Changing Hurts – How Land of the Lustrous Helped Me Say Black Lives Matter (Spoilers)

I moved this review up because it’s relevant to today. There are themes presented here that if ignored will result our own self sabotage.

SPOILER TIME

The primary goal of the main character Phos is to find a role and be useful to the island (specifically, they want to join guard duty to fight Lunarians). The gems’ immortal nature means that as long as all their pieces get put back together again, they’ll be fine. No need for sleep, eating, no aging, etc. This means that who they are is set in stone *ba-dum-tss!* because memory and personality are equally stored and dispersed throughout the body which doesn’t change.

So, it’s of little surprise that Phos hasn’t changed their character or developed too much in 300 years (one of the youngest on the island). That is until they get digested by a giant snail during a Lunarian attack. After their mineral pieces are reclaimed from the snail’s shell post-absorption, Phos gains the ability to speak with and understand sea creatures, unlike any of the other gems. Because of this, they attempt to help the sea creatures and they lose their legs in an attack, replacing them with agate afterward. Due to the change in material, their legs can withstand much greater speeds and pressures, making Phos less brittle. The price is losing a bit of their memories and personality, as those portions stored in the legs are now gone.

Having tasted this change, Phos is now certain that they can be of use and starts to tag along on some patrols with other gems but still gets paralyzed in fear at critical moments. They still need to change. At this point they’ve learned the truth: if they are going to have meaningful, lasting change, it is going to cost something. Up until this point Phos has not really been fulfilled in life, but has led a generally happy, carefree life of having others cover for them, free of responsibility. “Someone will find a way to make this work,” they tell themself while contemplating cutting their own arms off without having any plan for what to replace them with.

With their mentor, Antarcticite, Phos goes in search for any non-integrated phosphophyllite that can be used to forge new arms (there isn’t any). Resigned to use anything that might work, gold and platinum alloy is chosen and placed into Phos’s arm sockets. The reaction is a bizarre fluidity not before seen by other gem material, as gold is very soft and malleable. It is then that the Lunarians attack. Phos’s subconscious desires take over at first as connections are forming, and the golden arms surround Phos safely in a small, thick golden box. After fighting off the Lunarians, Antarcticite tries to help Phos out of the box, only to be shattered by an attack from a second wave.

In this moment Phos has options to take. They can stay with the comfortable, easy subconscious actions of the new golden arms, which are now gagging Phos to keep them quiet to stay safe. After all, the Lunarians are passing by as it would be too much of a hassle to get to Phos. Or they can do something. Phos musters the courage to overcome their subconscious and the confines of the safe but imprisoning cube, causing it to morph into a blossoming lotus (largely symbolizing rebirth in Buddhist culture, from which a lot of symbolism in this show is taken) before absorbing into Phos as arms and enabling them to act.

But it’s heavy and painful. Phos’s legs and the rest of their body struggle to bear the weight, and with each step Phos’s body cracks. And the gold fills in those cracks to mend them. And it leaks from their eyes. It hurts, and it hurts, but Phos pursues the Lunarians to hurl a sword at them before they can get away. But it falls short, as Phos has acted just too late. Antarcticite is gone. (Symbolism note: Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with a lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind it is that it treats the repair as part of the history of an object to be embraced and celebrated, rather than to disguise it.)

Phos is wracked with guilt, but realizes that hopefully, they can at least protect the other gems now with these new, but heavy, arms. With the loss of their previous arms, Phos lost some of their naivete and carefree attitude, and history with other gems. They suffer from sleep loss, always seeing Antarcticite’s face in their dreams and always feeling like they could have done more or done it sooner. Phos doubles down on their own introspection and notices several things that don’t add up regarding Kongo, the leader and caretaker of all the gems. There are secrets he is not telling. Secrets about their origin, their system, and who the Lunarians really are. Cinnabar and the other gems all are aware of it, of course, but have an unspoken agreement to not bring it up or say anything and just follow Kongo Sensei anyway.

But Phos can’t help seeing the parallel of playing it safe in their gold box and watching Antarcticite get shattered and taken. This comfortable complacency about the missing stair in the staircase because it’s easier that way. We wouldn’t want to upset our leader, Kongo Sensei. We don’t want to change the status quo.

In the wake of the past week and a half, I couldn’t stop thinking about some core parallels. Specifically, I’m talking about white people. If Phos’s journey is an allegory for growing up, where are you regarding Black Lives Matter? Are you refusing to change yourself? Are you being safe, in a closed, protected box of gold?  Are you not speaking out because it makes things uncomfortable; because you might get attacked for “being political?” Or are you, like the other gems, not talking about what you know is a definite problem? Are you ignoring it to not stir up contention? Are you too attached to your memories and perceived history to remove them and replace them with something better? Are you worried that if you look into this, you’ll find out exactly what you secretly know to be true but don’t want to confront the depth?

It’s time for a rebirth. It’s time to cut off some of your useless limbs and replace them. It’s time to break out of your safe golden box and do what is right and needs to be done. Fair warning: It Is Going To Hurt. It is going to hurt a lot. You are going to lose sleep over it, and it is going to shatter parts of you. There will be many moments where you will feel like throwing up. It is going to be a heavy burden to realize how much suffering and pain you’ve been either causing, ignoring, or hopefully, just weren’t aware of. While you don’t want to be left with the regrets of “If only I’d broken out sooner. If only instead I’d reached out” it is better to feel them now rather than later when that regret will be even greater.

The utopia (with some small conflicts) that you thought you lived in has deep ugly secrets. While Kongo declares the Lunarians a strange enemy, he has a deep history and connection with them. While racism is declared the enemy of America, it has deep roots in government and infrastructure. Learn about Fred Hampton, and the strategic plans the FBI took to squash out and assassinate a man because he was creating unity while being black. Learn about the specifically planned lies FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover circulated to shape Americans’ attitudes toward Black activism. Watch at least some of the 200+ videos of police grossly overstepping their bounds using excessive violence on peaceful people that have come to light in just the last week. Compare Police statements to video evidence and see the pattern of brazen disregard for truth, accountability, and justice.

It sucks. It all sucks. The pain of realizing it, the distrust you will feel toward those you’ve idolized and upheld as everything good. The saddening realization of internalized racist beliefs in yourself and your good, loving family members. You don’t want it to be true because you’ll feel like a fool for believing a lie. You’ll especially not want it to be true because you’ve fought against those who said it was and you’ve scoffed at them. If you hold on to the less useful and brittle parts of yourself you won’t change for good. If you stay in your gold box too long, you’ll be too late. Break out of it and let that gold fill your cracks and improve your own worth towards doing something. It’s time to grow up some. And after this, many things will not be the same. Nor should they be. It’s bittersweet, but it’s definitely for the best.

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