Kino no Tabi 13: Empty, Meaningless, Beautiful World

kino_no_tabi_13[h264.vorbis][niizk].mkv_snapshot_01.52_[2010.09.13_08.54.53]

The world of Kino no Tabi is not a world of real people. It is a world of ideas, where characters who look like people inhabit it to give the ideas motion, to have them play out. Kino’s role is to have us discover them through her travels, and to have a neutral standpoint by which we can contrast the ideas with.

It’s a highly cerebral work, that this final episode (TV series) attempt to provide a heart, beyond wistful sentiment. I am not certain whether it succeeds for me.

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It’s quite a simple story this time. A country is rumored to be hostile to travelers, making it a very curious destination for Kino to visit. She stays her requisite 3 days and finds it the kindest and most generous land she ever visited.

It turns out that the inhabitants were refugees who finally settled here, and would not move even though volcanic activity has doomed them. They are committed to live out their final three days freely and without fear; without regret or rage against their fate.

Also, their final collective wish is to change their reputation of hostility to travelers. They succeeded greatly, though it did seem strange that their rule was to usher Kino out after 3 days, not permitting her to stay despite how welcome they made her feel.

She was sent away with safety tips, food, and souvenirs.

Kino leaves, and the next day the country is no more.

kino_no_tabi_13[h264.vorbis][niizk].mkv_snapshot_18.53_[2010.09.13_08.56.23]

There are a lot of cool touches:

The gunsmith, being a seller of weapons, refuses to do business until um, persuaded. (Shameful, terrible pun) But even if he doesn’t find out from Kino  what he wants to hear, he gives her his own piece. This too, is part of the collective attempt to change the legacy.

Sakura is like Kino, who instead of resisting a destiny of managing her parents’ hotel, revels in it. She would have been a traveler the way Kino became, but she chose to stay. She too, knew that it meant death.

kino_no_tabi_13[h264.vorbis][niizk].mkv_snapshot_17.00_[2010.09.13_08.55.48]

This is all meaningless.

I’m not talking only of the moot issue of Sakura coming along, since Hermes made it clear he can’t give both of them a ride. The legacy of the town cannot be changed by only one traveler, though I think it’s great that they committed to it anyway.

I still wonder who documented Kino’s Journey. Is it Hermes? I don’t think he can write, though it may be so that he cannot forget. It’s the only way I can imagine these tales reaching readers, not only within the Beautiful World but also us, the 4th-wall audience.

What is the point of the diversity in the world?

So what if it’s beautiful?

Who learns what? Towards what purpose?

kino_no_tabi_13[h264.vorbis][niizk].mkv_snapshot_19.04_[2010.09.13_08.56.03]

Beyond all this, there are many things about this world of ideas that don’t quite work.

For this Beautiful World to “work” the countries must be ridiculously isolated. Countries in conflict or in trade with each other, are insular n their groups. This is the only way they can achieve such varying cultures, economies, and technologies.

That said, some countries are highly literate, implying geographical scholarship inside such large libraries. For the most part, the world is fragmented and insular despite the lack of ethnic diversity (European/Caucasian for the most part, but there is a China in the middle of all this).

That said, Kino reaches them all by land. That is, from a single tank of gas (to and from each destination). Maps exist, Kino at least used one for part of her travels. This could well be compared to Continental Europe, where countries are analogous to cities or towns and their immediate countryside.

Social Network Map

In any case, the high technology in some states are problematic to reconcile with the insularity of most of the countries.

Do I think this is a Beautiful World? I would say no, until I make more sense with the world-building aspect of this piece of science fiction, that it’s more than just a conceit to string together social ideas, some of which can be provocative.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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23 Responses to Kino no Tabi 13: Empty, Meaningless, Beautiful World

  1. I only saw a few episodes of Kino no Tabi, but to me it seemed a lot like a more modern and mature Galaxy Express 999. Basically a plot and universe that exists entirely just to throw a character into a bunch of different scenarios that examine what humans are and what they can be and only makes the tiniest amount of sense when viewed as a whole. Sure the isolation of communities in GE999 makes more sense because they are in space, but the existence 999 itself is something you really have to suspend your belief for.

    • I’ve only seen the first Galaxy Express 999 film, and I don’t think I even finished it. However, your idea makes a lot of sense to me. The isolation that space provides and the space train that connects them feels a lot better science fiction than what I found here.

      • Sky says:

        Keiichi Sigasawa, the original writer for Kino’s Journey has stated in an interview that one of his biggest influences on Kino’s Journey was Galaxy Express.

