Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式 on Twitter

Although Kino’s Journey ostensibly is about the journey of the main protagonist, Kino, there are much deeper meanings to Kino’s exploration that have nothing to do with physical movement. While the series deals with the duality and ambiguity of both appearances and existence, it also deals with the clash of perceptions. This is readily apparent when we consider each episode as commentary on different political philosophies and the balances of rights between individuals and nations.

Kino’s Journey is the story of a young traveler by the name of Kino. Kino travels from country to country on a “motorad” motorcycle named Hermes. Hermes and all of the “motorads” seem to be sentient and able to speak. As Kino travels, the vast differences between political, social, and international structures becomes obvious. Kino is often an observer, but not a completely neutral one. If Kino considers there to be cause, then involvement in the affairs of the state or of individuals is not entirely out of the question. 

Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式 on Twitter

So far, viewers have visited, with Kino, all manner of countries. These countries seem to fall vaguely into a single cultural style, a vaguely European (or Anglo-American-Colonial) style, where technology would indicate a timeframe of somewhere between the mid-1800s up through the modern day. Most of these nations are not much more than city-states, and can be traversed in only a couple of hours or days. Surprisingly, while these countries appear to be relatively close together (given the method by which Kino travels, Hermes), technology isn’t the only differentiator between them. Indeed, it is not even the most significant.

The Real Life Iconic Vehicles in Kino’s Journey

The most significant difference between one country and another is their political structures and how they have answered the questions of, “what rights do individuals have in comparison to each other?” “what rights do individuals have in relation to the state?” and “what rights do states have in relation to other states?” While the significant differences in culture and technology between two very physically close nation-states draws our attention because of how visually prominent those differences are, it is the difference in their answers to these three questions which should be what keeps our attention. 

Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式 on Twitter

[This article contains spoilers for a number of episodes in Kino’s Journey.]

Every episode of the series so far, all based on stories from the novels and somewhat related to some of the episodes of the earlier anime adaption, deal with one or all of these questions. The very first episode deals with the first question as its main plot point. In a country where killing is not illegal, it is also not permitted by the citizenry without cause. The very law that allows a would be murderer to attempt unjustified homicide is the same law that allows for justice when others prevent murder or punish those who have committed it. Just because “murder” is legal doesn’t mean it actually happens—at least not very often.

The First Episode of Kino’s Journey Shows How Appearances Can Be Deceiving

In the “Coliseum” episode, celebrated both in its novel incarnation and its original anime adaption incarnation, a tyrannical king has turned his country into wasteland of circuses and apparently at least some bread. In exchange for almost dictatorial control of the country, travelers who come upon the country are forced to fight for the right of citizenship (even if they don’t want it), should they lose they will die or become slaves (they can yield, and perhaps leave, but this process is not fully clarified). However, when there is only one traveler left, in addition to citizenship, they also gain the right to make any law they choose. In winning citizenship, after killing the tyrannical king, Kino orders all of the citizens to fight each other to the death just as they had made the travelers do—only this time with being the new king as the prize. Shockingly, rather than admit the entire system is ridiculous, most of the people do precisely as Kino commands… Because nothing Kino did (as far as they know) violated any rules. The law is the law. But just because something is the law doesn’t mean it makes any sense or should be followed. 

How The New Adaption of Kino’s Journey Remakes A Classic Episode

While Kino does appear in the “Ship Country” episode, Kino isn’t actually the main protagonist. Instead, it’s Shizu, the prince of the “Coliseum” country who had entered the fighting games in order to reform the system (even though Shizu was already a citizen, not a traveler, and not forced into the games). Shizu recognized that Kino’s command only applied to citizens and by giving up his citizenship, he neither held responsibility for the country, nor was he legally obligated to attack his fellow citizens. In recognizing that the people perversely held to the system created by his father, and Kino’s extension of that system, he also recognized he could never reform it.

Thus, like Kino, he became a traveler. In his journey, he comes upon a giant ship country where there appears to be a huge gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. He soon discovers the ship is slowly sinking but those at the top are doing nothing about it. In trying to start a revolt and save the people, he soon discovers the elite aren’t people at all, but a computer program that evolved to take care of the people as best as possible. The people have neither the knowledge to fix the ship nor the understanding to accept that what Shizu says about its inevitable collapse is the truth. They see him not as a liberator but as an enemy. For the second time, Shizu’s attempt at social reform ends in total failure. 

Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式 on Twitter

The “Bothersome Country” episode is an episode that deals with the third question. We generally think of countries in terms of land territories. Although countries may be made up of cities, towns, and villages, and the people who reside in them, we generally don’t talk about the concept of countries without territory. We sometimes talk about “nations” in terms of ethnic, social, and racial groups that could sustain their own government, at one time had one, or represent a cohesive whole, but without a government they are not a state—and not really a country (examples include many legally unrecognized Native American tribal nations or the concept of Kurdistan). These are modern distinctions most people don’t generally think about.

Political and social scientists, however, think about these distinctions quite a lot. Actually existing countries without fixed land-based territory do not yet exist. They could exist in the oceans or in space in the future, but they don’t yet exist in our modern world. However, this type of country is precisely what the “Bothersome Country” is. 

A massive traveling vehicle and essentially a giant tank, the “Bothersome Country” is a city on the move. Yet traditional countries do not recognize its right to exist, because it lacks a fixed territorial area. In order for this self-contained nation-state to travel, it is forced to go through territory already claimed by other nation-states that only recognize land as being the determiner of being a country. Unlike the nomadic peoples of antiquity who did not view the land itself as belonging to them (and hence moved through it freely), and were eventually overwhelmed by holders of the idea of territorial property rights, the “Bothersome Country” actually has the firepower to assert and defend its movement. The nomadic country asserts its freedom of movement when faced with a country that asserts its own right to territorial sovereignty. This puts the two nations into conflict.

Whose rights should prevail? Freedom of movement or the right to territorial sovereignty? Indeed, when the “Bothersome Country” comes upon a territorial country that will not allow it to pass due to damage its tracks will do, each country refuses to even acknowledge the right of the other. The territory based country considers its territorial sovereignty inviolable, can the “Bothersome Country” even really be a country at all without territory? The leaders of the “Bothersome Country” see territorial sovereignty as a silly idea, perhaps unenlightened or primitive. They have a sort of, “It can’t be helped if they insist on not allowing us our freedom of movement,” response to the territorial country’s resistance to moving people and property out of the path of the oncoming mega-vehicle. Essentially, the “Bothersome Country” sees any damage they do to be the fault of the territorial country for mistakenly believing they can claim sole use of the land in the first place. These two very different political philosophies based on a single issue of land ownership and control by the state leads to hostility, property damage, and human suffering. 

Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式 on Twitter

Kino’s motivations in the series are not often clear, and it seems as though Kino often considers personal motivations irrelevant or neutral. Rarely does Kino appear to enjoy or desire interference in the affairs of any of the countries which are visited. However, the tension in most of the episodes comes from when Kino either chooses to get involved, and thereby take a side, or step aside—which many would consider to also be taking a side. And given all the various countries Kino has visited, we have seen many “sides” indeed when it comes to ideas around what citizens and non-citizens are allowed to do and what rights, responsibilities, and roles a government should have. 

Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- The Animated Series is streaming on Crunchyroll and FUNimation.

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