Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World-
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World- ?
Alright, so I'll start by addressing why half of the last episode's subtext doesn't come through if you didn't already know what happens in this one—Kino's encounter with that country was loaded with allusions to their backstory, which we receive this week. Both stories were also adapted in Kino's 2003, but in reverse order, where Kino's backstory was the fourth episode, while Kind Country concluded the show. So coming into this episode with that context is obviously going to color my reaction. While I imagine readers might not appreciate this angle if this anime is their first exposure to the franchise, and they're sick of having to sift through impressions colored by a show from fourteen years ago, I can't in good conscience pretend to harbor a perspective that's not my own, so that's where we're at.
This is all a complicated way of saying that I think Kind Country and Adult Country would also feel more impactful in this series if their order were reversed. I appreciate the attempt to be different, but they work better in that order for a reason. Basically, Kind Country was all about Kino confronting their own past and coming to some ambivalent conclusions about their choices in life. Once upon a time, Kino was a little girl living in an Orwellian nightmare state. At the age of 12, kids undergo an “operation” where they're turned into
perfectly subservient members of society adults. However, on the eve of this operation, little Kino encountered a traveler, also named Kino. (Little Kino's forgotten name is implied to have been Sakura, explaining their instant kinship with the little girl from Kind Country who was almost a perfect mirror of their past.) The two of them hit it off immediately, and the guy even helps little Kino realize that the people who should be looking out for their child are about to send them off to be systematically crushed. When little Kino asks their folks if they can opt out of being ritually lobotomized, the so-called adults immediately declare their child defective and try to dispose of them. Their society's (obvious) true colors revealed, little Kino barely has time to think of escape before they find themselves surrounded by a pack of murderous robo-adults.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the traveler happens to be watching. While the “adults”—with mechanical courtesy—give big Kino an opportunity to excuse himself from the scene, he not only doesn't take it but instead weathers a killing blow meant for little Kino. Overcoming their hesitance, little Kino seizes the opportunity to abscond on the traveler's newly refurbished (and newly conscious) motorrad. They make their way out of the city together, and the child once known as Sakura finds themselves alone in a new, wide-open world. Or nearly alone, anyway—the motorrad starts talking again and asks the child for their name, as well as its own. At that moment, little Kino decides to abandon their old name, associated with their prior life of oppressive control, and takes on the traveler's name of Kino. The motorrad becomes Hermes (named for the old Kino's previous ride), and together they become the peripatetic duo we know and love(?).
So yeah, there's an implied cycle of Kinos here, where older travelers set examples for the youth of the entrenched societies that they visit. These children grow up to leave their countries, embracing liminal existences (between societies, between child and adult, or between man and woman), and disseminating their way of life to few others over the course of their own adventures. Kind Country represented our Kino's failure to do what the old Kino did for them all those years ago—the failure to save a child on the verge of being destroyed by their parents' decisions, albeit at great cost to themselves (whether that be inconvenience or death). It's the first time we've really seen the show question Kino's way of life, a gentle criticism of their immaturity and the human sacrifices that are made for the sake of their “self-sufficient” lifestyle.
Interestingly, the previous Kino is implied to have been an older version of the guy we saw accompanying Master on her journeys. In flashback, that guy seemed like a remorselessly murderous asshole, so I assume he must have softened by the time he arrived in the Adult Country. If this is a model for our Kino's trajectory, then I suspect that they're still at an immature stage and will eventually grow into a more mature understanding of their place in the world. I don't expect Kino's 2017 to depict this maturation in any meaningful way, but we do get a taste laid out by the juxtaposition of these two episodes. It remains an interesting thematic angle, even if it was delivered much better in the original series. (This is everyone's favorite criticism, I know.) The tone was more nuanced in Kino's 2003, and the ideas are both more clear and more emotionally resonant when Adult Country comes ahead of Kind Country.
Now at long last, this episode gets us to directly addressing the issue of Kino's gender. While I realize that Kino's female-bodied-ness was revealed a few episodes ago, I decided to wait until this week to discuss it, since this is where it feels more like a proper revelation. So yeah, Kino used to wear dresses. This is more of a revelation in the old anime, where we'd only gotten to know them for a few episodes before their backstory, and they were never referred to as female before the cold open on their childhood. Even here, it's still somewhat shocking to see Kino presenting femme, signifying the extent to which they lacked control over their identity and true feelings in their previous life. Other than that, gender isn't honestly all that important to the episode's content. However, I'll be devoting the next paragraph to it since the topic is important to some readers and it's gone unaddressed in these reviews overall. You can just skip ahead if you don't care for that discourse.
For those unaware, Kino's gender identity is a sensitive issue for certain segments of the show's fanbase. There are a few different ways to interpret how the character sees themselves in terms of gender, so rather than exclude any specific reading, I decided to go with the nonspecific “they” throughout these write-ups in order to accommodate this ambiguity. The crux of the interpretative difficulties on this subject stems from the fact that Kino asks to be referred to as “neither sir nor miss—just Kino”. This statement can be taken in a number of ways—on one hand, it sounds immediately similar to the way that English-speaking non-binary people might introduce themselves to avoid being misgendered. On the other hand, it could also be a function of the show's thematic premise: Kino was created to be a neutral and impartial figure who exists exterior to the societies they observe, including even categorical formalities like “sir” or “ma'am.” It could even be both these things, who knows—the author hasn't said anything definitive on the topic himself. Since the Japanese language doesn't make use of gendered pronouns to anywhere near the extent that English does, we run into issues of interpretation as soon as we try to do so ourselves. My personal interpretation is that Kino's gender ambiguity exists more as a metonymy for Kino's existence as a "true neutral" free-spirited author surrogate rather than any attempt to address contemporary discourse about gender and language. (My reasoning for this is that the story evinces little awareness of gender discourse otherwise.) The story also goes out of its way to have characters refer to Kino as female every once in a while, just to emphasize that they're super-pretty before revealing that they're also super-badass. So yeah, my hunch is that Kino is the author's cool butch fantasy girlfriend. It's definitely a type. However, my interpretation stands apart from my desire to be respectful of folks who consider Kino a key figure in their journeys towards recognizing the viability of trans-masculine or non-binary gender identities. So that's why I've been using "they." You're free to come to your own conclusions on the subject.
With all that heavy thinking out of the way, I didn't actually like this episode that much. Beyond my requisite It's Not As Good As the First Series™ criticism, the tone continues to be pretty messed up, which prevented the story from landing its necessary pathos. While I'd characterize the show's previous tonal gaffes as stemming from auto-pilot-like direction, this episode does seem to be trying to establish more specific emotions—it's just hackneyed and cartoonish in execution. Kino's oppressive childhood is all dark colors and sneering adults and bright red crosses shining on the faces of children while a preacher man explains why cutting off part of their brain is in their own best interest. For one last time, I have to compare this to Kino's 2003, where Adult Country was depicted as a place that could actually produce normal-ish preteens like Kino, so it comes as a shock when the grown-ups started robotically chanting about the necessity of eliminating unruly children.
With only one episode left, Kino's Journey 2017 is almost over. I'm honestly glad, since this show has been an enormous disappointment for me week after week. I'll be treating you to a thorough autopsy next week, but for now, I think I've said my piece. This may be a show about freedom, but as it stands, I just want to be free of it.
Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World- the Animated Series is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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