Philosophy one-oh-one! where we nit-pick Kino no Tabi — and where I talk about the future of this blog

An often recommended show, Kino no Tabi has been acclaimed by many. I also enjoyed most of it, but more often for its eccentric settings and small twists than for the questions it tries to raise and sometimes answer. Here are the cases that stood out as pretty poorly made for me; I wonder if any of my whopping three readers have a defence for them.

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Episode 1: Telepathy

Rewatching Kino, I first expected to write a more critical article because I think episode 1 is one of the worst. In episode 1 Kino enters a country apparently devoid of people, where machines receive travellers and run businesses. Later, Kino finds that there are people in this country; but they live alone and do not leave their home. Finally meeting a countryman and asking him about the country, she learns that the inhabitants of this country developed a drug which, once drunk, granted them telepathic powers irreversibly. While the idea was first enthusiastically adopted, the situation deteriorated for obvious reasons: unable to hide judgemental or sinful thoughts, humans were no longer able to live together and eventually isolated themselves.

So, what exactly is interesting about this? Nothing. Not even the average light novel reader should be expected to be impressed by the truism that secrecy is important to human relations. A more thought-provoking effort would be to present a situation which could lead us to the loss of secrecy; unfortunately, this episode does not deliver in that regard either. While it gives believable (if obvious) reasons for secrecy to be important, it makes no attempt to provide a credible eventuality which could result in its loss.

I shouldn’t need to point out that the country’s backdrop is far-fetched. Why should the medicine be irreversible? Why can’t people choose what thoughts and feelings to share, and why can’t they use telecommunications in a world with phonographs, and more? It is normal for a short parable to use shortcuts to make a point. But with such a platitude of a point, opting not to would have given it the potential to be interesting.

The episode’s closing scene ends on a more poetic note: Kino reflects on her last interaction with the countryman. She interprets his parting glance as a “be safe, okay?” to which she returned a “thank you” look. Kino tells her motorcycle Hermes that whether she or the countryman correctly guessed what the other was thinking is uncertain, but she is satisfied with it. Text then appears on the shot before the ED cuts in, drawing a parallel between the episode’s parable and the show’s subtitle: “The world is not beautiful; and that, in a way, lends it a sort of beauty.”* The implication is that imperfect communication is part of the world’s ugliness that nonetheless gives it beauty — while possibly true, the show made a strawman of improved communications to prove its point.

*This is the way the niizk/DVD English subtitles worded it, but the original Japanese is actually a lot like the official ridiculous subtext “The World is not beautiful: therefore it is”. (世界はうつくしくなんかない そして それ故に 美しい) Frankly, the way it is worded is worth much of the criticism it has gotten, although I think some of the critics like to take it much out of context.

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Episode 5 Part 2: Democracy

In this episode, Kino visits a country where a single survivor lives. His people overthrew an oppressive monarchy and established a democracy where everything was decided by vote. Since this method was exceptionally slow, a group of citizens suggested that a leader with executive power be elected. The idea was rejected, but since the presence of people with such idea threatened democracy, it was voted that they were to be executed. Time passed, more persons were executed in the same way — only one remains. Thus ends the revolutionary’s tale and Kino’s short visit. As she leaves the country, she thinks, ironically: “Farewell, king.”

Whatever this episode is a criticism of, none of it is valid. The show depicts a dysfunctional democracy with fictional problems largely non-existent in the real world, creating them by bending human nature (in suggesting that anyone’d agree to the slaughter of political opponents) and simplifying politics (in showing an issue easily solved by writing and applying laws) — while many aspects of modern democracies could be criticised, it seemed to me that the episode failed to address any of them.

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Episode 12: Peace

The 12th episode features a country that’s been at war with a neighbouring country for decades, first over the ownership of land adjacent to both territories. They take a unique decision to end the casualties: instead of fighting each other, they will periodically massacre the tribe nearby and declare winner the army with the most kills. After this, both countries know peace and wealth.

One of the morals of this episode is that innocents must be sacrificed for peace. My problem is that the episode takes the statement to the extreme yet provides a very poor example to support it. Completely ignoring that casualties are the very thing that makes countries accept compromises, if this society can settle issues such as which country owns certain territories by holding beat-‘em-up competitions, they might as well run Call of Duty tournaments, completely discrediting the need for external casualties. Yes, this is a parable, but I think the shortcomings in storytelling in this episode have a lot more to do with laziness than symbolism.

Just a thought about episode 11: Kino is not a god

I just wanted to address a criticism I have read from a couple of people. In episode 11, Kino tells a killer that she didn’t save her victim from getting shot because “she is not a god”. This has been pointed out as an important inconsistency in Kino’s character as she was shown to be very helpful in past episodes (specifically episode 2 where she saves three men at the expense of three animal lives). I don’t think this was an inconsistency. One of the things episode 11 attempts to tackle is what punishment criminals deserve, and the person Kino does not save was a murderer given the opportunity to atone for his sin by serving his victim’s wife until his death. Although the country’s stance was to give criminals a chance to atone, the victim’s wife was to put the killer to death, and I think that the fact that Kino ignores whatever feelings she has about the issue highlights that there is no definite answer. Because she doesn’t help a murderer doesn’t create an inconsistency, and had she done it I think the episode would have lost its important (relatively) neutral stance.

