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!

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One thought 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~

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