Notes on Episode 1 of Kino’s Journey (2017): A Country Where People Can Kill Others

Management: This post is Part 1 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.

Introduction

In keeping faith with my love of things Kino — if the blog’s header and name weren’t enough evidence for that affection — I felt it appropriate write and publish my  weekly thoughts (observations and musings) about the (as of the time of this piece) current broadcast of Kino’s Journey. The messages and lessons that the Kino’s Journey  franchises has imparted since I became familiar has been tremendously influencial in how I now view the world. My recent trip to Japan as a traveler has only rekindled my dormant enthusiasm for this franchise. The full title of this broadcast, Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- the Animated Series, is an unncessary mouthful to say though, and it’s also a chore to continue copy-pasting. As a result, I’ll just refer to the new anime adaptation of this franchise as Kino’s Journey (2017). If I feel the need to reference the old anime adaptation, I’ll just refer to it as Kino’s Journey (2003).

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Notes on Episode 1: A Country Where People Can Kill Others

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

We begin with Kino camped outside. She muses to Hermes about how she likes to travel despite her doubts about her character’s morality. She appears to be getting ready to fall asleep. A revolver lays atop her chest. Her palm clutches the handle.

The opening scene gives the audience a simple introduction to the overarching premise and theme of this franchise. Another way of describing it from the perspective of the literary classes I took in high school. I was asked try to piece an all-encompassing definition for “poetic” based on examples of anything that I reacted to as instinctually “poetic.”  Yet another means to describe it is based on the social science training in college. I asked myself while taking an anthropology course why anyone would concern themselves so devotionally to the study of culture. “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is” seems like a contradiction of logic at first glance, but for Kino, it is actually a paradox of humanity. As human beings, we constantly find beauty in human truths, because even if some of them aren’t exactly flattering, we still find those human truths relatable. It reaffirms to us that, wherever we travel or settle down, we aren’t alone.  If you want to look at this dynamic cynically, as Kino’s musing to Hermes in this scene might seem to suggest, this whole quest for finding beauty in human truths comes off as narcissistic self-validation. But perhaps we, like Kino, can’t help ourselves.

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Cults in Anime Post-Aum: Post-Aum Anime TV Series as Reflective Screens into the Japanese Psyche

Management: The final version of an anthropological research paper I’m working on connecting Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese psyche, the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks, and cult tropes in anime post-Aum. For anyone who cares to be patronized, thank you for patient with me when my blogging activity became slow to writing this damn thing. I managed a pretty decent grade on this paper, but my anthropology professor is ultimately just one (albeit highly knowledgeable) person who’s critiqued my work. I’d welcome more if you guys are willing to provide feedback.

With the emergence of Aum and its heinous crimes, a great many Japanese were shocked, lost their sense of logic, and screamed out hysterically in condemnation of it. But the “darkness” of Aum is connected with the “darkness” concealed in the subconscious of us all. We Japanese abhor confronting “darkness” and taking the media uproar as a form of catharsis, have refused to gaze at this “darkness.”

– Mori Tatsuya (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 148)

Now of course a mirror image is always darker and distorted. Convex and concave swap places, falsehood wins out over reality, light and shadow play tricks. But take away these dark flaws and the images are uncannily similar; some details seem to conspire together. Which is why we avoid looking at the image, why, consciously or not, we keep eliminating these dark elements from the face we want to see.

– Haruki Murakami (Murakami 2000, p. 229)

Introduction

The mainstream Japanese reaction to the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks is the capstone to what Sakai Shinji, a writer for the Katorikku Shinbun’s opinion column, has called “the end-of-the-century unease (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 122).” The Japanese bubble economy had burst in the early 1990s. The Japanese Great Hanshin Earthquake had taken its toll in 1995. Popular political distrust and turbulence gripped the public due to the Japanese government’s widely perceived incompetence in handling these two crises. Just a few months after this natural disaster, an artificial one in the form of a religiously-motivated terrorist attack by Aum Shinrikyo (Aum) struck the Tokyo underground subway lines, killing twelve and injuring over a thousand (p. 123). Further revelations of heinous crimes and inflated coverage from the so-called Aum Affair in the ensuing weeks and months would further stoke the hostility and fear of mainstream Japanese toward Aum and whatever was widely perceived to be a cult like Aum. While the Aum Affair certainly terrified mainstream Japanese, the combined economic, environmental, and political trauma of the era were also responsible for the shaking the ease, security, and certainty they found in what Yukio describes as their modern myths:

…the myths of economic development and permanent employment based on a work ethic of loyalty toward one’s company, the myth of a secure environment guaranteed by modern technology and government administration, and the myth of a harmonious society based on national ethnic homogeneity (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 163).