  2. kadian1364 says:

    There were a number of details in this episode that I feel make it an appropriate series capper. First, it can be placed chronologically before most of the other episodes in the show. This is when Kino first received her secondary firearm, and the only country she wanted to stay more than 3 days (referenced in the first episode), which places this story very early in her journey. And second, how similiar Sakura is to Kino when she was young: her name (“a flower’s name that the boys make fun of”), her station in life, her relationship with the strange traveler. These circumstances let Kino, and us by extension, to view in retrospect her life, the practical skills learned but also the wisdom accrued from the experiences as a traveler. How lucky was Kino to escape her own death sentence in the country of her origins? How many other kids might she inspire to take up the mantle of “traveler”? Finally, this inconclusive final episode leaves us to ponder how Kino’s travels go on and lives on indefinitely, like the storybook figures of our childhood.

    The whole story is framed as a series of parables, instead of offering trite moralizing at the end, each story highlights some dilemma, cruelty, or irony of human nature. The nature of parables is not to be entirely realistic, so I never saw a need for a cohesive setting in Kino’s Journey. After all, a 2-woman tour agency in Neo-Venezia is patently ridiculous, and so are 3 in-training Undines that somehow remaine school-aged through 3 full Aqua years, but those oversights don’t detract anything from that title. Some details just don’t really matter, especially true in Kino’s Journey, where in-universe consistency is more a handcuff than a boon. You’ve made astute observations and insights throughout these 13 episodics, and it pleases me people are still discovering and talking about this series that’s so profoundly different from nearly everything else in the medium.

    • I’ve thought hard before replying to the comments here. It’s not so much the lack of decisions (that can be interpreted as moralizing) in Kino in the face of the questions asked. Rather, how I feel that the anime, the show (not the story) never did enough to meet me halfway.

      Perhaps my expectations were too high.

      I feel like the anime fails as an anime because the illustrations are unappealing, the colors feel dead, and the animation is not fluid. I do not get a strong visual sense of how ugly the world is. Instead of ugly, I get bland. I do not get the beauty of the world, despite the forests and valleys, and roads Kino travels. I get bland drawings.

      As for the stories, I mostly received them from exposition monologues matched with still illustrations of not very strong drawing.

      It isn’t merely a lack of funding I feel. Aria the Animation had terrible production values and yet I have no problem experiencing the beauty and atmosphere of Neo Venezia. This world may be ugly, but in a bland way… not the ironic and cruel way that the stories suggest. The stories are just mostly monologues, and the deliveries aren’t as powerful as they could be. The beauty is nowhere to be found. Sure there are some pretty character designs every now and then, but not in general.

      So sure the irony in the stories are interesting at times, the way Thomas D. Davis stories were as I studied them back in IntPhil back in freshman year. I remember being blown away by those at the time, and have since thought that the best communicator of philosophy is through stories.

      Which is perhaps also why I felt let down by this show. Perhaps the source literature is a more satisfying experience, because as animation, I’m not a fan.

      As for the age problems in Aria, I made a big fuss about those over a year ago… though it never made it into blog post form. I was discussing it with a whole bunch of fans not only of the show, but who also share my preference for solid world building.

      The way they look isn’t too big a problem… as this is consistent with anime. However, Alice Carroll taking three Aqua years to finish middle school IS. If she started at 12 she would have graduated at 18, which would be fine (not really) if not for Aika graduating at 15 to begin her professional training. How can she be both genius and take 6 years to finish middle school at the same time?

      As science fiction, Aria has terrible problems I think. However, even I don’t enjoy that show for the SF as much as the atmosphere. Kino’s journey… I can’t enjoy for the atmosphere because the atmosphere is bland when it should be threatening, bland when it should be desolate, bland when it should be beautiful.

  3. Panther says:

    kadian puts it succinctly, so I will not add much more than that. Like Baccano, the rest of her travels are left to our imagination, though Kino is not immortal like those in Baccano, and especially not like the rat that the vice-president of Daily Days referred to in Baccano’s final episode (DVD).

    You should also catch the three OVA’s for Kino no Tabi. The first was about Kino just starting out under her teacher’s tutelage, and the second is just about a tower that has no purpose other than being built. I cannot remember but I do know I saw a post on it, just not on which blog. The last one mainly deals with a girl that has a sickness but writes to a boy outside her city.

    • ToastCrust says:

      The Tower episode is generally referred to as episode 0.

      If I remember correctly, it’s basically the pilot episode of the series, which later goes on to be released on DVD, I’m fairly sure.

      I always try to recommend that episode as the ruler by which people should measure how likely they are to enjoy Kino no Tabi. It demonstrates in a very short amount of time, a complete story and how the show goes about telling stories.

      It’s the sample appetizer dish you offer for taste that will either whet someone’s appetite or notify them that the dishes served are not of their taste.

    • I wrote a post on the tower episode at the beginning of this post series.

      I enjoyed Baccano! for the verve and style, but I didn’t care much for the story. Had this show gotten HALF of Baccano’s style and spirit, it could’ve rocked.

