Back on the Road…with Shizu?
This week’s episode of Kino’s Journey, “Ship Country,” is interesting in that it made the title of the show a bit of a misnomer. The meat of this episode, you see, focuses entirely on Shizu, the swordsman-prince introduced in episode 2, and fulfilled a prediction I made at the time that we had not seen the last of him.
The story picks up with Shizu boarding a vast ship-country, similar to the technodrome from last week in many ways. Whereas last week’s episode told a cyberpunk story, however, this country-of-the-week’s aesthetic is decidedly more steampunk, looking like a cross between Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar, and Treasure Town from the surreal anime movie Tekkonkinkreet. Also, not unlike the settings of those works, this country has a distinct “upper world, underworld” structure—a ruling class governs from ivory towers on the upper decks, while the majority of the populace lives a life of hard labor in the sunless areas below decks. Upon boarding as a traveler, Shizu is presented with a choice: join the ruling elite and enforce the rigid class structure of this ship-country’s society, or live amongst the underclass and labor as one of them for his time aboard. Ever humble and observant, Shizu chooses the latter option and is assigned a mute girl, “Ti” as his guide, who shows him things about the country that deeply disturb him, to say the least.
A show called Kino’s Journey should be about…well…Kino.
While fresh in the sense that we get to follow a new pair of characters, this episode, unfortunately, represents a step back in terms of storytelling quality compared to last week’s episode. Back is the awkward pacing that seems to spend too much time on plot advancement, and not enough time on peoples’ stories. Additionally, the fact that Shizu interacts with a mute girl for most of the episode means that the bulk of our impressions have to come from Shizu’s literal spoken monologue, which feels very much like a violation of the old writing adage “show, don’t tell.” Also back, and most unwelcome, is another emotional payoff delivered entirely as a dump of exposition by Hermes (yes, Kino and Hermes are not entirely absent), which works about as well as it did in episode 2. Particularly insulting is the fact that this dump introduces, and then promptly glosses over, several sci-fi concepts heretofore unknown in the world of Kino, which are significant enough to merit a whole episode’s worth of exploration in-and-of themselves, but which are brushed aside for what is ultimately a rather confusing story told through a series of disconnected tropes.
As shown last week, Kino’s Journey has the makings of greatness in it, but this episode, sadly, does not tap those depths as effectively as the previous one. Perhaps the lesson here is: a show called Kino’s Journey should be about…well…Kino.