Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World-
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World- ?
I just don't know what to do about Kino's Journey at this point. While it treated us to a fairly benign episode last week, that may have just been a trick to get my guard down for the most brazenly sociopathic and gun-tastic “parable” the show has delivered so far. The only silver lining this week is that the show (once again) does not star our traveling androgyne, meaning that they get to avoid coming off as the worst character in their own show. I've sincerely been trying to give this new Kino's Journey a chance, but I can't continue to dull my words if it keeps delivering episodes like these. I apologize in advance if this review ruffles some feathers, but I have a responsibility to convey my feelings about the show honestly.
So this episode stars Kino's old teacher, a woman only known as “Shishou” ("Master" in Japanese). Right now she's an old lady who lives in the woods and teaches people survival skills, but she was a traveler like Kino when she was younger. She took on students even back then, and one day she and her pupil at the time visited a country run by a military police state. The place is super corrupt, and her pupil is soon arrested on false charges of “possession of illegal drugs.” So Shishou has to bust him out with her Metal Gear Solid-esque military infiltration skills. Okay, fine so far I guess. She busts her pupil out of jail, but now they have to figure out how to leave the country now that its entire military is on their tail. They settle on the idea of holding a counter siege, in which they hole up in the country's giant main clock tower and pick off the enemy's numbers until they've suffered too many casualties and are forced to let them go. Despite the fact that they're two foreign dudes against an entire country's military on their home turf, this plan somehow works. Our “heroes” pwn these n00bz over the course of three days or so. Sick of getting rekt so hard, the country eventually agrees to let the two of them go. Shishou even manages to extort a lot of money from them in exchange for giving up her assault. And so they leave, having thoroughly gotten one over on this country of assholes.
Decades later, Kino now returns to the country where Shishou conducted her assault. It turns out that she and her pupil are now celebrated there as the folks who instigated the rebellion that toppled their oppressive government. History has recast her actions as benevolent, and even the people whose kneecaps she shot off profess to love her. The country is doing great now, and Kino leaves bemused over the fallout of her mentor's actions.
With this summary out of the way, I'll just cut to the chase: this is a totally unrealistic power fantasy with zero relation to real life. This is another episode where I would prefer to deny that it's broaching anything meaningful at all, since what it ends up saying politically is so bizarre and irresponsible that I'd like to pretend it didn't happen. Basically, this episode furthers sovereign citizen movement-style ideas about this type of violence's impact on society. Keep in mind that I'm not defending the government at all in this case. It's a pretty textbook horribly oppressive system that nobody could possibly defend. The issue is that a system of this level of evil is the only thing that could justify these protagonists' actions at all. Ultimately, they're just hurting a lot of people (who are later implied to have been oppressed drudge workers themselves) out of their own self-interest. Well, at least they aren't killing them – they're just shooting them in the kneecaps, crippling them for life in an act that Master's pupil describes as “more cruel than actually killing them off.” Am I supposed to like these people?
Moral issues aside, it's a ridiculous and dangerous fantasy that two people would be able to pull this sort of thing off. It's honestly only somewhat excusable to me out of courtesy that this was written by a Japanese person, who isn't steeped in the horrible gun violence that we face in the United States. I'll try not to shove too many of my own polarizing opinions in here, but beyond whatever you personally believe about gun ownership, the sorts of standoffs depicted in this episode have historically not worked out. A handful of people (just two in this case) cannot fight the state like this, and it's dangerous to frame that as even feasible let alone morally righteous. On top of that, a single act like this triggering a populist rebellion that takes down the entire government is several flavors of stupid in its own right. That totally does not happen ever. While some people do idolize folks who try something like this as heroic rebels, these are a small minority who never have enough firepower to combat the actual government. No matter how much ammo they stockpile or how well they've trained as Solid Snake-style self-sufficient agents, a military government has an immense numerical advantage in uprisings like these, on top of superior weaponry like devastating tanks and bombs. If there are extenuating circumstances to mitigate this, then the show needs to make them clear in order to justify the scenario that it's created. Kino's Journey did not.