The pressure that these repeated traumas inflicted on Japanese and the extent to which the Japanese obsessed over these myths played a part in contributing to the severity of mainstream Japanese reaction to Aum and cults.

Even decades later, the trauma still lingers in the Japanese psyche. This trauma reverberates throughout Japanese popular culture in the form of subject and trope matter about cults. The Japanese subculture of manga and anime are no exception. The narratives of many manga and anime feature humor, references, and commentary about cults and cultist behavior. Scholarly works such as Jolyon Baraka Thomas’ article, “Horrific ‘Cults’ and Comic Religion (2014)” and his book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (2014), have led the academic charge in drawing connections between popular manga and anime films and the Japanese pre-Aum and post-Aum zeitgeist. In particular, Thomas’s book demonstrates, through his manga analysis of 20th Century Boys, that mainstream Japanese are “attracted to stories that present superhuman, righteous individuals and their unwavering efforts to save the world” despite “how much [they] may criticize specific religious groups” like Aum “for their deception, their fraud, or their violence (p. 152).” However, his analyses have tended to avoid manga and anime film examples that are not narratively tailored to what he defines, according to his book, as epics (p. 129). Furthermore, Thomas has also confined his analyses to popular anime films, neglecting the plethora of anime TV series that contain subject and trope matter about cults and cultish behavior in their narratives. Accordingly, this paper will analyze how post-Aum anime TV series are reflective screens into the Japanese psyche.

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Sunday Without God: Empathy for the Undead

Management: While my opinion of the show is positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. While this piece will reference other parts of the show, this essay will primarily break down the events of Episodes 1-3, which cover the Valley of Death Arc, Episode 3-6, which cover the Ortus Arc, and Episode 9, “Where Gravekeepers Are Born.”

Sunday Without God 12

I wrote a piece some time ago about Kino’s Journey and the importance of approaching the different countries in the show visited by Kino and, by proxy, the audience through the anthropological lens of cultural relativism. What may be seen within a culture, different from our own, as an illogical lifestyle and a barbaric morality to the foreign observer looking from without may be a completely reasonable lifestyle and acceptable morality to the native participant engaging from within. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t ultimately disagree and reject lifestyles and moralities different from our own. However, trying to make sense of a culture or a person without temporarily suspending our own ethnocentric impulses and prejudices kills attempts at creating empathy and shuts down productive discussion. You’re not going to understand the worldview of someone if the only conversation you can have with that someone is “Whose worldview is better than the other’s?”

In the spirit of cultural relativism, Sunday Without God presents two remarkable back-to-back arcs that approach the universe’s cultural understanding of death and the undead in opposite ways. The latter arc is a thematic reaction to the first arc. Encompassing Episodes 1-3 is the first arc of the show, Valley of Death. Encompassing Episodes 4-6 is the second arc, Ortus. Within these arcs is the main character and observer constant, Ai Astin, whose views about death and the undead evolve over the course of the places she visits and the people she meets.

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Cults and Anime Post-Aum

Management: Some of the early fruits (part of an annotated bibliography) of an anthropological research paper I’m working on connecting Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese psyche, the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks, and cult tropes in anime post-Aum. I’ve honestly been busy to the point that I’ve only managed to come up with one of my more usual complete and lengthy pieces for next week, and I feel bad for not updated the blog for so long. Hopefully this slapdash analysis will soothe those disgruntled until then.

The full essay is here. Check it out.

