Episode Reviews

[Highlights] Kino’s Journey Ep. 9 (Land of Books)

Bringing back this episode review series just in time for National Library Week (thanks to e-quips for the reminder), how apropos!

This is one of the hardest episode reviews I’ve had to write–there’s so much going on here. In fact, I sat on it for well over a month, and kind of forgot about it while I was putting out weekly Horimiya content in collaboration with Irina. Without a doubt, this is the most convoluted Kino’s episode I’ve seen yet–and I loved it. For this reason, there will be more summary than usual in this post.

  • Kino is back as the protagonist of their journey after letting Nimya take centre stage last episode, except this time, they also start out as the third-person narrator. It is later revealed that Kino was merely reading from a book while sitting in the middle of a bleak desert–a neat opening that sets the scene for the rest of the episode’s existential questions.
  • Interestingly, “A Tale of a Tank” is actually its own chapter in the Kino’s Journey novels–one that should normally take up at least half an episode, based on how previous episodes have been adapted. By presenting it as an embedded narrative instead, the anime adds an element of metatextuality to it.
  • “A Tale of a Tank” describes a sentient floating tank that is on a perpetual journey to destroy an enemy tank based on its master’s final order. The enemy in question turns out to be the tank itself, who cannot see that its own appearance matches the description of the enemy completely. It’s a tale about obliviousness and the futility of searching, told to us by a Kino who appears to possess both the objectivity of a spectator and the insight of a book reader, but who is undertaking a similarly aimless journey.
Gate to the library
  • The Land of Books is a country that collects books from over the world to lend out in their library, but prohibits the authoring or publishing of new books. All books go through a rigorous process of screening by “Critics,” and the books deemed “safe” in the end are a mere fraction of all that were initially collected.
  • This seemed like a rather straightforward story about the harms of censoring knowledge for the public good. I didn’t expect to be impressed by such a premise, but hey, it’s not every day that anime talks about library issues–that much is cool! Man, this episode outdid itself.
The “Author”
  • Unsurprisingly, the excessive censorship led to a resistance movement, where people work in secret to publish manuscripts by a mysterious Author, who produces works that made people feel like characters in a story. The ominous glint in the members’ eyes suggests a fanatical cult.
  • Kino then stumbles into the Author himself, who looks like he could be a villain in a Satoshi Kon movie. You know what? This whole episode can probably be turned into a Satoshi Kon movie. The Author suggests that Kino may already be a character in a story.
  • Interestingly, Hermes seems immune to the charm of stories, both in the beginning when Kino asks for their thoughts on the tank story, and here, when Hermes comments that the Author seems to lack talent. Immune, or ignorant?
  • Here comes the shock. We’re introduced to the story of a father and daughter in a post-apocalyptic world, where the daughter, “Kino,” is bedridden and relies on books for escapism. The scientist father builds a device for her to experience the stories of the books as if they were real.
  • I love this plot twist, and think it’s a neat way of explaining Kino’s endless journeying and how self-contained and distinct each country is. This would also explain Kino’s fluid identity and refusal to involve themselves too deeply in any country – because they are a reader rather than protagonist (more on this later). Of course, this theory clashes with Kino’s backstory in Episode 4, and the fact that different countries affect each other in Episode 3. Yet, the striking thing about the narrative is how it forces you to question the soundness of not only all the stories told in the series so far, but also itself.
  • Again, Hermes is left out of the supposed meta narrative as well! If we take the meta story as being true, is Hermes a product of sick Kino’s imagination, born out of her loneliness?
The post-apocalyptic world of the “real” Kino
  • Kino meets the “Author” again, and is forced to listen to his ramblings about the tragedy of not being recognized by the world as the protagonist that you grow up believing you are. The Author gives a Lacanian rant about how life starts when you distinguish between the self and the other, and further adds that the distinction of fantasy vs. reality is another self-defining act of categorization.
  • According to the Author, the only way out of this tragedy of being stuck between fantasy (thinking that you’re the protagonist) and reality (living in a world that doesn’t revolve around you) is to adopt the identity of an author, who creates sub-realities within which they can freely navigate.
  • As mind-blowing as it is, this theory leaves out a crucial link–the role of the narrator, which Kino embodies. What if you can experience the world without identifying yourself as the protagonist, or as any agent of influence? But is Kino truly such a neutral and transparent existence, or are they in as much denial as everyone else they have come across thus far?
The Critics’ circle
  • The rebel librarian is arrested for her thought illness, and forced to become a Critic along with the rest of her comrades. Forcing the Critics to critique books is supposed to ruin their passion for stories and turn them into pompous pro-censorship assholes.
  • This feels horribly on-the-nose for such a deeply philosophical episode, but I don’t mind reading it as a tongue-in-cheek attack on critics who may be reading the Kino’s Journey novels.
  • After a series of chaotic events, a fire spreads in the castle containing most of the books in the country, and Kino leaves with the Author’s book on “everything in the world,” which turns out to be blank.

I don’t usually like to write summative episode reflections, but I feel like this episode calls for some explanation of my interpretation of the events, which aren’t nearly as simple as what we’ve seen in previous episodes. Now, there are a lot of things I can focus on next, but I think the greatest question that compels me is this: who exactly is a narrator?

There are many kinds of narrators, and while it can be argued that Kino is a first person limited (or omniscient?) narrator based on this episode’s revelation, this identity gets muddled by too many things. On a metatextual level, can anime, as a visual medium, have a narrator? When we see text screens in the series, who is meant to be the speaker of the text? Isn’t Kino the protagonist of Kino’s Journey first and foremost, whose story we see rather than whose perspective we see things from?

All things considered, there are a few things that I think every narrator is to some extent:

  1. The perspective from which a story is told
  2. The readers’ guide
  3. The author’s mouthpiece

In a sense, a narrator is story, reader, and author altogether. Thus, if Kino can be considered a narrator, they might be what the Author truly wants to become–somebody who thrives in between reality and fiction. They are not burdened by a creator’s consciousness (awareness that the created world isn’t real), yet they possess a higher level of awareness than a mere character.

But the space that Kino occupies is liminal–throughout the episode, they always seem to be at the brink of recognizing their role in a fictional narrative, before allowing themselves to be absorbed again by the narrative. When faced with the blank book, Kino complains that it “isn’t very interesting.” At the end of the day, rather than take on the role of an active author, Kino would much rather be the limited narrator–one who takes in, relays, and comments on stories.

So what do we gain from questioning the reliability of Kino’s “narration,” if Kino’s Journey can be said to be narrated by Kino? Fiction that turns meta allows its audience to relate with its characters more, and of course, evokes a sense of existential angst. In this episode, Kino’s fear of meaninglessness at the end of their journey–an ongoing subject throughout the series–is taken to a next level. If life has no pre-ordained meaning, at this stage of their journey, Kino’s choice is to continue avoiding this realization.

Kino’s Journey has been full of subtle surprises and structural subversions, but this episode was a mad one to make sense of. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts, so comment below if you’ve got cool theories or questions!

Past Episode Reviews:

5 thoughts on “[Highlights] Kino’s Journey Ep. 9 (Land of Books)

  1. That was definitely one of the more cerebral episodes even by Kino’s Journey standards. I didn’t even think about some of the points you brought up and I’ve seen this anime multiple times throughout my life. It really goes to show how intellectual that anime is.

    Liked by 1 person

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