What did you readers think? Is there any other episode in Kino that you found particularly poorly made? Do you disagree with my criticism on the examples I selected?

About the future of the blog

I think the awkward silence on this site scared off what few potential readers I may have had. I did not stop writing. But I have dreadful work ethic that I’m trying to change when it comes to writing, and I hold higher standards than my writing skills allow me to meet consistently, so it’s challenging for me to produce good articles. I’ll try not to space out articles so much in the future. What is certain right now is that there will be more. Please stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Philosophy one-oh-one! where we nit-pick Kino no Tabi — and where I talk about the future of this blog

  1. Good article. Kino’s Journey is largely vapid on the writing front, and is carried only by Ryutaro Nakamura’s excellent direction. Alas, such is usually the case with LN adaptations~

  2. This is a really interesting article. It really forced me to reassess my stand with the anime. It’s not that I didn’t see the points you talk about while I watched the show, but I never really looked at them as flaws.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand where your criticism is coming from. But I’ve always seen Kino’s Journey to be a completely metaphysical tale. Even the setting of the show feels unreal. None of the settings seem to exists in coherent point in time, jumping from a 17th century (?) European setting to a post-apocalyptic setting where a whole city was consumed by water and so on and so forth. The story, in my eyes, has always existed in a metaphysical plain used only to ponder about certain ideas and “philosophies.”

    Now, these ideas are hyperbolic. I agree that the portrayal of the struggles here does not mirror real world struggles as they lack the dimensions and complexities which make real world problems greater than black and white presentations of people dying because people are dumb and hateful. Real life issues are far more gray and elaborate than that. But, if you can swallow the show’s metaphysical and hyperbolic nature, then the thought process becomes more bearable. Each episode represents an actual issue except that it is heightened ridiculously. This means that, while the end result cannot be used to critique reality, it can be used to show how how severe the issue is and that there is a need to be cognizant about it.

    Take Democracy as an example. While a real life democracy would never go to such an extreme, as it would be incredibly stupid if it did, the episode has something to say about it. There is a sense of the self-serving nature of a democracy and how political agendas to sustain the self-serving system can silence oppositions. Now, I agree, the show could’ve used to concept to present something more complex and thought-provoking, but I don’t think that’s the show’s point.

    As Kino is our lens, we have to follow her philosophy of life. She is merely a spectator. A passerby through the themes and ideas in each episode. Because of this, we cannot linger on an idea long enough to see the dimensions. Like in Democracy. If there ever was an agenda, we don’t know it. Kino is merely seeing the issue, but never dissecting it. In a sense, this can be seen as how consciousness moves from one thought to another (although, this argument can be seen as flawed in many ways.)

    There are other reasons to why I like this show. The biggest being that Kino represents Kristeva’s idea of dissidence (a key thought in 3rd wave feminism, stating that women have to deconstruct the binary opposition of gender which oppresses them.) The support to this claim lies in the metaphysical nature of the show. Dissidence cannot exist as a physical reality but a mental one, breaking free from the patriarchal system in one’s own metaphysical space. We clearly see that Kino is not identified by her gender, not because she denies being a woman, but because she has rid herself of the binary between male and female. This for me is the strongest part of the show.

    I don’t disagree with your argument. How one views this show greatly hinges on one’s ability to tolerate the exaggeration and the lack of “reality” in it. The main reason I wrote this post is because the comment above me really irritated me. Vapid is too strong of a word for this show and to write it off as a typical LN adaptation strikes me as lazy and misinformed.

    Nice article! Hope to see more. :D

  3. Thanks for your comment! I’ll write a hurried reply as I have a huge amount of studying left to do.

    Your first paragraphs — My criticisms in this post are not examples of why I thought the show was bad, they’re exceptions that I thought were bad among the good. And beyond the writing problems, I like the direction and formula. I need to revisit the show to know if I agree about your rationales but I do not claim to dislike the show in its entirety

    Democracy — “Self-serving” is morally broad and just all-around vague. I still don’t know what the episode has to criticise about democracy. Or how it defended its criticism. (Even if we assume the episode was good for what it was,) I don’t think that there is any great justification or advantage to being unspecific or lacking substance of argument. Visualise how a more substantial allegory would be and you might agree there’s a significant opportunity cost.

    Kino — I also enjoy Kino’s lack of awareness for gender but I don’t like to turn it into a political statement.

    I don’t like hyperbolic or confrontational discourse but I’m glad that tamerlane’s more direct attack on the show made you write your thoughts.

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