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Kino’s Journey episode 2: A Tale of Feeding Others. Everything comes at a cost. Whether it’s a cost of money, time, or valuables like a ring. Usually we can reduce it to numbers, calculate it, and determine whether it’s worth the price. What about a creature’s life? Can its value be calculated and weighted? Maybe it can’t be compared to a ring. But if two lives are placed on the same scale,
We begin this episode with Kino trading a life for a life. It’s not exactly introduced like that, but this opening sequence here…
…turns out to be a deeper thematic centre piece than most entire anime have, and you won’t realize it until a little ways down the line. For now, Kino explains to Hermes, “We need to get back. If I give them this and they still die I’ll have a problem.” The “they” she’s referring to are three men Kino and Hermes found stranded in this snowy wilderness, on the brink of death. Kino didn’t have enough food to share with them, but she agreed to hunt for them instead, thus the rabbit killing we opened on.
Kino brings the dead rabbit back to the men, then skins it and cooks it for them. After eating, to thank her for saving their lives, one of the men offers Kino a ring which he had intended to be a gift for his wife. Kino agrees to accept it only after she’s seen to it that the men get out of their situation still alive, and until then she’ll just hold onto it.
The next day Kino goes out to hunt another rabbit for the men. After eating it, they say tomorrow they may be feeling well enough to dig their truck out of the snow and move on. For tonight, the one who offered the Kino the ring talks about his fiancé. Apparently they will be married at the Returning Home Alive Festival, proving the people in this universe suck at naming things. Serious, the Land of Visible Pain, and now this? Well, at least in the Japanese it was Homecoming Festival, which is slightly better I guess.
The Festival is to celebrate the traders, who go up north after the fall harvest, returning home alive. These three men are apparently one group of those traders, and they were on their way out when they got caught in a snow storm. Hermes asks them what it is they sell, prompting with, “Food or something?” and one of the men responds, “Something like that. They finish the night with a flute song meant to show thankfulness for life.
On the third day (hey, even this episode sticks to Kino’s three day rule) it is finally time to pull the men’s truck out of the snow. The three men push it, while Kino and Hermes pull, and they manage to get it moving. The men call Kino over for help, but when she rounds the truck they have their guns pointed at her.
The very first thing one of the men says here is, “… don’t make me shoot you. We take pride in delivering our goods without a scratch.” Apparently they trade in “human stock,” which Hermes takes to mean slave trading. They have Kino drop her weapons, include enough knives to make Edward Scissorhands feel normal, but she gets lucky when some snow falling distracts the men, and her last knife doubles as a gun.
She swiftly eliminates the three men, demonstrating that she’s a god damn action hero, then checks inside their truck, where she finds the cannibalized remains of the men’s “goods”. At this point, it’s a little opened ended. The impression I got when first watching this was that the men traded in human meat, not for slavery but for food. I think there are enough hints to back this up, like the men half-answering when saying they traded food, and the vague crypticness they answered with when Hermes asked if they were slave traders. But at the same time, I can’t definitively prove they weren’t actually slave traders, and were only driven to cannibalism on their “stocks” because they were stranded for so long. Either way, they ate people.
Kino leaves the ring with the dead men and truck, and moves on. Despite how long I apparently managed to drag it out for, this episode is even less plot heavy than the last one, but in the dialog between Kino and Hermes we find plenty of substance.
First, some overarching series stuff. As this is just the second episode, the audience still aren’t sure what the structure of the show is, and are probably wondering how different episodes are connected. Well, they’re not. At least not in a continuous narrative way. I know we already talked about this last time, with the description of the series stuff, but this is where the show actually conveys it, and if I’m going to pick at every little artistic decision, I’m damn well picking at this one.
One of the first things you’ll probably notice watching the episode is the snow. It’s winter. Kino later specifies late winter. But the first episode was set sometime in the summer or even spring. Also, while last episode opened on Kino and Hermes in a desert, this one has them in a snowfield. Right away it has established both temporal and geographic distance from the previous episode, letting us know that this has nothing to do with that, and making it clear that the show is indeed episodic.
The episode itself uses clever temporal jumps to establish its theme. It opens on Kino hunting the first rabbit, then goes back to explain why she was hunting in the first place. It’s not a big leap, like Gurren Lagann’s foreshadowing space battles; it’s just an hour or two at most, but it’s done because killing the rabbit had to be the first thing that happened.
If the episode played chronologically, the first event would have been Kino and Hermes finding the three men. Ensuring their survival would have been the focal point, and killing the rabbit would become just a means to that end. Instead, the men’s survival is a secondary priority (from a thematic stand point). The first event is killing the rabbit, Kino making a decision, choosing one life over another.
