You know what’s more painful than that ending? Watching the rest of the episode whilst knowing full well what’s about to happen. Unlike the Colosseum episode, this was animated quite faithfully with an even cuter Sakura than before (sorry Aoi) but that just made the plot twist hurt even more. There were even massive flags raised the entire way through, from the subtle backdrop of a mountain (which was actually the volcano) when the episode started, to Hermes saying that this country might leave such strong memories that Kino will never forget it. I certainly haven’t forgotten it since the very first time I watched Kino – I haven’t come back to rewatch this particular episode before, but it’s incredibly hard to forget something like that when it was literally the final episode of the 2003 series. The pyroclastic flow surging down and killing the entire populace was one of the very last scenes you were left with before the show ended, which left you with a sense of shock and disbelief much like Kino felt as she saw them all die without being able to do anything about it.
To me, it’s a little strange that they chose to animate this episode before doing Land of Adults. I know it’ll be the episode after this, but a lot of the subtext in A Kind Land is lost if you haven’t seen Land of Adults first – because, of course, Sakura is practically a carbon copy of Kino (Sakura) from before she met the real Kino. Like Kino (Sakura), the second Sakura’s parents run a hotel for travellers as well, Sakura herself has wonderful hopes and dreams, and was bullied with the same names as Kino was when she was a loli. The parallel will still be made clear in Episode 11, but the order ends up being weird because it’ll look like the original scenes are mimicking this episode, when in reality it’s the other way round. Every time Kino meets a kid who wants to be like her and go travelling, you’re reminded of Kino’s own origins, and so in terms of episode order it’d have been nice for Land of Adults to have come a little earlier. The comparisons would also feel less forced if the relevant episodes don’t come right after each other, and this was something the 2003 anime avoided with sufficient spacing as it had Land of Adults as Episode 4, with A Kind Land being Episode 13.
Anyway, one of the points that arguably was left unclear is whether Sakura actually knew that she was going to die. Her mother’s letter did state that only the adults knew, but Sakura’s gift suggests that she somehow found out about it as well, and came to the same conclusion as the adults did. I’m not actually sure which version I would prefer – because the latter would mean that, when she led Kino up to enjoy the panoramic view of the town and talked about her dreams for the, she very well knew that they would never come true. It also changes your perception of that scene in her inn where she chose not to join Kino (without Kino having said anything about agreeing to take her on) and become a traveller like her. You could say that it’s because she, just like the rest of the town, wanted to leave Kino with the happiest memories of them as they possibly could, but I’ve never really understood the supposed logic behind that. That’s because it would only work if, after Kino left, she had gotten far enough from the country to not know that everyone in it was about to die horribly. Anything she might or might not have thought about the country is warped now that she’s seen what she has. All she’ll remember instead is the decision the adults made, the image of the entire country being covered in lava, and her own selfishness in feeling a twisted sense of relief. It’ll certainly be something she never forgets, but for all the wrong reasons.
The other thing worth mentioning is that I definitely can’t agree with the decision the adults made. I don’t mean the fact that they themselves chose to stay – I do think that was foolish, but that’s their choice to make as autonomous adults. What didn’t sit right with me was the way they dragged all of the kids to their deaths with them. Sakura’s parents were clearly hesitant about it, but I have no idea how Sakura’s refusal to become a traveller and her decision to pursue her dreams within the country led them to the conclusion she should die with the rest of them. I also can’t imagine someone like Shishou’s former apprentice agreeing to die as well for the same reasons as Sakura’s parents and the other citizens (out of some sense of obligation and patriotism towards the country that gave them a place to belong after their ancestors were kicked out). It could be because he’s gotten old, I guess. He might have been reaching the end of his natural lifespan too. The point is, it leaves a bitter taste to know that not everyone in that country was aware of the impending eruption. All the other options might have been impractical – Kino can’t take Sakura along, it wouldn’t be great if the citizens were all left homeless if they evacuated, and it might not have been much better if just the adults died and the kids were booted out to save them. But at least with all of those scenarios, there are people still left alive. Surely that must be better than condemning everyone to death just because part of the population believes its the right thing to do, although admittedly it’s not the strangest way of life we’ve seen from a country’s inhabitants.