Contributing writer for The Artifice.
Junior Contributor II
Anime History up to the 90s
This is something I think a lot of anime fans who got into it during the late 2000 period want to learn about, but haven’t been able to. I understand the expertise is there, from offhanded comments by older critics, and some analysis of particular aspects of older anime. But I’ve found it hard to learn about in detail.
Kino's Journey Episode 2: Lives of Strangers
What’s the life of a rabbit weighed against the life of a human? Most people would probably say it’s not much; that a human life is obviously much more important than a rabbit’s. But when Kino encounters three strangers caught in a snowstorm and on the brink of starvation, she has trouble justifying stealing one creature’s life to feed another. As soon as she stumbles upon the situation, she is forced to be responsible for one set of lives or another.
In episode 2 of Kino’s Journey, our protagonist continues to struggle the hardships of being a free agent, condemned to make decisions and be responsible for their outcomes. But when she doesn’t owe malice or debt to either the rabbit or the men, what right does she have to make such a decision? And is she responsible when her decision leads to the deaths of both parties? We have an obligation to our own wellbeing, Kino suggests, which justifies hunting for one’s own food. And it seems that same obligation can be bought by others, as, after the men give Kino an expensive ring, she has much less trouble hunting for their food.
The choice of a rabbit life as the stakes in this episode helps maintain the steady somber pace that characterizes Kino’s Journey. There doesn’t have to be tension or climax to Kino’s choice like there would if she was killing a person, so the episode can carry on and develop the significance of Kino’s decisions after the fact.
Certain dub changes indicate both production confusion, and a difference in vision between the original Japanese writers, and English adapters, but nothing significant. The episode also delves a bit further into Kino’s character, and Hermes’ purpose as an object.
Kino's Journey Episode 1: Purpose, Communication, and Robots
In the first episode of the anime series Kino’s Journey, the protagonist and self-defined traveler Kino, and her sentient motorcycle Hermes, visit The Land of Visible Pain. In this country the people have given themselves the ability to know the thoughts of others near them, hoping that true understanding would be the way to end all conflict and misery. However, in an unexpected yet probably should have been totally expected twist, it turns out that people don’t always think positive things about one another. A rude comment you would usually keep to yourself is now unavoidably known to everybody around you. One person’s pain is felt by everyone nearby. And even something as small as having different tastes in music can be enough to end once happy relationships.
By the time Kino arrives the land looks deserted. Robots manage the dense city area, while all the people have spread out across the countryside, staying in their own homes and far enough away from each other that they can’t read any thoughts but their own. Almost on a stroke of luck, on her way out of the country, Kino runs in to one man who is willing to tell her what happened.
This first episode is obviously about communication, and the struggles formal spoken and written languages have conveying pure thought, motivation, and emotion. But, while the mind reading thing turned out to be a bust, it does offer some way people can communicate these things. Body language; the little details of facial expressions, and the way we visually present ourselves. This is shown at the end of the episode when Kino’s smile to the lonely man expresses more than she could in words, but also more subtly in the introduction of the lonely man, when he goes from Stubbleface McStoppedcaring, to clean shaven before sitting down to talk with Kino.
The early scenes deal with equality, identity, and purpose, both self-defined and externally imposed. The second act uses the country’s advanced robots to brilliantly manage pacing in a show that doesn’t stop for conflict. And the opening conveys an existential sense of freedom that characterizes the entire show.
Episode one of Kino’s Journey is brilliant.
Anime Needs Re-Releases
Anime releases in the West are contained. In the first seven years or so after production, a typical show will see a handful of DVD releases. The exact number depends on popularity. Then it quickly goes out of print with little to no chance of a revival. While this isn’t a problem, in terms of longevity, for newer anime that enjoy all the preservation opportunities the internet has to offer, many older shows and manga are on the verge of being lost. Even massively influential items, like the works of Go Nagai, have long been out of print, and there are not enough second hand copies to support the growing fandom in the West.
The reasons these works don’t often get re-released are understandable. Licensing deals can be complicated, and anime fans generally have much more interest in the latest simulcasts than in the old genre builders. But at a time when so many commentators and industry insiders are predicting the death of anime, fans should be most concerned about this art form’s past. After all, while anime’s future may be unsteady, we know anime’s history is dying. In order to protect that history, we need to let studios know we care about it.
The Legend of Korra isn't about Equalism
A lot of people like to focus on the Equalist aspect of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and how it depicts privilege and birthright. However, the show itself presents these themes as background to the real story of the characters and their interactions. If the political themes present in Legend of Korra were intended to be something of significant importance, we should expect them to be reflected in the main characters, as they are the ones closest to the audience and most capable of delivering any message. But when we examine Legend of Korra’s main cast, the opposite message is sent.
By having characters disconnected from the equality themes like this, Legend of Korra takes us, the audience, away from those themes. They become a distant, though interesting, element of the world, even when they are driving the plot. Meanwhile, almost all of the characters’ growth occurs separate from the show’s more political themes.
The majority of the most engaging moments in Legend of Korra have nothing to do with the immediate plot events that surround the Equalist movement and Amon, or the Order of the Red Lotus, or militarism and Earth Nation nationalism of Kuvira, but are when the show moves away from those things.