We’ll get to the dilemma in a minute, but first I want talk about the way it’s set up, specifically, why a rabbit? Typically in these life-for-a-life situations in fiction, it is between two human lives. This ramps up the stakes, and provides a sense of equivalency in value between the two; that is, 1 human life = 1 human life. After all, it’s in our nature to value a human more than a rabbit, and if Kino’s decision had been presented more like this:
I doubt anyone would take it seriously for a second.
These moments are generally meant to stop everything and engage the audience in the decision making. But, as we discussed last time, Kino’s Journey doesn’t stop and wait, or get derailed. By having it be a rabbit that Kino has to kill, the show is able to have its conflict without any pomp or ceremony, but then tease it out as the story keeps moving at its own pace. In this way, the rabbit serves the same purpose as the robots from episode one. However, does it effectively convey the moral dilemma that’s happening? Yes, it does.
The Value of a Life:
I know some people will never buy into this premise of there even being a comparison between a rabbit and a human, but I think most people can at least respect Kino’s position. As soon as she finds the starving men, Kino is already in a position where she has to make a choice. If she just leaves them, she will have chosen the rabbit’s life over theirs. If she hunts for them, she will have chosen their lives over the rabbit’s. And despite how obvious a choice that seems, Kino’s objectivity and Hermes’ devil’s advocacy towards it lends gravity to the dilemma.
She states that she has no obligation to, nor grudge against, either the men or the rabbit. When Hermes asks, “What’s wrong with choosing your fellow man?” Kino says there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that choice, but just the fact the men are human does not obligate Kino to help them. In other words, it wasn’t wrong for Kino to trade the rabbit’s life from the men’s, but it also wouldn’t have been wrong to leave the men to die instead. Both the rabbit and the men were strangers to Kino, and thus neither were of significant consequence.
Hermes does point out that Kino hunts for food all the time, but Kino says that it’s different if she’s hunting for herself. This is because she does have an obligation to herself, and the right to self-preservation. However she does not have that with respect to others.
She and Hermes wax sentimental for a while on the reason Kino made the choice she did. Some interesting theories of altruism get thrown around, as Kino thinks about if she just sympathised more with the men, or if she was paying it forward in case she ever finds herself in a similar situation and would like someone else to help her. A bunny wouldn’t be able to help her, but humans could. Regardless of the reason though, Kino figures that she would probably do the same thing again- this is before she finds out the men are cannibals.
After finding out about it, Hermes asks Kino what she will do if she has to make a decision like this again. Kino doesn’t answer, but her actions prior to being asked tell us quite a lot about what might be going through her head. There are three important things Kino looks at before leaving, the flute in the coat of one of the men she just shot, a woman’s neckless in the hands of the man who was engaged, and the pelts of the three rabbits she had killed.
The first side of this is the wasted rabbits. We’ll get into why killing one rabbit was a moral dilemma while killing two more was a minor inconvenience later, but for now let’s look at the consequences of Kino’s decision here. When Kino stepped into this situation, there were three men still alive, and three more rabbits in the world. By choosing to save the men at the cost of the rabbits, all six lives were ended, and all be Kino’s hand. What’s more, she put her own life, the only one she had an obligation to from the beginning, at risk. She also had an obligation to the rabbits once she killed them, but their lives went to waste.
Meanwhile, if she’d chosen to leave the men and spare the rabbits, the men would still be dead, but the rabbits wouldn’t, and Kino never would have put herself or Hermes in danger. In that sense, she made the wrong decision. On the other hand, while the men were strangers to Kino initially, over three days she got to know them as humans.
While by the end it’s easy to write the men off as horrible cannibals and thus not deserving of life, the show doesn’t really do that. Kino saw the flute and neckless with the men before she left them. This reminds us of their time spent together; they played music, they were joyous for life, and one of them was even engaged to a women who may never accept that he’s not coming back. These aren’t one dimensional baddies, they’re people. And by the time Kino had to kill them, she knew this. Perhaps she even realized this was why she chose to save them.
Finally, let’s look at the ultimate moral problem this presents. If Kino truly owed nothing to either the men or the rabbit; if her choice to save the men was just a whim, what could she say about the men’s choice to eat people?
Kino’s choice was between the death of the men, and the death of the rabbit. Similarly, we can see the men’s choice of food source being a choice between the death of a person they could eat, or the death of some other animal they could eat. It’s really not that different from Kino’s, and just as Kino is allowed to hunt to feed herself, the men are allowed to feed themselves.
Of course, the men also trade their food, but the Japanese dub has that covered. Where Kino says she understands that “my own food supply comes at the price of another creature’s life”, in the Japanese it was more specific and said that the rations she’s eating “were made by steeling the lives of other creatures.”
The way this is all set up, if Kino could go back and make the choice again, she’d find that choosing the rabbits life over the men’s is no different than choosing to eat human meat instead of rabbit. But choosing the men’s lives over the rabbit leads to both being dead. That is why Kino can’t answer when Hermes asks her what she would do if she had to make this decision again.