  4. ToastCrust says:

    This sort of sense, I think, was what I sort of meant in my comment to your last post on the series. The very strong sense of a “emotional distance of an academic”. The beautiful world that Kino explores is little more than a string of mainly philosophical or ethnical thought experiments. And to top this off, these thought experiments are conducted with the most minimal amount of emotion possible and very clinically.

    As a work of fiction, it is probably Kino no Tabi’s most blatant weakness, should you call it one. The entire story contains basically no intent to actually define or set out a particular opinion on any of its subjects. It lives to simply demonstrate and show.

    And as an extension, equally little attention is paid to actually make the world of the fiction congruent and sensible. Instead, the mission of sharing and displaying the thought experiments is primary. Cities and nations are constructed at convenience–whatever communicates the issue best–and then handwaved into the world. The world is an ever changing chaotic stew–in both its physical geography which renders Kino’s maps obsolete and in what actually exists in it. And she is a lone traveller who merely observes and perhaps documents this world, like an attendee of a museum or zoo. Despite being present at the 11th hour and a part of the events in body and flesh, she rarely betrays such a reality in being actually affected by the events with few exceptions (her backstory, the tournament, and this episode, from what I remember).

    And being in this state of neutrality and emotional distance, very little of her journey affects her as a person, changes her character, or leaves an actual lasting development on her. What little does effect that does crop up in her from witnessing these changes are as transient as the three days she spends in the area.

    Like a gleeful academic devouring a library that is never exhausted, Kino’s joy and meaning for existence is to observe all of these questions–these cities. Not because she desires to see an answer or come to a conclusion, but for the sheer experience of witnessing this dilemma. Questions for their own sake and absolutely nothing beyond that.

    And that is the spirit behind the term “Beautiful World”: a completely aesthetic experience.

    Though not an exact comparison, think about it in a similar sense as House’s puzzle. House, at least on premise, does not care about the humanity or well being of his patients. His only interest is the thrill of the puzzle. Kino is a similar creature, except her obsession is not the solving of these puzzles. It is only to see them. Were she a diagnostician in the same function, she could very well be even more amoral than House–a doctor who is happy to merely see a disease run its course; whether or not the patient lives or if the disease is cured would be completely irrelevant.

    A complete observer with no emotional investment. A tourist of pain, suffering, hardship, ignorance, triumph and the human condition. She reserves absolutely no space for herself to make value judgments on what she sees. That is her beautiful world.
    ____________________________________________________________

    On a different note, once again, I’ve not viewed in a long time, but my sense of the town, I don’t actually remember the town’s desire to fix its reputation. Rather, their terrible reputation is a result of their purposeful policy to treat foreigners badly so they will never want to settle down in the city. This is just an expression of their goodness and kindness. They are proud of and love the city and land with and on which they built their livelihood on. They are totally resigned to their fate to perish to the volcano, unwilling to vacate this precious geographical space.

    And simultaneously, they do not want anyone else to join them in their inevitable demise. For this reason, the place intentionally treats its guests badly–to ensure they never want to stay.

    For the very same reason, Kino’s arrival is special. She presents no intention of settling down, and the three day stay she presents to them ends right before the impending disaster that will erase their existence. They are neither mean nor crude people, and are in fact jovial, generous, and kind. Upon the gate man’s announcement that Kino is staying for a mere 3 days, the town’s ready to show her a good time and the place that they’re all proud of and love.

    That is how I remember it.

    • It is indeed a weakness as you describe it. I’ve said much to Kadian above that should serve as a response to you as well, but to be concise I’ll say that as an experience it is not a powerful one.

      If Kino is feeling a powerful experience, it isn’t transferred to me the viewer. I don’t get to enjoy the discovery of a new culture or a new problem or a new vista. They seem all equally bland and the irony is something I expect (telegraphed by the formula) so there is little shock or emotional value.

      As pure cerebral exercises, I don’t really find them that engaging. Why? What’s at stake for me? I’m not invested in Kino since she’s not really much invested herself. She’s not that pretty look at. The cities don’t have strong characters to invest myself in.

      Even if lives are at stake, they become abstract thought exercises without emotional appeal. This I lay squarely on the animation, the character design, the illustrations, the direction — the production as a whole. The show, as a work of animation adds scant value.

      Like other commenters here, I could bring more effort to the table — but I don’t think the show even meets me halfway.

      • Universal Bunny says:

        Perhaps the emotions remoteness of Kino is exactly its achievement? You get any number of passionate writers, film makers, speakers who all attempt to excite emotions over particular problem, yet very few of them ask for extensive contemplation, constructive arguing with those who disagree and answers that include a lot of disclaimers. Important part of Kino’s appeal is that the writer says “Hell if I know what’s right.”
        Take the Book of Prophesy. Just prior to the epilogue I thought the purpose was to ridicule the interpretors of esoteric wisdom, but the final twist put that on it’s head. Perhaps closest Kino get’s to a morale is “don’t seek or expect easy answers” – an advice exceedingly rare.

