Houseki no Kuni Ep. 11: 108 feelings

With Phos and Alexandrite’s help, Bort eventually cuts the Lunarian beast into 108 parts. Even for a non-religious person like myself, that number instantly stood out to me. In Buddhism, you can arrive at the number “by multiplying the senses smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, and consciousness by whether they are painful, pleasant or neutral, and then again by whether these are internally generated or externally occurring, and yet again by past, present and future, finally we get 108 feelings. 6 × 3 × 2 × 3 = 108.” “Feelings,” huh? Are the Lunarians comprised primarily of “feelings?” Of course, everyone has feelings and emotions, desires and sensitivity, but it’s another thing entirely to be predominantly comprised of feelings. Feelings are capricious. Feelings can sometimes be hard to to control or explain. You’ll often hear people say, “I know it isn’t rational, but I can’t help how I feel.” Maybe this can help us understand not just the Lunarians but their relationship with the gemstones as well.

When Kongo finally wakes up, not only does he recognize the beast, he can command it to sit and heel. He even has a name for it: Shiro. Like most Lunarians, Shiro is enamored with Kongo. And yet, when Phos asks if the latter has a shared history with the Lunarian beast, he says, “No. Not at all.” When the gemstone tries to follow up, Kongo plays dumb and falls asleep in Shiro’s fur. Or maybe he’s not playing dumb at all; after all, he does sleep a lot in general. Needless to say, Kongo is withholding information. For what purpose, we cannot tell at the moment, but like the audience, Phos certainly has reasons to doubt him. But according to Cinnabar, nobody distrusts him. Or rather, they choose not to. The other gemstones have always known that his story doesn’t quite add up, but they are nevertheless at peace with their master and what he’s done for them. He’s given them guidance and purpose; he protects and teaches them. Most of the gemstones have no real ambition outside of fulfilling their assigned task. You could say they’re almost devoid of desires. The only gemstones who seem to distrust Kongo are the ones with significant internal conflicts, i.e. Phos and Cinnabar. It’s no coincidence that these two are also not whole.

Even though they were dissatisfied, Phos was at least unified in body until they underwent their myriad changes. Nowadays, they are fractured in both body and mind. Not only are they dealing with the guilt of losing Antarcticite, they are also no longer certain if they can trust Kongo. Unable to resolve these contradictions, we see Phos’s body fracture at one point in this week’s episode, barely holding themselves together with their gold alloy. Cinnabar’s situation isn’t as extreme, but the mercury floating around them almost seems to suggest that they suffer from a particular kind of excess. They have so much of themselves to offer and yet nobody to which they can offer themselves. And like Phos, Cinnabar is still debating whether or not to put their trust in Kongo. In these two characters, we see individuals who are not at peace with themselves and the world around them. They are ultimately dissatisfied with life because they covet. Phos was born weak, but instead of embracing their body, they coveted their peers’ fighting ability. They want to be useful but only on the battlefield. Cinnabar’s situation is more tragic, but nevertheless, they covet their peers’ togetherness — they have a family they cannot be a part of.

When Phos returns home at the end of the night, they see all the gemstones cuddled up against Shiro’s fur. The gemstone almost calls out to Kongo, perhaps wishing to question him more about the Lunarians and his relationship with them, but all of a sudden, a vision of Antarcticite freezes them in their tracks. Antarcticite beckons Phos to keep quiet before once again breaking apart and disappearing. This is, of course, likely nothing more than a figment of Phos’s imagination — a figment born from guilt and sorrow. The latter genuinely wants answers, but they can’t find the courage to get them directly from Kongo. Antarcticite sacrificed too much to help protect their home and keep the peace, so out of remorse and respect, Phos bites their tongue. In the meantime, the Lunarian beast gets its missing hand back and becomes whole again. As a result, it awakens then curls up around Kongo. He pets it gently, and Shiro’s body slowly begins to dissipate. In a tone that almost sounds accusatory, Phos asks if the animal is returning home to the moon. Kongo provides an interesting reply: “No. It would seem it has found peace.” A tiny wisp of Shiro calls out affectionately to Kongo before fading away completely. 108 feelings become one: peace.

