Kino no Tabi Episode 3: A Bothersome Land
It all makes sense now.
What an episode. Coming off the end of the botched Colosseum episode, I was a little sceptical going into this week, but I have nothing but good things to say today. It might be because I’m unfamiliar with this story, but out of everything that’s been adapted so far, this has to have been the most thought-provoking of them all. I had lots of questions, the most jarring of all being why exactly Kino stayed in the migrating country for five to ten days, but the pieces of the puzzle all fell into place right at the very end, and the answers hit me like a ton of bricks. And it’s because you now understand what happened that you can now start to properly reflect on things and sort out your thoughts. It’s Kino at its best – a reminder that there are all sorts of people in the world, who live in many different ways (though here it’s exaggerated for storytelling purposes into different countries with wildly different customs and traditions), with the result that the right answer to a dilemma, if there ever is one, is often blurry.
Of course, your initial impression is that the migrating country (which is what I’ll be referring to it as from now on) is in the wrong. It’s interesting, by the way, how many of the high-tech countries Kino visits tend to be morally skewed, probably because the use of technology as a substitute for human behaviour somewhat changes social attitudes. Whether it’s right to describe this country as being morally bankrupt I’m not sure – it’s not that they are completely devoid of empathy, which is what the wall country accused them of. At least, it didn’t feel like they were. They’re not interested in conquering the world, for example, even though doing so is possible for them. And when faced with the prospect of mowing down houses and fields, they do take steps to reduce casualties. Rather, I think it’s that the action of migrating itself has become so normalised that to them, they simply had no choice but to run through foreign countries. That sort of thinking is what’s been conditioned into them since birth, and when faced with the prospect of choosing between that or basic human empathy, they go with the former.
Even so, that doesn’t make it acceptable. The general of the wall country is perfectly right when he says that by moving around without caring about their surroundings, the migrating country is being an incredible nuisance. The country depicted on the mural the children were drawing probably doesn’t exist anymore. Its sheer size and weight mean that entire forests and landscapes are destroyed in an instant when the country passes through. I’m also wondering whether their first reason for being constantly on the move is justified or not – wanting to travel forever is one thing (apparently there’s also a proper Land of Travellers story out there) but can’t they expend their excess energy in some way other than using it for movement?
Yet all of the sympathy you might have for the wall country is immediately subverted when it’s revealed that the wall was built for the express purpose of extorting travellers out of their resources. That’s really the clincher here, and it’s the moment where everything begins to make sense. It’s also the point where you start asking questions that don’t necessarily have clear-cut answers. The wall might not have been used for morally sound activities, but does that mean that the wall country deserves to get run over? No lives may have been lost, but what about the indirect costs? The destroyed fields may lead to food shortages, and any houses that were in the way of the migrating country would have all been destroyed. At the very least, I think we can call the general a massive hypocrite for accusing them of what he did, when in reality the wall country is just as self-serving – if nothing else, the migrating country is at least aware that they are being a bother. Or is selfishness just a matter of perspective? To travellers, the wall is seen as a bother. To the wall country, it’s seen as a way of raising money and a justified use of its land. To the migrating country, its destruction is a necessary cost of upholding its traditions. They might call others bothersome for getting in the way of its migration (because to them, there’s nothing wrong with moving about like it’s doing) but from the viewpoint of those very same others, the bothersome ones are the migrating country’s inhabitants.
And then there’s Kino herself. Today’s Kino was rather unusual at first glance, because (i) she tends to be an impartial observer in every country she visits; and (ii) in order to not get attached to any one country, she imposes upon herself a rule that she can only stay in each place for three days. Both of those points didn’t apply today, because she helped the migrating country shoot down the missile device, and because she wanted to stay for five to ten days. Her final conversation with Hermes reveals to you that everything she did was for her own convenience in the end. Because the wall country wanted to take the Woodsman as a toll, and she was unwilling to pay it, she took advantage of the migrating country, hitching a ride while being fully aware that it would destroy the wall. It wasn’t out of principle that she got involved – it was because she needed to cross through herself. And so what appears to be a kindness from Kino to the country in helping them protect the children’s mural was, from the perspective of Kino herself, a small token in return for Kino using them for her own benefit. Whereas to the wall country, to a tiny extent it could be said Kino was almost enabling the migrating country to do what it did. Was it revenge on Kino’s part? I wouldn’t go that far. But I have a feeling Kino was very satisfied with the way things turned out.
“That was an interesting country, and a bothersome one, too.”
“Both, I guess.”
Which really sums everything up. That line from Hermes could be interpreted in two ways. First, it could be two adjectives used to describe the migrating country. Or second, he could have been just using ‘interesting’ to describe it, and ‘bothersome’ to describe the wall country instead – because to Kino, the former was helpful to her and the latter was not. There’s no real correct answer in the end, other than what the diplomat said about how everyone bothers other people to some degree, just by existing. The issue after that is the extent to which, once you’re aware of it, you choose to do something about it. And context is important, as well. If the migrating country truly had no other way to stop itself from overheating other than by moving around, would that justify what it did? Might they have taken a less drastic measure, like retracing its path or navigating the same set path over and over? The wall country could have been running out of funds and be in desperate need of the money from the wall toll, but equally, you could say the Woodsman too precious for Kino to give up. It’s all a matter of perspective, really.