Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World-
Episode 9

by Gabriella Ekens,

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Welcome to Kino's variety episode! This is where they shoved all the stories that wouldn't fill 20 minutes, but also couldn't be tacked onto the edge of another episode. This results in some pretty rapid-fire storytelling, so I'll be structuring this write-up in a similar way.

The first segment, Tale of Bandits, is basically a showcase for how badass all our heroes are. It's told from the POV of a bandit leader as he teaches a newbie the ropes. The newbie's job is to look for travelers to raid, while his boss is schooling him on what to look for. So they encounter Shizu, the newbie thinks about attacking him, and then the boss explains why that's a bad idea. The same happens with Kino, and then the boss reveals that this all started because his team made the mistake of attacking Kino's teacher long ago. He runs off in a PTSD flashback and this bit ends. So in the end, Kino and Shizu are cool, people who mess with them are idiots, and it's funny when people have trauma freakouts. Yay?

The second segment (Country of Accruing Virtue) is the episode's most thoughtful by far, and also one of the few Kino 2017 stories where I actually agree with what it argues. The execution was still sloppy, but it did actually diagnose a potentially dangerous social possibility and debunk it for reasons that make sense.

So Kino has lunch with an older guy who seems to be an upstanding member of the community. He explains the country's system to them, where people are awarded points as compensation for the virtuous acts that they commit. These points translate to a person's esteem within society, with special controls so that the wealthy don't dominate the whole system. (Charitable donations are scaled to income, for example.) Gradually, Kino's dining partner reveals himself as the country's former president, as well as the person with the most points in the entire nation. As the conversation progresses past this point, however, the esteemed fellow begins to reveal a dark side. It becomes clear that he intends to murder Kino, as a sort of “purchase” with the virtue points he's stocked up over the years. He's always wanted to kill a person, and earning enough points to do so was always the primary motivation behind his virtuous actions. Since Kino's caught on, he doesn't go through with killing them, although he does consider killing a nearby baby. In the end, he doesn't do it, although he does wish for the baby to have a better life than he did – one free from the mental torment inculcated in him by this system.

Basically, this country's attempt to incentivize good deeds has created a situation in which morality operates on a currency system. While the points themselves only translate to social esteem rather than wealth or power, there is also a material disincentive attached in that bad deeds are subtracted from a person's point total. As long as you're still in the positives after doing something, you're declared innocent of those bad deeds and can avoid any prison time attached. The problem with this is that if you manage to accrue a certain amount of virtue points, you can basically get away with anything. People are supposed to be incentivized to do good, not to do enough good to do some wrong and get away with it, but these are the unintended consequences of this well-intentioned system. After all, if you've passed the threshold where killing someone won't put you into the negatives, then what's stopping you? (Also, in my experience, it's just a fact of human nature that if someone is capable of something, they're probably going to want to do it just to show that they can. This is why power tends to coax greater misdeeds out of people.)

In the end, since this country's ethical system is based entirely on external constraints, there's little reason for people to hold back when it stops working like it should. And when it comes to people like the President, who possess a deep-seated desire for a kind of wrongdoing from an early age, they're encouraged to try and game the system rather than having their abnormal desires recognized to seek rehabilitation or a healthy alternate outlet. Even if the desirous individual can't find it in themselves to go through with their foul impulses, they're subject to emotional torment that could have been avoided under another system that emphasized an individual's moral education over a mathematical system of rights and wrongs.

This type of story is actually pretty relevant now. Theories of governance have always speculated about these types of systems, and this level of individual monitoring might actually become possible with modern surveillance technology. I've seen the topic explored in-depth by shows like Psycho-Pass and the live-action Black Mirror, if you'd like to see more stuff like this. So yeah, it was simple but effective.

The next segment, Country of Cooking, is purely comedic. Kino arrives at a country of chefs and gets mistaken for a famous travelling chef. When they ask Kino for a recipe, they end up making some noxiously spicy fried chicken. In spite of this, “Kino's Fried Chicken” (KFC? Get it?) turns into the national dish, surprising Shizu when he arrives. The end. (It's also implied that the real traveling chef showed up later to make a more edible version of Kino's dish for less daring customers. At least I think it was supposed to be him, but the scene goes by too quickly to be sure.) Really, the most notable thing about this story is how hard the production values crash for it. Instead of having proper close-ups of these one-off characters, they just zoom in on bad off-model background drawings and let those fill up the frame. Yeesh. That type of corner-cutting is genuinely not something I see very often.

The fourth story, Ti's Wish, is one I really didn't like. Shizu and company arrive at a country where people post papers with their wishes onto a sort of “wishing wall” in the hopes that they will come true. Most cultures seem to possess some variation of this behavior – in Japan, you make wish trees for the tanabata festival, in America we throw pennies into fountains, etc. I'm sure you've done it something like it. It's fun and a nice gesture. However, most people do not actually believe that this will make their wishes come true. It's like Santa Claus – you just figure out that he's not real at some point as you get older, if you ever believed at all. (Apologies if you haven't reached this point and I just ruined Christmas for you.) But Shizu thinks that this is stupid and these people are idiots for believing that something like this would fulfill their desires. Um, what a dick? This story is just our hero being condescending to some folks as they participate in a benign cultural activity. Is that supposed to be charming? These are the types of observations you'd consider mature at eleven and grow out of by the time you're twelve. At least Ti indulges the country's tradition and makes a wish that everyone else's wishes would come true ("because it would be pointless otherwise"). At least she did something with her needless cynicism.

In the last bit (Country of Beautiful Memories), Kino visits a country where they mandate that all travelers erase their memories of the visit after leaving. So Kino remembers approaching the country, but then their consciousness jumps to three days later, right after they've left. Of course, they start freaking the hell out, while Hermes assures them that they had a great time. I'll admit that this one is kind of funny in that you get to imagine how you'd feel in that situation. (Similarly to Kino, I imagine.) This is also one of the few times that we've seen Kino break their unflappable demeanor, which is gratifying. Then there's an afterword from the author in the credits, and that's about it.

In the end, this potpourri week was mostly boring, but I'll give it a slight boost for having a segment that actually felt like the sort of philosophical brainteasers I'd expect from Kino's Journey 2003. The worst part with Shizu and Ti was blessedly brief and just juvenile – rather than genocidal – in its viewpoint. Next week, Kino's Journey faces an especially tough challenge as it tackles one of the first anime's most iconic stories: A Kind Land. I'd like to say I'm optimistic for it, but sadly I'm not. Sorry.

Grade: C+

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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