One of my favourite Kino's Journey (Kino no Tabi) episodes is the third one - Land of Prophecies.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kino's Journey, it is a 13-episode Japanese animation or anime which is an adaptation of a series of 'light novels' from Japan. The series tells of Kino - a young traveller with her talking motorrad (the precursor to the motorcycle) Hermes. In Kino's world, each 'country' seems like a different planet or even a different universe as a lot of things - technology, culture, Governments, socio-economic aspects - are vastly different.
Land of Prophecies basically talks of traditions and religious beliefs, as well as perceptions of a work of art. The fact that the interpretation of religion and art was integrated seamlessly together is exceptional.
The story begins with Kino and Hermes arriving at a country that believes the world will end the next day. This is because the country has been obsessed with a book called the Book of Prophecies which has been deciphered by a holy man from their South Tower as predicting the end of the world the very next day.
As the citizens prepare for the end, Kino happily shops around as no trader would charge money since the world was ending and all.
Well, tomorrow came, and the world did not end. The people were in a panic. The shopkeepers tried to get their money back from Kino, but she declined. One guy had the best quote - "How can I continue living if the world doesn't end?!"
I find that to be very poignant indeed!
Anyway, a priest from the North Tower said the South Tower miscalculated by 30 years, and so the people were placated by the fact that the world, indeed, was going to end.
And so Kino left the place and arrived at another country that tried to convince her that they have a tradition of wearing cat ears in celebration of Cat Burglars who overthrew the king. They tried to get her to participate in the cat-dance, but she politely refused and went on her way.
As she made her way in the forest, she was stopped by a woman who directed her to a man. The man documented the latest tradition embraced by the country and told Kino of all the other 'traditions' the country tried to convince travellers as theirs.
Apparently, amongst travellers, the country had a unique reputation of featuring different traditions every time they pass by. This is because since they deposed the king, they felt their country was in adequate for not having any tradition whatsoever. And that, the old man in the woods - a descendant of their deposed king - said was their unique tradition.
The third part of the episode deals with Kino arriving at a country much like Venice, where everyone is sad due to a constant reading of a sad poem. Many years ago, the greatest poet in the land stayed there and he wrote as well as recited happy, delightful poems. The king ordered him to write a poem of sadness, or he will be killed in 19 days.
The poet drew his inspiration from himself and being happy, he did not know how to express any form of sadness. On the eve of the last day, his wife killed herself in order for him to feel and understand sadness.
And so the poet recited the sad poem but was escorted out of the palace as the King retired to his chambers, scared of the immense sadness from his words. A few days later, the king died and the poet continued to walk and recite his poem over and over again, blanketing the country in sadness, with his small child following him everywhere.
Years later, the poet died, and the citizens were allowed a brief respite. However, on his funeral, his daughter - then 14 years of age - started reciting the poem again and again, for the next 10 years, further engulfing the country in misery.
Since then, it has been the country's tradition to choose a 14-year-old girl with the best voice every 10 years and have her recite the poem all day, every day.
One of the citizens said the poem was once written down in a book called the Book of Prophecies and became very popular at a distant country. Had Kino heard of such a book and such a country?
This triggered a flashback. As Kino left the Land of Prophecies, she saw an invading army attacking the Land of Prophecies. A soldier told her they also have the Book of Prophecies and believe the only way to prevent the end of the world was to destroy that other country.
This is a striking argument as to religion and art. How one work can be deciphered so differently by different groups of people.
If we take into account the short story about the Land of Traditions in the middle of the episode, I believe that to be an analogy of atheists or agnostics who sometimes try to convince people they do have some form of belief system such as New Age, or simply 'being spiritual'.
If we look at it from the aspect of tradition, I see it as Kino's Journey commenting how silly, wonderful and dangerous they are. One country did foolish things in anticipation of the end of the world; another started a war because of tradition/religion and the Land of Sadness decided to be sad - simply because it was their tradition.
In terms of religion, this episode has many interesting viewpoints of religion as a means to control and placate people, as a cause for war - all misguided translation from one man's terrible ordeal and an enduring work of art.
I can only hope that one day I can write something as layered and multi-dimensional as Kino's Journey, but it is my tradition and my belief to just go ahead and try.
With that, I go back to writing my novel. Cheers!