If this episode wasn’t already morally complex enough, we have the introduction of the ring. Kino receives if after she kills the first rabbit, and it (along with not wanting the first rabbit’s life to go to waste) obligates Kino to continue hunting for the men. She agrees to accept the ring as payment only after she’s made sure the men survive. That’s why, after she kills the men, she has to leave the ring behind. The men died so, regardless of circumstances, Kino failed to uphold her side of the agreement.
But why does this ring have so much power? This isn’t Middle Earth, and though we’re told that the ring is worth a few bucks, Kino herself doesn’t appear that interested in it. At one point she tries it on and asks Hermes his opinion. He says, “It’s not you,” and she agrees. While money is probably a practical necessity for her while traveling, she lives modestly and is well prepared. She likely already carries as much as she needs, and she wouldn’t be interested in luxuries. So, if the ring has so little value to her, how is it that it persuades her to kill the rabbits?
One of the interesting things about Kino’s conflict, and why it works in such a tranquil way, is that it wasn’t about the inherent value of lives, but instead their lack of significance in her life. Kino had nothing to do with the men or the rabbits before this, so she felt uncomfortable choosing between them. The reason the ring made it easier for her to continue choosing the men wasn’t because it was so valuable to her, but because it was something one party could offer her that indebted her. Before, she owed neither side, so she had no reason to take a side; after getting the ring, she owed the men.
Of course, this doesn’t totally free her from discomfort. While talking with Hermes she says, “… a rabbit can’t give me a big ring either.” It’s not very fair to let her loyalty be bought by something only side can offer. But, non-the-less, it is bought.
Another oddity of this ring is how it decreases in value throughout the episode, as it changes hands. Not in monetary value, but in value to its owner. At the start of the episode, it belongs to the man who will be getting married. He plans to give it to his fiancé, so it’s probably pretty important to him. But he gives it to Kino out of an obligation to thank her.
As we’ve already gone over, it’s not very valuable to Kino. She doesn’t like it for herself, and the money probably isn’t very important to her. So when ownership of the ring is transferred from the man to Kino, a lot of value is lost.
This happens again when Kino leaves the ring behind at the end of the episode. Despite her own reasons for doing so, it’s very wasteful. Once the men are dead, leaving the ring with them makes it even less useful than it was for Kino. Hermes points this out, but Kino never justifies or explains it. It’s meant to be obvious without justification, but it’s hard to interpret Kino’s motives.
Part of why it’s so difficult to analyze this show is because it’s difficult to analyze the main character. Kino doesn’t talk much, and when she does she often withholds a lot. We see this when Hermes asks her questions and she doesn’t answer. But typically even a quiet protagonist will reveal their motives and feelings in facial expressions. Kino rarely even does this. Her face is almost always neutral.
This is brought forward in this episode when Kino first discovers the three men. One of them asks her, “Don’t be surprised,” before telling her that they’ve been stuck all winter. After they tell her their story, she says, “I’m surprised,” even though her face remains totally neutral. Hermes, on the other hand, is much more expressive in his dialogue alone, and he doesn’t even have a face.
There are a couple other differences I noticed between the subtitles and the English dub. The first one was probably just a practical change in localizing. When the man tells Kino to drop her weapons, in the subtitles it specifies for her to use her left hand, the man probably having assumed it’s her inferior firing hand. What’s odd is, in the actual animation, Kino uses her right hand to remove her guns and knives from herself.
I’m guessing the visuals were flipped at some point in localization, maybe multiple times, and the right-left distinction was removed so the writers didn’t have to worry about whether or not it fit the final product. For what it’s worth, going by Kino’s shooting in this version of this episode, she does appear to be right handed.
The second change is that, in this subtitles, the three men refer to Kino and Hermes by name, which they never do in the English dub. Having them refer to Kino by name may have been done to establish a bit more of a relationship between Kino and the men; to get across that they are more than just strangers to her by the end. This would humanize them and possibly give Kino more of a sense of obligation to them.
In the dub this was probably changed more to reflect Kino’s character than the men’s. Kino is cautious, and probably wouldn’t give her name to people so quickly. IF she never tells the men her name, they can’t refer to her by it.
Both scripts work, it’s just a matter of which characters you want to convey.
Finally, another note on Hermes’ purpose. Last time we established that Hermes’ purpose comes from what he was made for. He was made as a motorcycle, thus his purpose is to drive. But in this episode, Kino uses Hermes’ engine to melt snow and boil water. Hermes complains, “My engine was not meant to boil water.” But Kino writes it off, telling Hermes it’s just another way he’s useful to her. So now Hermes’ purpose isn’t necessarily what he was made for, but the ways Kino can benefit from using him. What’s the life of a rabbit weighed against the life of a human? Most people would probably say it’s not much; that a human life is obviously more important. But when Kino encounters three strangers caught in a snowstorm and on the brink of starvation, she has trouble justifying stealing a rabbit’s life to feed them.
Don’t Lose Your Way