So even in the context of all the information provided to us, this just would not happen. Perhaps more importantly, these conflicts cannot be easily framed as black-and-white “good guys versus bad guys” encounters between the people and the government. Of course there are situations where either the people or the government are overwhelmingly in the right – this episode seems to be the former – it's just that you cannot frame these situations with the ethical simplicity that this episode trades in if you want to say anything remotely meaningful or relevant about the world. Even if one side is overwhelmingly justified, a lot of innocent people will get hurt, which is vital to acknowledge in fictional depictions of these conflicts. There should be a complex evaluation of everything that went into the situation before reaching any sort of conclusion about the ethics of the actors involved. Based on my own evaluation of the situation, Master and her pupil don't fare too hot in this one.
This gets into more issues from previous episodes wherein an outsider instantly knows what's best for a country's people and has to guide them (successfully or not) toward realizing their own self-interest. This is a textbook case of the “savior complex” that tends to pop up when a person from a privileged society tries to write about other cultures and their problems. It's both super condescending and unrealistic, as the people living in a situation daily will generally be the ones to know best how to sustainably fight for their rights and survival. Finally, parts of this episode just straight up don't make sense psychologically. I find it extremely unlikely that someone who our heroes crippled for life would go on to even superficially deify them years later. That guy knows that their assailants were just a couple of people with absolutely no political motivations trying to leave the country. They took a bunch of money and got the hell out of dodge. They clearly weren't interested in cleaning the place up. And if that guy – as one of government-aligned people they shot at – is happy that the revolution went on to happen, doesn't that mean that the crippled cops were themselves oppressed in some way? Doesn't that make the characters look bad because they hurt a bunch of already oppressed people?
The real answer is that this isn't considered unethical by the show's standards because it's arguing for an extremely self-interested conception of personal freedom. While I can certainly empathize with the desire to be beholden to nobody while living a life free from permanent interpersonal consequences, real life doesn't work like that. Countries aren't walled city-states with vast stretches of unclaimed territory between them. Unclaimed territory does not exist in the modern world, so no matter where you go, you'll be beholden to somebody's rules (and if you're a citizen somewhere, its corresponding privileges and responsibilities). There are ways to criticize this more thoughtfully in the show itself; the fact that you need papers to exist pretty much anywhere causes a lot of trouble for people. The show's failure to acknowledge this undermines a lot of its attempts at discussing civic issues. Acting like Kino does in this series would be nothing but selfish and dangerous in our world. It's irresponsible to discuss serious problems like “When is violence justified?” and “What's the best way to organize society?” while handwaving the premise's escapist framework.
Of course, these criticisms only matter if Kino's Journey is supposed to relate to real life in any way, which I believe is still the central conceit. (At least, that was certainly the case for the 2003 series.) But even if this were just an escapist adventure story, it's being bad at that too. The action elements are as dully composed and unimpressively animated as the rest of the show. They also made the bizarre choice to lay an old-timey sepia filter over the whole flashback, as if they were worried that the viewer would forget that most of this episode takes place in the past. The flashback itself is also clumsily constructed – it just sort of starts and stops suddenly between the present-day narrative. They also don't introduce Kino's master very well. This story really feels like it wasn't meant to be her initial appearance, but rather a way to expand on a character we were already familiar with. This also marks the third episode of the show to not actually feature Kino in any significant way. While this has spared them from involvement in some real bad incidents, it's also taken the focus away from them in their own show. Of course, that may be a form of mercy, considering the situations this series tends to place people in.
Next week, I hope that Kino's Journey doesn't try to justify shooting your way through an army of cops on the grounds that everyone (including the people you shoot) will be secretly grateful to you. This is all I've wanted out of the show for a while, but this week I got unlucky again. Remember two months ago, when people had high cerebral expectations for this anime? Now I can describe Kino's Journey as a show where the heroes comically blow up a cop car with a bazooka. Life may be awesome when you're a stateless wanderer with the combat training to infiltrate and undermine governments with ease, but it sure seems to suck for everyone else.
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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