        Kino is not about emotions and for that I’m grateful. It is not a the rubbish of a book that are bestsellers on popular science or popular economics and that is an achievement for a work that aims to raise social problems.

        Of course, the above just may be simply an impression born from my bottled frustration with people who reject scholarship because it conflicts their common sense or agenda.

        • Sure it could be an achievement! If that’s the objective then by all means it’s successful.

          I don’t think of the work as scholarship though. It’s fiction and and more: it’s anime. I expect it to be entertaining.

          • Universal Bunny says:

            A very valid point, Kino’s is not very entertaining and it’s not scholarship either. I wanted to suggest that Kino’s is trying to induce in audience the scholarly way of thinking.

          • …which would be a detached and less emotional way of thinking through paradoxes or ironies you mean? If so, yes it’s quite successful in doing so in my case.

  5. Dan says:

    “That said, Kino reaches them all by land. That is, from a single tank of gas (to and from each destination). Maps exist, Kino at least used one for part of her travels. This could well be compared to Continental Europe, where countries are analogous to cities or towns and their immediate countryside.”
    Well, you are right, but I think that you are looking a bit too much into this. I mean, who cares? To hell with the fabula, honestly. I think kadian1364′s 2nd part of his comment is pretty smart on this.
    Apart from that, the user above me said: “A complete observer with no emotional investment”-> I don’t think that that’s totally true, I think that We can’t see it but she showed it sometimes. Particulary, I remember the episode with the old person or this very episode. Also, I suspect that the population felt that the volcanic activity was somewhat a punishment they deserved.

    • I am asking much indeed, and why shouldn’t I, for the effort I put in watching and thinking and writing about the show? Sure Kino has some emotional investment, but by and large she doesn’t, and I don’t either. Without it, the ironies become more like abstract thought exercises instead of gripping stuff.

      As I’ve mentioned, perhaps the source material would give me a more satisfying experience.

      • Dan says:

        *epic late reply* What I really meant was that you were looking into something that the author probably didn’t care about. It’s as if you watch Ponyo and say “hey, how is it possible that Sosuke’s mother doesn’t say anything while she watches Ponyo running and transforming” ? Yes, that’s a movie targeted for a child, but I could still give you another example.
        So I wasn’t saying that you shouldn’t put effort into thinking and writing – actually that’s the best thing a person can ever do while enjoying something – but that you were (partially) doing it in the “wrong direction”, imho. I see what your point is, though and I somewhat agree with that. It’s hard, if not absolutely impossible to emphasize with Kino for example. And that’s probably one of the things were the show fails because it doesn’t catch the attention, nor you will ever “feel” something. Yet, I must confess that I personally still found it appealing because it asked me to watch it from a “third” POV (or absence of a real one?) and I liked the pure storytelling.

        • I didn’t like the pure storytelling.

          I found that it’s a lot of monologue that actually gives the irony a lot of weight. After a bunch of things happen some local starts reciting the back story for everyone’s benefit. I don’t like it.

  6. ToastCrust says:

    Well, I finally got a chance to stop by at home to crack open my copy of the TokyoPop translation of the first novel (to note, it’s presented in linear order rather than a shuffled chronology which is what the original and the anime used–I guess America’s just too dumb for non-linear story telling or something, according to TP marketing).

    I don’t really have time to sit down and reread the whole thing, but skimming through I’ll note that (according to the Japanese order I got off Wiki), the Land of Peace actually occurs significantly earlier than in the anime series), but more importantly, the entire novel *except* the Land of Adults (when Kino is a child) is told in 3rd person Limited (kind of?). Land of Adults is done completely in 1st person (from young Kino’s POV).

    The writing style doesn’t really fall comfortably into either 3rd Limited or Objective, but by and large it’s told in a really objective, distanced way. Most things are presented as is without character value judgment, etc. However, it occasionally deigns to share Kino’s thoughts, but I haven’t found a case where it wasn’t anything important, just her noting that her destination is 10 minutes away “tops”, or some sort of snarky one-liner that’s not very enlightening.

    So as far as I can tell, the source material really refuses to grant any sort of tangible access to Kino’s state of mind, and it seems Ryutaro ran with that when he adapted the story.

    As an unrelated side note, it sort of makes me dizzy to think the series is on its like 14th volume, when the first volume on its own provided the stories/materials for like 1/3~1/2 of the anime.

    Not sure what I want to prove so much as I just think it’s interesting to note lol

    • Hmm what this tells me is how it may just be my preferred way to get into the material. I can read a chapter in a few minutes, think and then maybe write something or discuss it with someone that results in enriching both our lives… instead of watching a show that doesn’t really do a good job at showing something pleasing or entertaining.

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