In the mysterious future, crystalline organisms called Gems inhabit a world that has been destroyed by six meteors. Each Gem is assigned a role in order to fight against the Lunarians, a species who attacks them in order to shatter their bodies and use them as decorations. Phosphophyllite, also known as Phos, is a young and fragile Gem who dreams of helping their friends in the war effort. Instead, they are told to compile an encyclopedia because of their delicate condition. After begrudgingly embarking on this task, Phos meets Cinnabar, an intelligent gem who has been relegated to patrolling the isolated island at night because of the corrosive poison their body creates. After seeing how unhappy Cinnabar is, Phos decides to find a role that both of the rejected Gems can enjoy. Houseki no Kuni follows Phos' efforts to be useful and protect their fellow Gems. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
The GRRM Reaper once posited the Furniture Rule: that at its core, literature is an exploration of the human condition; the rest is fluff, furniture.
Houseki no Kuni begins as a simple story of immortal, genderless life forms, the Gems, with each individual based around a gemstone from which they take their physical characteristics. They are being hunted down by Lunarians for what seems to be collector’s fancy. Slowly, the story moves on, teasing the layers of mystery of its world and a more intriguing aspect of the entire dynamic unravels, one more conducive to philosophical discourse. The introduction of a third faction, the Admirabilis, elevates the nature of their conflict and is poised to bring the series higher should its story continue.
The CGI nature of the show doesn’t really take away anything from the narrative but rather enhances and prepares it with its CGI portrayal of the three factions telling a story: the Gems, with their janky yet solid movements, aimless and unmotivated beyond mere survival; the Lunarians ethereal and eternal, purposeful in action; and the Admirabilis, frills and filaments galore, excess made manifest, seductive and ephemeral.
Underneath the trappings of a fantastical concept, however, Houseki no Kuni is a thesis of how our place in our world is intricately intertwined with our purpose. It’s a story about identity.
It’s a story of Dia, valued, vaunted, a tier above other gems, yet struggling to find a moment in the light under the vast, dark shadow of a peer better and stronger.
It’s a story of Cinnabar, self-exiled, isolation poisoning the mind, bereft of a shoulder to lean on.
Most of all, it’s a story of Phos, aimless slacker, wanting to do more than just making an encyclopedia that has no equivalent value assigned by other Gems. Phos wants to fight, swept up in the idea that Gems prove their worth in the only way their circumstances allow: fighting the Lunarians. Phos’ initial value was demonstrated when, devoured and broken to bits and pieces, the grim, though temporary, fate evoked nothing but cruelly nonchalant reactions from fellow gems.
How can someone so brittle prove their value when, to paraphrase Einstein, the fishes are judged by their ability to climb a tree.
Houseki no Kuni’s approach to the problem is a rather straightforward one. Instead of changing the playing field to a pond, our little fish is given an opportunity to be better, losing parts of itself in the process. Part of its identity must give, in the hopes that the best version of itself can be achieved. And that hopefully the best version of itself is its truest self. Whether it’s true or not remains to be seen.
And I must say, this conflict of identity and the show’s solution ties in fully with the larger, grander aspects of the narrative: the three factions, each crucially lacking traits the other two possess. Can the three factions be so much more together much like how Phos had become much more than the Mohs scale of hardness? We’ll see.
For now, enjoy one lost little fish trying to scale a tree, struggling to find the right balance lest it loses sight of who it is.