Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World-
Episode 3

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 3 of
Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World- ?

Welcome back to Kino's Journey, a story about a person with a gun who shoots things. Frankly, that's the impression you must be getting if this is your first exposure to the franchise. Kino doesn't normally resort to violence this quickly or this often—this adaptation has just been weirdly fixated on those types of stories. Personally, I hope that this abets soon. It's setting a weird standard for Kino characterization-wise, and it's also resulted in some fairly weak philosophical exercises compared to what we got out of the previous anime. Kino goes on plenty of adventures that don't conclude in them casually dishing out pain, I promise.

Even beyond its continued fixation on all the rootin' tootin' shootin', this was an odd episode. Kino encounters a nomadic country that tours the world in a mobile base resembling a gigantic towering Roomba. Upon entering, they encounter a hospitable people whose technology levels far outstrip anything else we've seen in the show. The citizens of this country basically live life on a terrestrial cruise ship, touring lands and seeing sights from the safety and comfort of their own homes. The only issue is that their ride crushes anything that crosses its path. Oops. Eventually a walled country turns up in their way. Despite opposition from the walled country's military, the mobile country proceeds forward, breaking through the wall and destroying some farmland. They do, however, make an effort not to kill citizens of the other country. After that, Kino decides that they've seen enough and heads on their way.

So I can see a few ways of interpreting this fable. The simplest is to look at its dichotomy between an open, mobile country and a closed, static one. In this comparison, the former comes off as the better place, with its happy citizenry and apparent lack of oppression. The closed city, by contrast, appears to be a military state that exploits travelers. So when the mobile country busts through their wall, it can only be a good thing, right?

The problem with the ensuing moral is that I'm not sure what the tone was supposed to be. In terms of leaving an emotional impression, the story seems to want me to favor the mobile country over the static one. However, the episode also raises strange doubts about this that are never actually fleshed out. (Kino says “let's pretend we didn't hear that” when the opposing general raises valid points about the damage that the mobile country leaves in its wake.) My personal evaluation of the situation sides with these doubts, re-framing the mobile country in my mind as the real monster in this scenario, in spite of the episode's attempt to justify its rampage. The problem is that none of this comes together into a cohesive message one way or the other. Of course, there are ways to end a story in an ambiguous “come to your own conclusion” sort of way, but this episode didn't do that. For the most part, it delivers the mobile country's ethos with what feels like approval.

But maybe I'm exaggerating the episode's framing problems. It might just be that I don't like what it's trying to push on me—that it's okay to wreak as much havoc as you want, as long as it's accepted as the inevitable cost of moving through the world. I'm suspicious of this line of argument, since it's typically used to justify losses that are in fact extremely avoidable. (Because of course, the person inflicting them is rarely the one paying the consequences.) This holds true even for the episode's fantastical metaphor of the moving city. They don't have to live like that, and they didn't even have to take the path through that other country. They can't stop the big Roomba completely or it'll go kablooey, but they might be able to back up and drive around or something. There are all sorts of options open to them besides an endless trek through lands that they appreciate from a distance but destroy upon contact. Sure, this sort of “hurting others is the inevitable cost of living” message might have worked if the subject were the ethics of eating meat or something, but this logic cannot be abstracted to the size of literal nations. Things get very bad at that point. Genocidal, even.

I don't want to get too far into real-world politics with these reviews, but I will mention that the mobile civilization itself functions as a pretty good metaphor for how forces of globalized capitalism can manifest through the actions of more developed nations, because it's a system that must be constantly moving to escape stagnation, which would kill it quickly. Global capitalism must seek out new materials and vistas, but its approach also destroys these things, without respect for natural or human boundaries. I'm not sure that this analogy was what the author was going for intentionally, but since I've done quite a bit of reading on the subject, the parallels were a little too direct to ignore. Local cultures and economies often end up disrupted under the justification of "freedom" for the side that benefits. Of course, your mileage may vary on whether such a system is worth it or not. Personally, I think it's done a lot of harm, but this episode treats it like an overall good thing by only briefly addressing (and summarily dismissing) protestations otherwise. My distaste for this message lowers my opinion of this episode beyond even its questionable artistic execution. Your own reaction may differ.

Unfortunately, this episode also feels like an attempt to justify Kino's colossally irresponsible actions from the previous episode. I honestly don't know whether the show is arranging its chosen stories in this way on purpose or not. If it is, then it's communicating a bad message and I have no idea why they would want to take a supposedly meditative show in this direction. If not, then whoever's in charge of stringing these themes together doesn't seem to know what they're doing. It's worth noting that this message also clashes with the first episode, which was all about the weighty responsibility of wielding violence. This contradiction is actually what leaves me currently thinking this is all an accident—another example of tonal inconsistency not just within episodes but even between them. Anyway, my point is that Kino has contributed to (or even instigated) massive disasters within two separate nations in just three episodes. Wasn't Kino supposed to have a general non-interference policy? I want to be optimistic about this adaptation, but it has not been doing itself many favors so far. We're still in the early going, Kino's Journey. Please shape up.

As a final note, because I found this out pretty late into the process of writing this review, apparently the stories that they're adapting were determined by a poll! Notably, the poll did not ask for readers' favorite chapters from the novels, but their favorite countries specifically, which means that vignettes on the road itself like A Tale of Feeding Off Others or Three Men Along the Rails might not have even been considered, to say nothing of stories whose countries could not fill one full episode on their own being unlikely to make the list. That explains a few things. The countries selected were probably the most elaborate in nature, with lots of action scenes or appealingly brutal systems behind them. (Not to mention that Keiichi Sigsawa's large fanbase of gun and military otaku would probably be drawn to stories that most reinforced their interests.) So at this point, I'm not expecting much cohesion going forward, seeing as these stories weren't picked because they go well together or build up to some overall theme, but because they contained impressive enough countries that the greatest number of fans remembered.

In better news, there aren't many repeats of material from the 2003 anime in this selection (just three episodes' worth), so this adaptation has a greater chance to stand (or fail precipitously) on its own merits. It doesn't matter much to me, since rain or shine, Kino's Journey is one of those shows that requires a lot of words regardless of its episode's quality. Strap in folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Grade: B-

Kino's Journey - The Beautiful World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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