Kino no Tabi Episode 5: Land of Liars
This breaks my heart.
I’m stunned. I have a bunch of thoughts swirling around my head right now, but the first thing I have to say is that this is not what I imagined Land of Liars to be about. I almost feel like I was lied to myself, even though I wasn’t exactly promised anything. Prior to the episode, I was expecting a strange, quirky land where everyone compulsively lies in their day-to-day life. Kino, having been made aware of this before entering, would have to work out how to get around and what was going on from interpreting what the citizens say as clues. That would have been fun, right? Instead, we got a tragic love story, with twist after twist – and I absolutely did not expect the hero to have ultimately been fooling the entire country in the end. It’s starting to look like Colosseum was the low point for this adaptation. A minor blip, even. Everything that’s been newly adapted has been great – Land of Permitted Murder was above average, and A Bothersome Land was particularly thought-provoking. Today’s one tugged at my heartstrings, and I’m weak to that. It’s probably up there with my favourite episodes from the 2003 anime, like Three Men Along the Rails and A Kind Land. Actually, I thought there were some parallels between A Kind Land and Tale of a Traveller, which we also got as the first of today’s double bill. There are lots of things I want to say about Land of Liars, but let’s take it in turn.
First, it’s quite nice to see that Lerche will combine multiple stories into a single episode if appropriate – it’s something I liked about the 2003 anime, and the various differences in directing between that and the current incarnation of Kino no Tabi has left me with some worries as to whether we’d ever get doubles again. So it’s good to know that’s not an issue. Now, the two main scenes that really left an impact from this first half was the talking motorrad on display, and the little boy who wanted to become a traveller just like Kino. The motorrad scene I absolutely loved. I didn’t think it’d actually speak, and Kino and Hermes being alone with it doesn’t really help refute the (very silly, in my opinion) argument that the two motorrads aren’t actually sentient and are just a product of Kino’s schizophrenia. I also found it rather unfortunate that, despite how much the country’s citizens love and honour the motorrad’s owner, they’re treating the motorrad terribly. I’m not sure why it doesn’t speak up when Hermes has done the same to various people (and they all seem to accept the fact that a talking motorrad is nothing unusual at any rate) but Kino’s done the best she can for it. She can’t destroy it or steal it, and politely asking the country to let the motorrad be driven occasionally would probably have been met with anger. Inspiring that little boy (who, like both Sakura and ‘Sakura’, is also the planned heir to an inn) to meet it like she met Hermes during Land of Adults is both a callback to her origins as well as some foreshadowing for future episodes, seeing as this adaptation will be revisiting that sometime in the coming weeks.
Now. I had to wrap my head around Land of Liars for a bit. What really struck me was that, for such a short story, there was a lot of misdirection going on. For most of the episode, you were led to believe that the relevant character here was the housekeeper and possibly the man’s friend. The man himself was presented as a non-entity – with no real personality of his own, existing more as a setup for an interesting story to be told about the princess. And that is precisely how they hid the real twist – you accept that the man is delusional without much thought because you see it for yourself together with Kino at the start, whereas all along the obviously shady one is the housekeeper. The man’s revelation at the end then makes you re-evaluate everything you thought you understood about what was happening in this country. It’s great stuff. And that OST they keep playing during heartfelt moments is really fitting.
That said, I admit I didn’t realise who the housekeeper was until she chased the man away (which indicated she wanted to talk to Kino alone). Her side of the story really fills you with a sense of pity for them both, but for her in particular. My heart broke when I saw the man return and wonder where his lover was, whilst in the arms of the very princess he was supposedly looking for – with that princess herself being unable to say anything and reveal the truth to him. It’s a wretched way of living, and I can’t believe she is happy with things as they are. I’m not sure she entirely is, in fact. Either way, there’s an extra layer of depth to that scene if you rewatch it after the episode is over, now armed with the knowledge that the man has only been pretending to be insane this entire time. The result is that the two of them are lying to each other for no reason, and it’s the man’s fault. He knows that she thinks he is delusional, and isn’t saying anything because he wants to maintain the status quo – but actually, the reasons he gave Kino don’t weigh up in favour of keeping it a secret from the princess at all. I understand why he might not want to reveal it to the citizens at large, because it really wouldn’t look good if the hero of the revolution turned out to have been living in secret with a figurehead of the old regime like the princess. Not to mention the fact that she’s supposed to be dead, and so it might result in people realising that not all of the royal family might have died. He’d also have to get involved again and lead the country, when all he wants is to live peacefully in the woods with his waifu.
However, all of that has nothing to do with revealing his lies to the princess herself. It wouldn’t change anything so long as they keep it to themselves, and they can live a quiet life together without having to engage in this twisted game of deriving happiness from merely knowing the other loves them lots without being able to reciprocate. Don’t you think so? The princess seems to be content with taking care of him whilst thinking that his love for her is so great that he was driven to insanity over it. The man is content with the princess living a lie out of her love for him. But will that really hold true in the long run? Can the man keep up his wistful pining for someone he knows is right next to him? Even if he can, can the princess in turn tolerate the man’s behaviour as the years go by? How would she react if, one day, she learned that the man has been lying all this time? Which in turn deters the man from ever telling her the truth, because the longer he leaves it the worse the consequences could be. It’s a pretence that’s being maintained for nothing, and to me that’s the real tragedy here.
It’s fitting that the country’s called the Land of Liars, I guess. Everyone’s lying with good intentions because they feel it’s the best course of action to take in light of the fuzzy picture of events they have, but the end result is that the man and his lover are stuck in this strange sort of relationship limbo where neither of them can truly accept the love of the other until one of them decides to break the status quo. I have a feeling that if this was a Shizu episode, he might have said something. A final thought I had relates to the townspeople. Their role as liars (including that of his double agent friend, who apparently turned out to be a royalist) is that they are lying to him about the princess’s death (or so they think) out of kindness in return for everything he’s done for them. I do wonder, though, whether the citizens actually know the truth – whether they’re individually aware that the housekeeper is actually the princess, but are lying to each other in order to protect her life with the man. That would also mean that they’re lying to him, but lying (to Kino) over what they’re lying about. I don’t know, it’s all just speculation. It’s just that you’d think they would be able to recognise the face of their former princess, which is how I suspect the man himself realised what was going on.