Houseki no Kuni Ep. 7: Body anxiety

Ashamed of their inability to act, Phos runs and runs and runs. If only the gem was braver. If only the gem could run when they needed to. The twin Amethysts try to assuage Phos’s feelings, but it is to no avail. The latter had begged so hard to finally get the chance to prove themselves, but in the end, they still failed. All of sudden, Phos spots Cinnabar from afar. The gem quickly hides in the tall grass and resigns themselves to silence: “What would I even say right now?” More than anything, this single line shows you how far Phos still has to go. In last week’s episode, our hero was frozen in fear, unable to help when the twin Amethysts needed them most. And once again, Phos, bound by fear, is unable to help when Cinnabar needs just anyone at all. Think about the gem’s words again. Those same words are probably what everyone has said right before turning away from Cinnabar. And when I say everyone, I mean Kongo as well. When was the last time he reached out to the troubled gem? I bet he thinks the same thing too: “What would I even say right now?” It’s rather tragic.

When winter comes, most of the gems go into hibernation. The lack of direct sunlight means that the gems cannot operate at full capacity, so it’s best just to sleep until spring arrives. They even don elaborate white gowns as they slumber. To what purpose, I’m not quite sure. Furthermore, the gems tend to sleepwalk, but covering them with a sheet will quickly solve that problem. Why? It’s a mystery. Still, there are days during the winter when the sun does come out, and on those days, the Lunarians will attack as they always do. With most of the gems dreaming their days away, it’s up to Kongo and Antarcticite to keep watch. Apparently, the latter is liquid at normal temperatures, but the freezing cold winter allows them to solidify and carry out myriad duties. One of those duties include destroying floes, floating sheets of ice that seem to jut up into the air and let out banshee-like wails. Since these ghastly screams might disturb the rest of the sleeping gems, it’s up to Antarcticite to keep the floes from becoming too chaotic. Unable to sleep, Phos tags along as apprentice.

This episode’s world-building is more like it. From the screaming sheets of ice to the odd towering, spiky formations, we’re finally seeing a world that seems somewhat alien and thus befitting of the show’s overall narrative. I don’t generally comment on a show’s soundtrack, because it’s really not my forte, but even I have to say that the music leading up to the icy vista pictured above was quite impressive. Anyway, Antarcticite says something that gives me pause: “When the sea freezes over, any segments with microorganisms from the sea floor wind up like that. But Sensei once called them ‘sinners’… and I’ve never quite been able to forget that.” I agree, however, when Phos says that these floes resemble the Lunarians. And why would microorganisms lead to such odd-looking formations? This is the sort of world-building I want. Up until now, the landscape has been so drably unimaginative and lifeless. Ironically, when the gems go to sleep, the world around them seems to suddenly come to life. Even stranger, when Phos stops to listen, they can oddly hear the floes call out to them.

Antarcticite advises that the floe cannot actually speak. Rather, the ice is similar to minerals, and can thus mimic the gems’ speech. A bit later in the episode, Kongo adds, “The floes do not speak of their own will. Instead, they are naturally disposed to reflect the anxieties of others and further exacerbate them.” Can we believe him? Kongo is an odd character, because he obviously knows a lot more than he’s willing to teach. Some knowledge is forbidden, and although the gems all love him (and it seems as though the Lunarians are enamored with him as well), that sort of blind worship can be dangerous. I don’t understand why he is so loved, and I don’t see why he should always be trusted. We’re just predisposed to doubting authority, I suppose. Plus, most of the gems have a purpose, and as such, they seem quite content in their day-to-day lives. We’ve only seen three gems display any sort of self-doubt: Cinnabar, Phos, and Diamond. If the floe reflect the anxieties of others, it stands to reason that only Phos would hear their words clearly. Between them, Antarcticite and Kongo, there’s only one individual who has self-doubt.

