From its first episode, Darling in the Franxx uses flower language and plant genetics to frame the entire series. It’s not subtle about any of these trappings, which continue to appear in each passing episode week after week not only in commonly-used titles (like pistil, stamen, etc.) but also in flowers found in the on-site greenhouses, in various rooms, and the series’ most recent ending sequence.
“It is that very frankness of yours that is needed for this task. I am counting on you.”
-Master Kongou to Phosphophyllite, Land of the Lustrous, Episode 1
In the first episode of Land of the Lustrous, Phosphophyllite is tasked with creating an encyclopedia for the gems. It becomes the catalyst for their transformation.. The purpose of the encyclopedia from a narrative perspective is to give Phos a push forward, and also to show how what they want to do (fight like the other gems) is at odds with what comes to them naturally due to their brittle 3.5 Mohs hardness. The encyclopedia leads Phos to Cinnabar, which in turn leads them to another self-assigned task of finding Cinnabar a new job. As soon as Phos begins to transform, the encyclopedia is all but forgotten.
However, the gems could really use an encyclopedia.
Sometimes you begin excitedly telling a story to friends only to realize halfway through the telling that it’s not a particularly interesting story. Yelling “Trotty too hottie” at Trot Nixon over the right field wall at Fenway Park wasn’t all that hilarious to anyone but teenaged you and your fellow friends at the time. The time your friend managed to eat an entire cheese loaf in English class on a dare also wasn’t all that funny.
Or maybe you just had to be there.
As humans, we have the habit of exaggerating the truly mundane because it means something to us, embellishing and using our imaginations to tell better stories than what actually might have happened. At its core, Mobile Police Patlabor: The Early Days is a collection of the opposite of these stories: things fantastic in nature are made mundane, beginning with the robots themselves.
“Is this emotionally manipulative?” is a question frequently asked regarding Japanese animation. I first heard it regarding Clannad — particularly in relation to Kotomi Ichinose’s narrative arc, but also about the series as a whole — but this query dogs certain anime, even if the series in question is completely upfront about these goals, like Clannad. The floating teddy bear in the ocean, the empty, overgrown garden, the musical cues, they’re all in service of eliciting tears from the audience. It’s the equivalent of Russell Crowe’s Maximus screaming, “Are you not entertained?” only the unspoken scream is “Cry, damn you!” to the affected viewer.
In the current anime season, two series have fallen into this category according to the community: Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe. Within the past week, both shows told similar but diverging stories regarding mothers, daughters, and letters that play with ideas of time and transience. These stories offer an easy point of comparison between each other while also pushing carefully constructed emotional buttons.
However, the question shouldn’t be whether something is emotionally manipulative, but whether it works, strings and all. Do these feelings still feel genuine despite obvious cues and pre-existing narrative structures? My definitely-not-dry eyes say yes, but whatever personal conclusion you come to, Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe offer parallel case studies — nearly a week apart in airtime — in what make letters and messages such emotional sucker-punches.
The opening moments of Land of the Lustrous feature an isolated Cinnabar huddled on a rocky outcropping. After a moment, they begrudgingly say that it’s time for work. Cut to the daytime, where Cinnabar is nowhere to be seen, but a group of gems runs across a field before one of them, Morganite, stops and calls out for Phosphophyllite. Their leader, Master Kongou, is looking for Phos.
Whimsical music feeds into our natural curiosity about this world. After Phos and Morganite banter back and forth a bit, Morganite is off to fight the Lunarians with their team and Phos goes to Master Kongou. The entire sequence gives us brief, distilled splashes of each gem’s personality. Cinnabar is sequestered and lonely. Phos is capricious and immature. Morganite is confident and decisive. Jade, who Phos passes en route to Master Kongou, acts like an amused older sibling.
In Episode 12, this sequence is revisited — the same musical cues, the same sweeping camera pans, the same players take the stage. Phos’ transformation takes most of the spotlight. It’s easy to see how much has changed for Phos throughout the series. Land of the Lustrous diligently follows every step of Phos’ physical and emotional metamorphosis. Yet, the series isn’t only about Phos. Pulling the camera back a bit reveals all of the gems in Phos’ periphery, all transformed by events in the series.