What may be regarded by society as religious “cults” have permeated history from ancient and modern times, with their latest widely accepted mass incarnation in modern times emerging in its latest wave in the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of globalization and Western values of individualism, materialism, and secularism. In response to a world increasingly tied together through markets of economics and ideas, culturally closed and colonially bitten portions of society, rather than accommodating and resigning themselves to what they see as the imposition of moral and spiritual depravity, have produced new age religious movements attempting to cater to the socially disaffected. Born out of a highly materialistic, highly competitive, and highly oppressive (so they say) Japanese culture within the context of other existing and soon-to-exist new religions throughout the world was Aum Shinrikyo.

With the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks and other acts of violence and deviancy, Aum Shinrikyo would leave an indelible scar in the Japanese psyche that, to this day, permeates in popular Japanese culture and even anime subculture as negatively connotative “evil cult” tropes. Some anime embrace them, others make light of them, others still challenge them, and others utilize them in all three ways. Some recurring themes to keep in mind as you scan down the following seven, alphabetically ordered shows that feature some use of this trope:

a charismatic, eccentric, ominous, and/or megalomaniac leader;

world-rejecting and anti-social behavior;

eschatological, millenarian, and apocalyptic worldviews;

claims to supernatural powers;

eccentric, nonsensical, and/or suspicious deviancy;

financial exploitation;

sexual exploitation;

conspiratorial thinking;

brainwashing;

fanaticism;

violence;

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Humanity Has Declined: Monuments to Hubris

Management: While my opinion of the show is positive overall (broken records all around), this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay, in particular, is a breakdown of Episode 9 of Humanity Has Declined, “The Fairy’s Survival Skills.”

Humanity Has Declined 7

Monuments to Humanity

On the surface, Humanity Has Declined is a rather wacky, individual two-parter arc to singular episode based series employing a plethora of absurd scenarios and characters to carry attention and interest. The absurd’s certainly entertaining in its own right if executed with enough consistent finesse, but that’s definitely not the show’s end all, be all. Those moments are referencing something, satirizing something. Satire uses the oft ridiculous, but always the comic and sometimes even the surreal to make a critical statement about something or someone. Individuals who are otherwise dismissive of critical statements would find more palatable and receptive under a comedic framework. The creative angles afforded by a comedic framework may likewise encourage individuals consider issues in different lights.

What Humanity Has Declined is satirizing is humanity, and one of the human things Episode 9 of Humanity Has Declined, “The Fairy’s Survival Skills,” is satirizing is exceptionalism.

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Of Anthropological Perspectives: Kino’s Journey and the Importance of Cultural Relativism

Management: While my overall opinion of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, is quite positive, this essay is, by no means, meant to be a comprehensive review of the series, but rather, an articulation and analysis of what I feel are its most integral and interesting themes. Much of this essay draws reference to Franz Boaz’s work in anthropology. This is not, however, meant to be a total affirmation of everything he believes.

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“The world is not beautiful; therefore it is.”

It’s an iconic quote from Kino’s Journey, probably its most iconic, and rather fitting with the latter part of the show’s title: The Beautiful World. Just watching the show, though, following Kino and Hermes on their travels, it becomes evident that there are many things in this world that are not beautiful in the traditional sense. Miserable snowpacked drifts, windswept desert wastelands, ruined husks of cities. In addition, the countries she visits aren’t the most hospitable places ever, and many of the people she meets are not the most decent lot.

The cultures she observes aren’t literally representative of the real world. They’re, rather, more akin to the “what if” scenarios The Twilight Zone would make the setting of their episodes with. Kino’s Journey, however, isn’t mainly interested in exploring the world as it is interested in the human condition, us, one facet at a time, through these “what ifs.” Exploring our bad points and our good points, our best points as well as our worst elucidating whenever we face adversity.

It is because of this that Kino’s Journey regards vapid optimism with little beauty. Looking at the world within Kino’s Journey and the world without, suffering is not too hard to come by. But the show says its because of humanity’s seemingly permanent ties to pain and hardship, etched on landscapes and people’s faces, in the attempts of these cultures to deal with pain and hardship through belief and practice, that that the world is beautiful.

Beautiful despite suffering, in spite suffering, in defiance of suffering, or even because of suffering.

So it is crucial that, in order to see the beautiful underneath the ugly, that we, the audience, engage the show with an open and critical mind, the mind of an anthropologist, the mind of a traveler.

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