(Note: No screenshots because of the low-quality rendering of my old Kino video files.)
Have you ever thought of what might be the ultimate cost of living? I believe it is taking from or feeding off the lives of others. This is the necessary sin we must all shoulder in order to live. In the end, maybe people inevitably die as payment for what we took. It’s a fascinating and poetic concept. But you may be wondering, what the bloody hell am I talking about? People feed off other people? And what does it have to do with anime? Well, I’m referencing a theme that is explored in a certain episode of the anime Kino no Tabi or Kino’s Journey.
I’m only talking about the 2003 version of Kino’s Journey, not the 2017 remake. I like the remake, of course; but of the two, I still prefer the original. There are several good reasons for that, and one of them is that there was no remake of the older anime’s episode 2, called “A Tale of Feeding Off Others.” That’s my favorite episode in the 13-episode series, and I’m here to tell you why it’s so interesting. It explores the theme of how all living things must feed off other living things (literally and figuratively) to stay alive. To begin, let’s review what happened in this episode.
(Note: I refer to Kino as “they,” because they object to being called young miss and young boy.)
The traveler Kino and their talking motorcycle Hermes happen upon a group of men starving to death in their wagon, isolated in a tundra in the middle of winter. The men are dying. Kino is an interesting character who stays emotionally detached from most people they encounter. However, even if they don’t care about the men, Kino’s general principle is to try to preserve life when they can. So the traveler shoots and kills a rabbit, bringing it back to the starving people and making soup out of it. Kino becomes invested in making sure the men survive because of an obligation. When Hermes asks “An obligation to whom?,” Kino answers, “To the rabbit.”
The men are still weak, so Kino does the same thing for the next two days: killing a rabbit and feeding the men. After three days of eating, the men recover their energy; but when they approach Kino, it isn’t in gratitude. They put the young traveler at gunpoint, saying they must become merchanise. Looking at the skeletons in the back of the wagon, and reading between the lines, Kino realizes the truth. These men are slavers. Because of the blizzards at the start of winter, they had to camp in their wagon until the next thaw. They killed and ate their “merchandise,” which was a living person, but then what? None of them were hunters. Now, they want to enslave Kino so they won’t have to return to their home city “empty-handed” for the festival.
The slavers try to force the traveler to surrender, but Kino kills them with her excellent gun skills, quick thinking, and fast movement. Kino isn’t an emotional person, but they hug their arms to their shoulders and say the experience was scary. Afterward, they return to their relatively emotionless self, but there’s a slight change. The young traveler sounds disappointed and a bit sad, especially when looking at the skins of the rabbits, who died for no reason. Hermes asks what they might do if they ever come across a similar situation. Kino refuses to answer, but says in regards to killing the men, “These situations happen sometimes. Because we’re only human.”
The three men were slavers who, for years, have “taken” the lives of slaves and sold them. They literally took the life of the latest slave, and ate her flesh. Kino had to kill three cute little rabbits, and based on their skill in doing so, Kino definitely hunts for themself on occasion. They take animal lives to further their own life. The young traveler also killed the three men; it was that or become a slave. Again, by taking other lives, Kino could continue living. The traveler’s last line in the episode suggests that even if it’s not literal, we’ll all run into “these situations,” meaning instances where we feed off the lives of others to keep living. Because we are human.
This is a profound and far-reaching theme. When we are born, we take time, energy, and resources from our mother. Our families, the supervisors in daycare, and the teachers in school all sacrifice some of themselves to take care of us as we grow. We eat the crops grown by others (in most cases, in first-world countries). When we get a job, it means someone else who applied didn’t succeed. When we get a pay raise, someone else has to pay for it. Emotionally, physically, and financially, people eat away at other people. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if there’s give-and-take. However, there isn’t always equal trade. Sometimes, a human must make the choice to take from others to keep living. So people do feed off other people, in a certain sense.
You may have detected the other main motif: that most humans feed off of nonhuman animals. Looking at the animal kingdom, we see the same thing; creatures eat other creatures to survive. It’s clear that humans are animals, too. However, we are animals capable of altruism, and valuing the lives of other feeling mammals (plus birds or reptiles in some cases). Note Kino’s perspective on this. The traveler dislikes having to kill the three rabbits in the same way they weren’t fond of having to kill the three men. Kino treats the lives of beasts and humans as more or less equal. That might be going a little far, but the point is Kino is one of those good humans who values animal life or at the very least dislikes taking animal lives when it’s not for their own survival.
This has been 7mononoke of Anime Rants. Thank you so much for reading! If you have any thoughts on this topic, or on Kino’s Journey, please leave a comment! Ja ne!