styles and the colors vary, and an alluring quality follows them almost everywhere as it bobs on their heads and shimmers on their shoulders to a dazzling degree. A feat realized by its CG strides.
Nearly everything coalesces into an incredible display of skill and prowess on an artistic plane. Indeed, this show is now what every other CG-centric anime should most likely look up to and learn from moving forward. And that’s not a shallow statement whatsoever.
Houseki no Kuni continues its streak of strong execution with its cast members.
Phos, the main protagonist, is key among this group. They begin as a weak, clumsy, and naïve pebble and evolve into a strong, determined, and inquisitive gemstone. Their extreme changes become emblematic of character development as the journey before them tests their might and their mettle in an almost uncompromising fashion.
Their personal Ship of Theseus situation modifies their body and their mind, implicitly challenging the concept of identity for another philosophical edge the anime hones. But their heart remains true. Constant failures do not impede their progress but rather instill in them the growth and the maturity they desire. In turn, their setbacks hearken back to that thematic take on self-discovery and guide them towards purpose for both others and their own being.
Moreover, Phos feels hapless and ignored and unwanted. So, they find themselves forced to confront their own weaknesses – known or otherwise – as a means of displacing their supposed inadequacies and thus quelling any doubts. Sometimes the outcome seems desirable; sometimes the outcome drags a haunting burden.
Yet they answer the uncompromising with a refusal to stop. They help. They learn. They mature. While Phos has yet to reach the end of their adventure, they have clearly gotten so far.
Phos alone cannot carry Houseki no Kuni. So, the anime pays attention to its side cast members, ensuring that they as well have a chance to shine. Bort fights as the strongest among them. Alexandrite studies the Lunarians with overexcitement. Sensei oversees his cherished flock with discipline and care. Even fringe characters like Yellow Diamond and Zircon have their own mini-arcs accounted.
Of course, there are vital supporting characters, too. Dia battles against jealous inner demons, and Antarcticite acts as a role model for Phos. One could argue that Houseki no Kuni drops the bar with Cinnabar, its next most important character after Phos, due to their lack of screen time. However, their outcast parallels, their contrasting attitude, and their sideline wisdom form a tight relationship between these green and red wonders.
With the entire crew polished to a refined sheen, it is no wonder that they place the anime ever higher on the pedestal.
MUSIC & SOUND
The CG is basically the mainstay of the show, but the audio decisions within Houseki no Kuni are no slouch over either.
Its opening track, “Kyoumen no Nami”, elicits fascination when plinking piano keys give way to a melody of notes that anchor the song to a forward momentum. The rapid tapping of drums, the bass strings in the background, and the powerful vocals charge up the song with equal parts imagination and sorrow while still maintaining its light, airy ambiance. It all comes together as a vibrant piece that primes the audience for the story that awaits.
Perhaps the crown jewel, though, rumbles forth from the original soundtrack as ancient moods and mystical atmospheres erupt from a majority of the tracks. Dancing xylophones and somber Asian instrumentation evoke an introspectiveness perfect for the narrative. Piano melodies, sweeping violins, and a rousing wind section quake with an orchestral stomp that captures the whimsical, uplifting, and dramatic parts off the anime. Hand drums increase the frantic tension during those common spats with the Lunarians. The ensemble is simply beautiful and memorable.
“Kirameku Hamabe” bookends many of the episodes as the season’s ending track, and it also earns its keep. While not initially as captivating as its OP or OST brethren, this ED grows on the listener with each subsequent listen as the finer details are heard. The blaring trumpets. The crashing cymbals. The rhythmic tambourine. All while moving at a nominal pace the whole time, letting the composition speak for itself. Overlaid with piano and a stoic vocalist, this track soars alongside the rest of the music.
The entire voice-acting crew does a swell job, too. Tomoyo Kurosawa as Phos nails it best. Not because she must as the lead but because she gives them as much personality as she can muster, capturing their jokey mannerisms, their naïve delivery, and their resolute tone, ranging in feeling and emotion as Phos undergoes their bevy of trials. Ai Kayano as Dia and Jouji Nakata as Sensei also get shoutouts for their performances. The former has a gentleness to her words that soothes the soul, and the latter commands with a low-sounding calm.
Smaller touches, like the clashing of stone-on-stone as the characters run through their marbled abode or the ringing emanated from arrows striking swords, further highlight the attention to detail Houseki no Kuni houses in its audio direction. Combined with everything else in the music and the sound, it’s a powerhouse of mountainous proportions.
It’s always a pleasure being able to watch a top-tier anime.
This one had reeled me in from the beginning thanks to Phos. They are force of amusement and intrigue, and they are a constant source of awesome for the entire experience. I like how silly they can be. I’m a fan of their arc. I appreciate their spirit and courage. They have risen high on my list of favorite characters for sure.
I cannot forget about how much fun the other characters bring as well. Dia is lovely and cute with their wholesome kindness and their fondness for fluffiness. Rutile cares mostly for the science of their “people”, so their straightforward behavior when it comes to mending the “scars” and checking the “bones” of their comrades gets me chuckling. And Red Beryl frustrated about improper measurements makes me smile with glee.
Besides the fun, many of the dramatic moments are noteworthy, and its engaging, anti-nihilistic vibe forms a taut tether throughout the show. And it’s just inspiring to see. Not only since I’m a computer dude at heart but also since it accomplishes its goal of tearing down the current CG connotations. I view it as one of the first truly phenomenal CG anime, and I can only hope for a continuation sooner rather than later.
Until then, I sit here content, knowing that this anime has attained stardom already.
Houseki no Kuni surfaces as a fantastic project worth its weight. The philosophy of its themes. The groundbreaking artistry. The fortitude of its cast members. The serene music. The bulk of its entertainment. Any geological timescale will have this anime on its radar indefinitely.
Story: Good, a very interesting premise, an excellent script, nice dramatic moments, and strong themes are held back by a few awkward narrative decisions
Art & Animation: Great, a CG landmark within this medium
Characters: Great, Phos is emblematic of character development, and supports like Cinnabar, Dia, and Antarcticite contribute to both them and the larger tale being told
Music & Sound: Great, a vibrant OP, a soaring ED, a stellar OST, a bunch of wonderful VA performances, and a set of smart audio design choices cap off the production values with style and finesse
Enjoyment: Great, Phos is a favorite, lots of fun discovered, filled with intriguing elements, and inspiring to see
Final Score: 9/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3