Notes on Episode 4 of Kino’s Journey (2017): Ship Country

Management: This post is Part 4 of a cour-long project consisting of mental notes, observations, and musings of every episode of Kino’s Journey (2017). I will endeavor in this feature to avoid making any comments about the show’s technical aspects, but I may end up comparing it to previous episodes of Kino’s Journey (2003) when the story ground the former covers begins to overlap with what the latter has already explored.

Notes on Episode 4: Ship Country

Management: This country was not covered by Kino’s Journey (2003).

We begin this episode following Shizu the swordsman exiled-prince and Riko the talking dog, instead of Kino the traveler and Hermes the motorrad. The Kino’s Journey light novels mainly cover stories in Kino’s perspective, but a few tales from Shizu’s perspective are thrown in there. Their approaches to different countries, citizens, cultures, and customs contrast sharply enough between each other that one is able to observe and comment on certain things that the other tends not to notice or appreciate as clearly. That’s a plus for curious audiences. These characters’ observations and comments are just as much for their own benefit as it is for the audience’s enrichment. In many ways, while they are able to get along with each other amiably, Kino and Shizu are foils to each other.

The show hasn’t quite explored Kino’s backstory yet, but it has covered Shizu’s. Unlike Kino, who for the most part acts as her own free and curious agent, Shizu is weighed down  by his tyrannical father’s legacy. Kino travels without any intention to plant roots because to learn and have fun. Shizu wanders to settle down because he no longer has a home he can bear returning to. Kino tends to take a more distant and hand-off approach to the places she passes through, while Shizu tends to involve himself more deeply and intimately with the societies he visits. Unless Kino gets really upset like in Episode 2, she doesn’t try to voice or act on the reservations she has towards the societies who host her. In Episode 3, in fact, she offers up her own non-injurious solution to a problem one country initially considered deadly force to address — saving some people from dying while keeping in the good graces of some others. The first episode dedicated to Shizu, Episode 4, has him trying to radically change a society he stays at because of his own moral outrage.

Returning back to Episode 4, Shizu decides to travel to/board the Ship Country. It is, essentially, a society based on a really big boat, and the lifestyles of that society’s people reflects that. It’s also mobile like the country Kino visited in the last episode (one significant difference being one is situated on land and the other is situated at sea) Shizu wants to learn more about the country while using it to travel to another part of the world. He’s a temporary traveler, unlike Kino who considers traveling her vocation. He’s on a quest to find a good land to place roots in and settle down in. He wants to become a person who can put his royal problems to rest in a humble homestead. He seems to be haunted fairly often by his past and his regrets, as the country he stays at turns out to be one stratified between a ruling class that seems tyrannical and a common people that look oppressed.

He’s conditioned with two options that he has to choose between by the rulers if he wants to stay aboard until his planned destination: (1) act as an enforcer for the ruling class, or (2) join the common people as a laborer. Enforcers are entitled to the privileges of the ruling class in exchange for the possibility having to engage in unscrupulous practices to maintain public order. Laborers are expected to perform hard work while enjoying fewer comforts and sustaining a poorer diet. Shizu’s personal guilt and noblesse oblige causes Shizu to pick the 2nd option over the 1st, to the utter bewilderment of the rulers.

Shizu is shown to his working class quarters, meets the commoners, and eats a diet of fish that looks like it’s seen better days. Shizu visually reacts to one of the elders there mention that he’s very old at 55, indicating a life expectancy dramatically lower than what he’s used to. He surmises that it’s due to the poor quality of the common people’s diet, a subsistence that almost entirely runs on fish. He is assigned a guide to the country in the form of an emotionally reserved little girl named Tifana (or Tif), who shows him around upon request and is supposed to correspond with him whenever the rulers assign him work. No work is ever assigned though. Shizu also notices severe shaking throughout the ship, which through Tif’s assistance, correctly diagnoses as the ship being flooded piece meal. The ship is falling apart because of disrepair, and eventually, years from now, the water from the ship’s growing leaks will capsize the Ship Country and bring everyone inside with it. Shizu brings what he’s learned to the elder’s attention, with the elder replying that the ruling class is aware of it. The elder tells Shizu that they’re living happy lives and to leave the problem alone.