In just two episodes, we see Shiro go from being fueled with the same ravenous desire to chase after the gemstones like the rest of its Lunarian brethrens to sleeping peacefully alongside them. But what does it mean for the animal to find peace? Does it mean giving up the desire to possess the gemstones? Maybe that’s what the Lunarians have to do. Maybe, like Shiro, they are just bundles of feelings. They’re impulses, wants, desires, so on and so forth. They are forever covetous, seeking happiness from impermanence because they are spirits permanently left in a state of wanting. They forever chase after the gemstones, because they feel as if they cannot be whole without their flesh and bone. They’ve at least conquered the flesh, but they have yet to fully conquer the bone. And without this unity, they feel as though they’re forever trapped in their current existence of wanting. Whatever led to the destruction of the old world, it’s clear that the three components of man could not remain as one. Perhaps man’s continued existence would’ve just led to an even bigger, seventh cataclysm, which the world could not recover from. And yet, it feels like the Lunarians want return to the way things were. Only when Shiro learns to coexist with the gemstones instead of chasing after them does the beast finally find peace and depart from the world (to nirvana?).

Towards the end of the episode, we learn that Rutile suffers from their own sense of deep dissatisfaction. There once was a Padparadscha, but for whatever reason, this gemstone now has significant holes in their torso. They are effectively dead. Rutile, however, has been attempting to revive their friend by finding chunks of gemstone from The Chord Shore, carving them into cylinders, and transplanting them into Padparadscha’s body to see if any of them will stick. With Phos’s help, Rutile manages to find chunks of ruby that might just do the trick. As a gemstone, ruby apparently has the same hardness as padparadscha , and since Phos has taken so well to their augmentations, maybe Rutile’s former friend can finally come back to life. But from our point of view, this is nothing more than necromancy. It’s one thing to keep a comatose patient going; Padparadscha displays no signs of life. Does the gemstone even want Rutile to tirelessly and futilely try to save them? Does the gemstone even want to have ruby implants? Might Padparadscha be content with their fate? Working on the dead gemstone has definitely honed Rutile’s skills as a doctor, but it has also become an obsession. And this obsession soon becomes a dissatisfaction cannot simply be quelled.

This also explains Phos’s unhappiness. The gemstone has undergone two major changes to their body, and as a result, they’re stronger and more useful in battle than ever. And yet, Phos is also as unhappy as ever. They are not at peace with themselves. They’re seeking happiness from impermanence. But it’s not easy to let go of our desires. Doesn’t it take multiple lifetimes to reach nirvana? The gemstone’s apparent immortality is likely not a coincidence. So we struggle on, and if Phos continues on this path, they might lose yet another body part before they learn life’s ultimate lesson. There’s a telling moment during Phos’s bout of crisis: “What was I after in the first place?” The gold alloy explodes from within them; they’re finding it difficult to keep themselves together. The alloy can keep the body from falling apart, but they parts are nevertheless separated ever so slightly. There’s no longer a unity in Phos’s mentality, and their emotions build up until it explodes.

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6 Replies to “Houseki no Kuni Ep. 11: 108 feelings”

  1. Basically, these 12 episodes have been the introduction of the character and the ground for the real plot, Phos finally questions his world and seeks not only the truth but also his own sense of life, which unfortunately we will not see in the second or third season.

  2. I guess this anime isn’t my cup of tea. This episode is the one that made me realize that this isn’t a science fiction story with Buddhist philosophy trappings, it’s a Buddhist story with a science fiction cover. So, I’ve been watching this anime with a wrong point of view.

    This also made my previous rambling about technology and augmentation to be off the mark. The anime doesn’t give a damn about those things. It just want to use that plot point to make a point about one of the most famous Buddhist philosophies: to covet is to suffer. Yeah, you should be completely satisfied with what you have, people. Before anyone chime in and tell me that I’m simplifying stuff, I know that. I used to be a Buddhist. I just don’t feel like having an in-depth discussion about Buddhism now.

    If my comment about technology and augmentation in your previous article about this anime inconvenience you, I’m sorry, Sean.

    1. If my comment about technology and augmentation in your previous article about this anime inconvenience you, I’m sorry, Sean.

      Relax, dude. I take comments with a grain of salt nowadays.

  3. I’m not fond of Buddhism or mysticism either but this is is still the 2nd best anime of 2017, after made in the abyss. It’s the first time cg has worked for me.

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