Let’s review the first of two anime series based on Keiichi Sigsawa’s stories about the traveler Kino: Kino’s Journey. One is from 2003 and another is from a few years ago, in 2017. In this review, we’ll explore the 2003 version.
Kino and her motorrad companion Hermes, a motorcycle-like machine that can also talk, travel from one nation to another, staying only a few days in each one. Each place offers its own insights into human nature, with results that may be beautiful, tragic, or both, Or neither.
Conflict without resolution
Stories about travelers are nothing new. I remember watching the 1970s series The Incredible Hulk, the one with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The premise of that show was that David Banner was constantly having to travel from one place to another, staying ahead of those trying to track down and capture the Hulk. Another example would be The A-Team, and I doubt I’m close to exhausting the list of such stories.
Yet, Kino’s Journey is very different from many of those.
In most episodes of The Incredible Hulk, there is some bad guy who makes Banner angry, then Banner would turn into The Hulk. He’d roar and flex and toss bad guys around, and thus resolve the conflict. Much the same thing happened in The A-Team, though it would take the form of a gun battle where mountains of bullets flew but no one would get shot.
It is that sense of conflict and resolution that is absent in most of Kino’s visits.
Not all of them. There is The Coliseum, one of the times Kino has a conflict with an evil character. Yet in most of the episodes, the story is not about winning a fight and resolving a conflict. In many cases, Kino’s visit changes almost nothing about the place. She is more an observer, much like the person viewing the episode.
And this gives most episodes a curious, even disturbing, feeling. We know that by and large in real life one person can do very little to affect any place they go to, yet we have this idea of the mysterious traveler, the lone gun fighter, the man just passing through, who when he is finally provoked will face down the evil and make things right. We’d like to think that if the episode “A Peaceful Land” took place in The A-Team universe, then our four heroes would hop in their van, come up with some clever but harmless weapons, and somehow keep that most inhuman of wars from happening.
But “A Peaceful Land” takes place in Kino’s world, and Kino doesn’t act like that. She watches this war, she hears the reasonings behind it, she even directly experiences some part of it as she leaves that country. Yet she offers no direct words of condemnation, and no clever alternative or solution. About the only sense of resolution we viewers get is that we feel as glad to be done with that place as Kino seems to be as she leaves.
For all of the bizarre elements in this series, this lack of a sense of resolution is so life-like that it’s the most haunting element of this collection of stories.
It is and it isn’t
There is a phrase, I think from one of the books this series is based on, that is maybe a theme for the whole of Kino’s stories, “The world is not beautiful. Therefore it is.” In one episode, it’s rephrased a bit, “The world is not beautiful, and that, in a way, lends it a sort of beauty.”
It is never easy to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas as both being true, to see that the contradictions are only seeming and not real, thus not negating each other.
This is, I’d guess, partly because of postmodernism, which has tried to make real contradictions into truths, and only ended up spewing nonsense. This has only made the exercise of balancing difficult truths seem like more postmodern lunacy.
I remember someone from the emergent church, back when that was a thing, writing about a newborn baby, and how we say that this baby is precious and valuable, and that we never say that this baby is wretched and sinful, and thus using this as some kind of a refutation of original sin.
Yet the statements “This baby is precious” and “This baby is a sinner” are not contradictions. Both are true, as any mother who’s had to endure her precious child having a temper meltdown in the middle of Walmart over a cheap plastic toy will readily testify to.
This world is beautiful. It is God’s creation. We are blessed with sunrises and sunsets, with towering mountains and flowering meadows, with birds and butterflies and babies.
Yet this world is not beautiful. Man’s sin did more than affect only man. Nature is red in tooth and claw because of our sins. And it’s even worse when we look at mankind and sin. Feminine beauty has all too often been the excuse for the exploitation and degradation of women. The baby that should be a great blessing has come to be treated as a disease that must be aborted. If the curse of King Midas was that all he touched turned to gold, one aspect of the curse of sin on mankind has been to take the gold that is God’s creation and turn into something hideous and vile.
In the past, Jesus came to die as a sacrifice for our sins, not necessarily to change the world or bring heaven to earth. Yet there are also promises in the Bible concern his return in the future, and a time when the world will be made right, when we will be able to say that the world truly is beautiful.
Kino’s Journey is a very atypical series. It has few of the highly emotional moments one might expect of a Violet Evergarden. Like its color palate, the series’ emotions are often muted and toned down. Nor is it often uplifting or inspiring; if anything, it is a series gently flowing in a somber thoughtfulness and a quiet sadness, with a few outbursts of action and violence. It is a series I enjoyed and strongly recommend.