Suspecting the ruling class of negligence and tyranny by ignoring these structural problems and endangering the common people’s lives, he confronts them to confirm his conclusions. They do, seemingly, by stating the knowledge concerns them none. The lack of concern is strange, considering the rulers live in the same dilapidated ship as the commoners. That weirdness isn’t enough to give Shizu pause though. The rulers send out a traveler that’s agreed to be an enforcer after him. Shizu draws his sword and duels his opponent, only for said opponent to one-up him with the same quick-draw gunslinger technique Kino utilized back in the Colosseum. It turns out that the enforcer is Kino the traveler, who arrived in the country several days after Shizu. All intention of fighting having been lost upon recognizing each other, Kino and Shizu lower their weapons to the rulers’ consternation. The miffed rulers declare that the two of them will not be allowed to disembark on land anytime soon, prompting both to team up with each other to (non-lethally) storm the rulers’ quarters: Shizu to demand justice for the common people, and Kino to get the hell out of her dodgy situation.

They make their way to the topmost floor, where the last rulers not knocked-out cower. Shizu makes his demand while Kino watches, and the not fully unbowed rulers demand back whether Shizu is willing to become this country’s ruler in their place. Shizu blurts out that he would. The rulers all suddenly vanish, leaving their attire behind. Bewildered himself, but now empowered by the ruling class’ abrupt exit, he leads the Ship Country from the ocean to the shore. Getting out with the rest of the common people, he proclaims that they’re all free to settle on land. The common people are unhappy with this, preferring the sea and ship that they know to the land and soil that they don’t. Despite Shizu’s insistence that they’re all doomed if they continue their same lifestyle, they all board the Ship Country and sail away, refusing to believe him. The shaking that Shizu saw as ominous signs of the ship falling apart were a normalized phenomena for the common people on that ship — something they didn’t understand the reason for, but took pride in as something they grew up with.

During Shizu and Riko’s adventures with the working people, Kino and Hermes hung out with the ruling class. Unlike the former two, the latter two were able to get acquire a fuller scoop of the origins of the Ship Country. The ship was originally comprised of hundreds of children governed, managed, and watched-over by an A.I. The descendants of these children became the country’s common people, and the A.I. manifested themselves in physical forms as the country’s ruling class. Contrary to their self-interested appearance of tyranny, the A.I. actually set up the country’s social hierarchy to reflect the interests of their charges. The common people were content to be left to their own devices while being ignorant of the state of their degrading home, and the ruling class accordingly set themselves up to be distant to them while respecting their desires to remain ignorant and preserve their happiness. It’s kind of the reverse of the scenario presented in the A.I. and human subplot of the Disney “Wally” film. Under those circumstances, it would make sense for the citizens of the Ship Country to react hostilely to Shizu’s attempts to liberate them. Shizu came to the conclusion of liberating them without picking up on those clues that suggested the common people didn’t want to be saved. Shizu was letting the biases of his personal baggage cloud his judgment.

Deflated but determined to carry on his journey, Shizu bids Tif farewell and urges her to return to the Ship Country. Tif instead stabs him in the gut, feeling betrayed at being abandoned. Shizu unfortunately fails to appreciate that Tif is an outsider to the society she grew up in (which also explains her emotional reservedness, which is actually emotional stunted-ness). As explained by Kino and Hermes, she was the daughter of a pair of travelers to the country. She was abandoned by her biological parents, shunned by citizens for not being related to/descended from them, and ultimately taken care of by the A.I. rulers that Shizu effectively dismissed the services of in his assault on them. Tif grew attached to Shizu overtime, and Shizu’s become the only person left that she values. Recognizing his error, Shizu apologizes to Tif and tells her that she can accompany him and Riko. Shizu then collapses due to blood loss. That prompts Tif to pull out a grenade so that they presumably can go out together (to atone for her terrible mistake and making it so that she won’t be abandoned again). Kino knocks the grenade out of her hand with a bullet, and Shizu passes out.

Shizu’s later shown having survived his ordeal, albeit w/ a hole in his side that’s now bandaged up. Tif is sound asleep and will be accompanying him as something of an adopted daughter or sister. Riko is a talking dog. Hermes is a talking motorrad.  Kino bids her farewells and takes off. Shizu hopes he meets her again either on the road or his final destination, and Kino speculates that it’ll come about in a situation where he’s nearly killed again.

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