It’s a question that’s been asked since the beginning of time – what’s it like to live? What qualities define something as “a living creature”?
At first, the show questions the concept of death by demonstrating how gems can be put back together after shattering. However, in episode 4 Phos comes up with a hypothesis that death is like a person going far away and never seeing them again. This not only demonstrates how the Lunarians hunting Phos and the Gems has shaped the world around them, but also demonstrates a very childish mindset, well-suited to the youngest of the Gems. Likewise, when Phos is consumed by the King Snail (Ventricosus) and incorporated into their shell, the viewer is tasked with the concept of death by how Phos may have to accept a new fleshy fate before the reveal that Phos’s real parts lie within the shell. You could even say Phos is a ghost in the shell! Ahaha…oh, never mind…
Silly jokes aside, it’s revealed in subsequent episodes the gems’ only requirement is for light. This, by the definition of how living things work, make them more akin to plants rather than humans which not only facilitates Phos’s growth through isolating them for the winter, allowing for a coming-of-age over a short span of time, but through a biological lens this becomes interesting to ponder. After all, in biology the requirements for a creature to be living are exemplified by the mnemonic MRS GREN – the gems, as far as the anime has shown us (and as far as my memory goes), do not fulfil the requirements, for they do not excrete (like Ventricosus’s small form), nor do they grow.
Furthermore, people would argue that in order to be human, people need to be capable of understanding each other. The gems still share this trait, but as Phos becomes scarred with the loss of Antarcticite, they lose the ability to sympathise, having gone through a trial no one else – not even Antarc’s beloved Kongou-sensei – was there to witness. However, strength and resilience are also extremely human traits, and as Houseki no Kuni moves towards its climax, Phos appears to be spurred towards learning how to move on from the taking of Antarc.
This was only a brief post, but I think it gives a unique look on the subject. So, what do you think about what Houseki no Kuni says about living and the human condition?