Houseki no Kuni Ep. 8: Embracing imperfections

Pho’s body cracks from the weight of their arms newly forged from gold. Being a malleable element, however, the gold quickly spreads throughout their body and fills in the cracks. I’m instantly reminded of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with golden lacquer. The idea here is that restoring a broken bowl to its pristine condition erases its rich history. A bowl without nicks and cracks is perhaps a bowl that has not been used. So in order to preserve the bowl’s spirit, we must necessarily embrace its imperfections. We allow the nicks and cracks to exist as they are. Not only do we reinforce them, we highlight them. It’s as if to say that the nicks and cracks make the bowl even more beautiful than when it was first crafted by the artisan. Maybe the same can be said about the rapidly evolving Phos.

The gemstone is far from perfect. Far, far from perfect. They seem to have a nose for trouble, but worst of all, Phos is a burden. Whenever they find themselves in a predicament, it’s always up to someone else to rectify the situation. After all, Phos can’t fight whatsoever, so whenever the Lunarians appear, their peers must do all the heavy-lifting. The twin Amethysts nearly lost themselves in an attempt to teach Phos a thing or two about swordsmanship. In this week’s episode, the results are even more tragic. The gold initially reacts strangely to Phos, enveloping them in a cube of gold. After fending off the Lunarians, Antarcticite lets their defenses down in order to try and free Phos from their prison. A surprise attack is thus able to sneak its way through and completely shatter the wintery gem. Phos could do nothing but watch as their friend is taken away bit by bit, piece by piece.

But with their final gasp, Antarcticite does not curse their clumsy, ineffectual partner. Instead, they tell Phos to stay quiet and make sure to protect the other gemstones for the rest of the winter. In essence, Antarcticite entrusts their duties to the younger gemstone even though Phos has hardly proven themselves capable of anything (they can’t even collect information for an encyclopedia). Over and over again, Phos will screw up, but no one rejects them. Everyone continues to love and embrace the youngest gemstone. Cinnabar, Diamond, the twin Amethysts, and now Antarcticite. In essence, they love Phos as a part of their family despite their imperfections. Bort might be harsh with their words, but if someone didn’t care about you, they’d just say nothing. The only person who doesn’t seem to love Phos is, well, Phos. The gemstone never takes any risk because they don’t think they can accomplish anything. They have no belief — and thus love — for their own body.

As a result, Phos slowly loses themselves over time. First, they lost their legs and had to replace them with agate. And now, they not only lose their arms but Antarcticite as well. Phos’s new arms are stronger than ever, but at what cost? This latest failure will sting the most. If they hadn’t lost their arms to the icy abyss in the first place, Antarcticite wouldn’t have had to drag them all the way out to the Chord Shore. There, we learn how inorganic dregs of ancient organisms (likely humanity) work their way through the earth, and after hundreds of millions of years (is that accurate?), they eventually collect as giant deposits of gemstones and minerals. Only rarely is something born with with the ability to think and reason. It’s enough to elicit a sense of pity: “Well shoot… even after they’ve made it all this way.” Essentially, Phos may curse their weak body, but they are lucky to even be alive in the first place. If the gemstone could only love themselves, then the floe wouldn’t have been able to prey on their insecurities.

So what happens when the cracks in Phos’s body are filled with gold? The gemstone suddenly loses all doubt and gains a new sense of determination: “I haven’t given up. I’ve found the courage to push beyond my limits.” Not only can they now control the gold that had once imprisoned them, they have the spirit to fight. This is the first time Phos appears to harbor no fear of the enemy. But it’s too late. The Lunarians disappear into the horizon, and Phos is left with nothing but the remains of their failure. But if this episode has shown us as anything, it’s that we have to cherish our imperfections. As I’ve said before, they are signs of our existence. It’d be easy if Phos could wake up one day as a perfect and pristine gemstone, but that would erase everything that they’ve learned and experienced up until now. We’d be back to square one. Kintsugi is thus intrinsically linked to wabi-sabi: the acceptance of transience and imperfections. This is the only way Phos can continue moving forward.

Odd bits and ends

— I can’t understand Kongo. When Antarcticite tries to take the blame for Phos’s injuries, he says, “This was all due to a lack of caution on my part.” So what does he do next? He tells his two precious disciples to travel all the way out to the Chord Shore by themselves. Let’s not forget the fact that Phos has no freaking arms. And even if they did, they haven’t shown that they can fight at all! Sure, the sun is rarely out during the winter, so the chances of the Lunarians attacking are low. But why risk it? What is so important that he has to stay behind? It’s not to protect the other gemstones, since he eventually makes his way to the Chord Shore anyway. Kongo only ever shows up at the very last minute, then he acts all sad and blames himself for his failures. It all seems very fishy to me.

— Looking at the way that they are born, isn’t it possible for there to be two or more of the same gemstones at any given time? Can’t another, say, Diamond appear from the Chord Shore if enough time passes?

— If chunks of gemstones still end up on the Chord Shore, then how come the Lunarians don’t just camp out here? Do they not know about it? Or do they only want gemstones that was once capable of thought and reason?

— And how come they have no interest in gold whatsoever? Gold looks nice, doesn’t it? Better than phosphophyllite, in my opinion.

— I can’t imagine what body part Phos might replace next. Their torso? But that would mean losing a majority of their body. Our torsos make up the largest percentage of our bodies, after all. Their head? We identify ourselves with our brains, so it’s hard to imagine replacing one’s head and still maintaining a sense of self. But gemstones are not human. It’s entirely possible that Phos will still be Phos will a new head as long as their body is still primarily composed of phosphophyllite.

— But then it’s like the Ship of Theseus paradox. Phos’ new legs didn’t appear to change their personality, but they did lose a few memories. Their new arms, however, have definitely given them more courage and determination. The gemstone can replace themselves one body part at a time. At what point will Phos cease to be Phos? I think philosopher Derek Parfit would argue that someone like Phos need not be too concerned as long as they maintain psychological connectedness and continuity with whatever body they eventually end up with. But I think that’s precisely the problem. With each body part that Phos replaces, they lose parts of their memories, so psychological connectedness grows weaker and weaker over time. Still, it’s been too long since I read up on Parfit, so I’m going to stop before I say anything blatantly incorrect.

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5 Replies to “Houseki no Kuni Ep. 8: Embracing imperfections”

  1. “…do they only want gemstones that was once capable of thought and reason?”

    The snail king said they once were humans, and now the lunarians are the soul trying to collect the snails (the flesh) and the gems (the bones). Maybe the ones that doesn’t end up as gem people simply never were human – they could be other beings. The lunarians want their human bones, not just pretty gems.

    That’s how I understood, anyway.

  2. I think she’s gonna merge with a Lunarian, then all 3 life forms will be in one body. I also think her Gold alloy is similar to cinebar, and I don’t see why she doesn’t ask her to teach her how to use it better.

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