Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World-
Episode 6

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World- ?

Six episodes in, Kino's Journey has at least treated us to its first solid episode since its premiere. I'm relieved. My outlook on the show got pretty bleak when not even last week's turn away from more sensitive subject matter managed to raise its bar for writing quality. It's nice to write about an episode that felt like less of a fiasco – although that hasn't done much for this review's wordcount.

So this is what you might call a Jesus story. It stars a girl who has committed herself to a creed of absolute forgiveness, who is tested by facing down the full brunt of human cruelty. Our heroine (let's just call her Slave Girl for now) was sold into slavery by her deeply religious nation. She now serves a group of traveling merchants who batter her relentlessly. Some members of the troupe doesn't understand why Slave Girl puts up with all of this so calmly, so she explains her ideology, and one of them gives her what seems like sincere advice on the folly of such groundless faith. She's then tasked with making dinner.

However, only later does she realize that the local ingredients used to make them stew were poisonous. She tries to tell the traders not to eat, but they don't listen to her. She then attempts suicide by drinking some herself, but one of their children cruelly knocks the bowl out of her hand. That child then asks his father for permission to murder her, as part of some sort of initiation ritual for becoming a man. She goes a little nuts at this point, breaking into a primal scream as her masters fall dead.

When she wakes up, only one is left alive – the guy who tried to give her advice earlier. He didn't eat the entire meal because he “doesn't like vegetables,” despite his earlier remark that one shouldn't be “a picky eater.” He realizes that Slave Girl is innocent and seems to comply with her request that he kill her with his gun. He releases her from her chains and, while helping her line up the deadly shot, twists the gun so that he will be shot instead of her when she squeezes the trigger. His final words are a plea that she maintain her idealistic view of life. Having been freed from her life of servitude by this horrific incident, our heroine is left to pick up the pieces of her shattered identity – alone but alive.

Fortunately, she's not alone for long. The traders happened to be carrying a motorrad, who speaks up after this whole ordeal ends. He congratulates Slave Girl for what she did and encourages her to go out and live life. While she keeps beating herself up over the whole thing, the motorrad eventually convinces her to keep on living while developing a sense of pragmatism about her beliefs. Eventually, she goes on to live a happy life, picking up the name “Photo” in reference to her chosen career as a photographer.

Overall, this was a pretty basic attempt at complicating a strict pacifistic ideology. This type of story has been told plenty of times before, and I can see why – “don't hurt a person even when they're literally killing you” is one of the easier worldviews to poke holes in. Well, I do love me some Trigun, and while most of this episode is spent skewering its Vash-alike, it isn't overly cruel to her. It still finds value in her optimistic view of human nature, especially in comparison to her captors' vicious disregard for others. I do wish that the ending had been clearer about her ultimate ethical standing, however. The ending reads like she was simply rewarded for having discovered the will to live in spite of her self-perceived moral impurity. I'd like to know exactly she modified her beliefs, and whether this contributed to her fate. At least I'll admit that this is the first time in a while I've been left thinking about the implications of a KJ episode's dilemma in a constructive way, rather than just untangling all the ways in which it doesn't make sense or makes Kino look like a giant asshole. Speaking of Kino, they were barely in this episode, mostly showing up to comment on the caravan merchants' abandoned corpses. It's funny that they basically don't show up in one of the least-bad episodes of their own show so far. I'm really gonna laugh if Kino's influence on events turns out to be entirely negative throughout this series.

I also liked how the (slightly) sympathetic master was characterized. “Picky eating” is a good metaphor for living a scrupulous life in an environment where you're expected to live off using and abusing your fellow man. Luckily for Photo, the guy turned out to be a hypocrite who wasn't emotionally prepared for the brutality of his clan's lifestyle. The fate he suffers is really the only decent thing he could have done after all they put her through.

The direction was also slightly more present this week. There was some atmosphere and good use of dramatic lighting throughout, and the show struck a nice balance in its use of violence – appropriately brutal without spilling over into unnecessary harshness or unpleasant voyeuristic glee in the heroine's suffering. It is a bit unnerving that this show only seems to come alive when framing scenes of brutality and violence, but whatever. I'm just glad to see an episode that doesn't bore me visually or baffle me intellectually.

If this adaptation has any advantages going forward, it's the entirely episodic content, where poor story decisions made early on won't drag down the entire show down over time. There's still time for this whole thing to equal out to a mixed bag, even if that would require the rest of its episodes to be solid hits. For now, I'd settle for “doesn't accidentally advocate crimes against humanity” in the future, a feat for which Kino's Journey is now on a two-episode streak. Then maybe we could work our way up from there. Let's keep this gradual improvement up.

Grade: B

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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