Although Phos can now run at amazing speeds, the rest of their body is not quite up to par. So what if they could get new arms as well? The floe creepily speaks to Phos again, and this time, it tries to convince the gem to feed their arms to the ice abyss. In Phos’s moment of weakness, they almost do as they’re told, but then tries to back off just at the last second. It’s clear that the gem is dissatisfied with their current body. It’s almost akin to body dysmorphic disorder, but this time, the quick-fix solution might do more than merely change Pho’s appearance. Rather, their core personality may very well fundamentally change. It’s the classic transhumanist anxiety. In the far future, technology will allow us to augment our bodies and surpass our limitations. We’ll be stronger than ever, prettier than ever, healthier than ever. Perhaps nanomachines and various other body modifications can even make us immortal. But as we begin to replace our natural bodies, are we ever concerned that we are in danger of giving up our humanity? What if we lose our sense of self in this mad pursuit of so-called human perfection? Phos now faces the same problem. Phos can replace their arms, but it would mean sacrificing not just a part of their body, but a good chunk of their memories as well. Who’s to say Phos will still be Phos anymore? By the end of this story, the gem might not even be 50% phosphophyllite.

Unfortunately, Phos also has a great fear of failure, and as such, the gem is unable to push themselves beyond their limits through natural means:

Phos: There are things I just can’t do.

Antarcticite: Because you never try.

Phos: I do the things I can as best as I can.

Antarcticite: And so you never accomplish anything new.

Phos attempts to train their body in this week’s episode, but their attitude never quite matches up with their desire. The gem never seems very enthusiastic about the process, and as such, they don’t trust it. They don’t believe that any of the training will work, so they’re just going through the motions. Seeing Antarcticite jump and cleave through mountains probably doesn’t help either. At some point, you start to believe that others just have “it.” On the other hand, you don’t and never will. If anything, their partner’s amazing feats only serve to heighten Phos’s insecurities, thereby allowing the floe to reflect them with even greater clarity. Again, the gem decides not to sacrifice their arms at the last second, but they end up slipping on the ice and nearly falling into the icy abyss anyway. Antarcticite quickly saves Phos in just the nick of time, but the damage is done; the arms are gone.

The episode ends there, but you can imagine Phos getting new arms. Perhaps the new arms will be just as great as their new legs, and as a result, the gem will be able to accomplish great things. But again, will Phos still be the same ol’ Phos? And it’s not as though those old insecurities will just disappear into thin air. People who get a nose job might go back to the plastic surgeon to get a face lift. Then perhaps a tummy tuck. And some liposuction. The list goes on. There’s a deeper problem that needs to be addressed, and that deeper problem resides in the soul. Likewise, Phos can go all transhumanist on themselves if they want, but even if their identity remains intact, there is still that fear of failure that persists. That same fear might lead them to sacrifice another crucial body part. More importantly, that same fear prevented them from reach out to Cinnabar at the start of this week’s episode. After all, a new pair of arms won’t exactly cure depression, now will they?

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9 Replies to “Houseki no Kuni Ep. 7: Body anxiety”

  1. It won’t cure her depression, but when she lost her legs she lost part of her memory. That might happen here again, where she loses her memory of the last attack. She’ll still be Phos and with better arms too, but not Phos as well.

    1. Phos is not a “her”. Phos is a “they”.
      That’s the official English translation, according to the official translators and the actual author.
      The gems are agender beings. Do not misgender them.

  2. The good bits are finally here. The teacher is really a mystery, considering what was learned about humanity evolving into these lifeforms which may or may not be true his comments on the ice floes are suspicious. The floes are probably sentient just like Phos and the other minerals. And the fact that the gem’s natural enemy are also fond of the teacher is a big red flag.

  3. “Kongo is an odd character, because he obviously knows a lot more than he’s willing to teach.”

    Yeah… Kongo is starting to bother me. He’s withholding the truth from the gems, for reasons I cannot as yet fathom.

    Is he really on the light side?

  4. This episode really left an impression in me, especially that last scene where Phos was “hearing the ice” reflecting her insecurities and the camera started to slowly crawl towards the hole, it was ominous, I got the chills (no pun intended).

  5. Phos still kind of meh, but the world is finally starting to become interesting. They really should have done this in the first place. Heck, I’m pretty sure that they could even do something interesting with the plains, the skies, or the architecture of those buildings in the first place. I mean this is 3D. It should’ve been easier for them to create all kinds of crazy stuff with it than drawing them each frame. This anime seriously don’t take advantage of its 3D nature.

    As for the story, it starts to pick itself up and it’s good. I hope that their take on transhumanism isn’t the usual take from Japan media like a lot of other animes, mangas, and JRPGs with their “Technology is evil” shenanigans.

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