Here the origin story of Kino is told, and I’m surprised how it became a tale of appropriated identity. Also, the beautiful world is a dystopian fantasy. I’ve said that this story is about how meanings are born from contrasts. “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is so.” In at least three of the lands I’ve discovered through this show, there is an attempt made by whoever governs it, to make some kind of perfect society, usually through some kind of device.
The ensuing perfection renders people trapped in some way, and possibility is snuffed out. This is the sadness that the traveler discovers, and in this episode our young Kino breaks free from the trap laid in front of her in the service of the perfect society.
There was an original Kino, a male adult traveler who met our then 11 year old protagonist whose name isn’t revealed but is something that she is teased about. She leads the traveler to her parents’ inn from which she gets to know him, and what he does. The core of their conversations is what it means to be adult.
To be an adult in the land of our 11 year old, is to turn 12 and be technologically modified to be happy, or smile through any kind of work, no matter how unpleasant, no matter if one’s heart isn’t into it. Work is important, and to be an adult is to be this kind of responsible. To be a child is to have no such responsibility.
The traveler tells her that he doesn’t fit in either of the definitions of child and adult in this land. As he restored a discarded motorcycle – a motorrad (a sentient bike who becomes a friend and partner to the traveler), who will become Hermes.
Our young protagonist was turning 12, which meant a destiny of an innkeeper taking over after her parents. She asks them what will happen if she doesn’t undergo the operation, upon which she is scolded harshly for being an ingrate. Not to them, personally, but for the leader who legislated the operation.
An inspector overhears the exchange, then a crowd gathers. All of them were castigating the child for being a failure. The parents looked for someone to blame, and predictably point their fingers at Kino the traveler, who had just finished restoring Hermes. He told the inspector that it was time for him to leave, for fear of getting killed. The inspector said that nothing like that would befall him because he entered the land legally and this is a land of responsible adults.
However, the girl will be disposed of as a failure. Her own father wielded the knife. He charges at her to run her through, but Kino steps in front of it and takes the knife through his own bowels.
In the logic of the land, no responsible adult would jump in front of a thrusting knife. The inspector rules the incident as an unfortunate accident.
The choice for our 11 year old heroine on the eve of her 12th birthday is either to stay and hope to become an adult like the ones pulling the knife out of the dead traveler as responsibly as they can, or stay and be killed by them which would be preferable than growing up to become like them.
Hermes the motorrad offers the third choice, which is to escape. Her first ride is wonderful, perhaps precisely because it is fraught with danger. She breaks through the town gate, learning the fundamentals of motorcycle riding along the way. The pact between the motorrad and the rider is simple: in exchange for providing balance, Hermes will give her speed. With this she discovers the wide open hills and finds herself lying in a field of red flowers.
Hermes asks for her name, but she wasn’t listening and her thoughts went to Kino the dead traveler. She was thinking out loud, and that’s how Hermes started calling her Kino. She threw the peg that marked her as an adult to undergo the operation, and chose the identity of the dead traveler.
Having seen what the most ‘responsible’ of adults are capable of doing out of the same sense of responsibility, I find it easier to believe how such a young girl learned to be cautious yet kind. She would indeed have to learn to protect herself, to survive as a traveler.
The flashback ends. Kino and Hermes are riding through a forest and are hungry. They arrive at a clearing of red flowers and Kino happily falls into them. She remembers the old Kino’s terrible singing, a kind of traveler’s song…
Your eyes are a mirror in which I can see the world’s reflection
without ever forgetting your kindness
even if my heart is full of sad words
I will stare long and hard at the stars…
Kino’s world is certainly not beautiful, but because of this… it becomes so.
Our little girl is coming of age, and she does so by taking the name of the person who freed her from the security of destiny. It’s a romantic way of remembering love.
I really get it, and the fact that I do, makes me feel good about being me.
The scene that makes this episode is definitely the act of pulling the knife out of Kino. That deadpan questioning of the inspector as if it were the most complicated situation in the world and the inspector’s absurdly serious response always sends chills down my spine when I think of how devoid of emotion the scene is. And it’s played to be completely natural in their eyes!
That’s a strong moment indeed, and more than anything drives home the point of the re-programming done that marks the divide between childhood and adulthood.
Individual compliance in the service of perceived good for the whole shows up in other episodes, and is quite a big theme anyway in the meta of life itself.
This episode really just forces the conversation about one of the four legitimate ethical dilemmas: Individual vs. Community.
A sharp contrast between what are the “formal” and “accepted” definitions of being an adult and a child in our contemporary society, albeit taken to extremes in this episode. I particularly liked the way it was portrayed, especially how the adults were unable to comprehend why Kino jumped in front of the dagger to save the current Kino’s life. They had lost their hearts, and were left only with reason.
In a way, the subtle hint here is that if you lose your hearts and leave yourself only with reason and logic, you end up like the adults in the current Kino’s former society – seemingly devoid of heart and emotion, only working through logic. That is not humanistic in most of our eyes, and that is precisely what this episode hopes to warn us against – getting caught in a society obsessed with logic and reasoning and losing its humanity along the way.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We have guided missiles and misguided men.” Perhaps not the most appropriate of quotes, but it may perhaps illustrate part of my point and what this episode tries to bring to the viewer.
I don’t know about intent, though I don’t doubt that the episodes attempt to be provocative. As far as your reading goes, there is definitely a loss of heart, as you call it.
I think reasons, good or bad, determine the behavior or choices made by many or most people, and certainly the people in li’l Kino’s country. Now I don’t want to go into the existence of free-will. For the purposes of this conversation let us assume it does exist. If it does, then these citizens aren’t acting freely. Their choices are determined by reason.
The reasons make the choices for them.
As you said, the elder Kino’s actions to save Li’l Kino is beyond their comprehension because it is precisely unreasonable.
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Do you know the name of the song Kino sings?
Canon in D by Pachelbell, ’06 Repeating’ for the version used in the show 😀
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