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Kino’s Journey (2017) provides a beautiful world to escape into during these trying times

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Kino’s Journey – The Beautiful World – The Animated Series  is the second anime adaptation based on the series of light novels of the same name.  I haven’t read it yet but it’s certainly something I am considering now. (There are 22 volumes and I’m not sure if there are more coming. It might take me awhile. There’s also a manga and some OVAs…)

The first series was released in 2003 and shares a few key events, but otherwise explores different lands than the 2017 adaptation -and I’m looking for a way to watch that as well.

The main character of all of these, is Kino, a girl of indeterminable age- who spends her time visiting different countries on her talking motorcycle Hermes. Her only rule is that she never spends more than three days in any single country. 

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A scene from the 2003 anime

But she’s not looking for a particular, person, object or answer. In fact, there really isn’t an overarching plot, other than the fact that the whole series is basically in chronological order -There are some flashback episodes, however.

The 2017 anime series, like the other iterations, focuses on how Kino, an outsider, perceives each countries’ unique customs and culture. She also meets a variety of characters, many of whom are journeys of their own in a way.

The world she travels exists somewhere between fantasy and science fiction. Most of the countries have basic technology, but many are quite rural, more medieval like while others are more contemporary or modern and some have technology we don’t have.

Magic doesn’t exist, but it’s an accepted fact of life that motorcycles can talk and have personalities. (It’s not like they have mouths. It’s kind of like a disembodied voice) But Kino is surprised when she meets a talking dog.

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Riku and Ti

Electricity seems to be a given, but some places may utilize horses as opposed to cars and there aren’t always showers available. It’s very disparate, which gives the whole world a kind of Ghibli sense of wonder and mystery.

We’re never really given a sense of scale or distance. She has no mission. No goal. She just wants to travel.

While I’ve complained about series that don’t have an end goal in mind – when a slice-of-life kind of series like this comes along, it’s all in the execution. And here, the execution is excellent.

Because the series is still trying to accomplish something.

This land is your land. This land is my land.

None of the lands in the series are given proper names. In the series, it’s just referred to as “the next country.” Sometimes, there are places Kino visits on purpose, but mostly it just seems she visits whatever country pops up in her path,

Instead, the countries are named in the title and only by their defining trait, like “Ship Country,” “Country of Liars,” and “Country of Radio Waves.”

 This is certainly an interesting choice, but I think it works. We only learn as much about the country as Kino does and it makes sense that some of these places might not really have names.

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Naturally, there’s only so much you can learn about a place in three days -especially with the varying levels of technology and development. But there is always one aspect of the land that makes it stand out -one country travels on wheels, one where murder isn’t considered a crime and one where citizens can earn or lose points depending on how they act.

Some welcome immigrants. Some don’t. But travelers seem to be common enough and are usually welcomed. In others, they’re kind of rarity.

It’s never explained how Kino affords necessities, but that’s not really important (and it seems as though everyone uses the same type of money.) The series is just much more about how different places have different morals and it asks the viewer to consider what they would do if they were in Kino’s position, as Kino doesn’t usually interfere.

The Trolley Problem

There is a huge focus on the ethical issues present in some of the places she visits. Like the first episode seems to be an allegory for gun control, as murder isn’t considered a crime.

Another traveler, visiting the town, goes with the express purpose of satiating his bloodlust and meeting a serial killer. But instead, the members of this country, who have a distinctly Wild West aesthetic, kill him.

Nobody kills anyone because the murderer will be summarily done away with by everyone else. As they say, just because it isn’t illegal, doesn’t make it tolerated. I guess the question is whether this place is actually safer, as it seems that every adult has had to murder someone at some point.

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Kino sows chaos

Does this make a country safer? Is this okay?

In another country, everybody is upholding a certain lie, because they believe it’s necessary to keep order and keep others happy. 

Hermes questions whether they should reveal the truth to the one everyone is lying to. And when it’s revealed, he’s already aware of the truth but is hiding it, whether the man is wrong for hiding that. 

In the end they don’t, as everybody seems happy and everybody is lying to maintain that sense of happiness.

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Is this Black Mirror?

In fact, Kino rarely interferes with the way a country is run. She’ll defend the citizens if there’s a danger, but she never sets out to create change in a country. The only time she does is when she assassinated a king which ended in the entire population to murder each other.

So there’s always the question as to whether she should interfere if she sees something wrong or if she should accept that some people just have a different way of living and as an observer without the contextual knowledge, it would be immoral for her to participate?

It gives her a unique view as a protagonist. She’s not a hero. She’s not a villain. But she’s fascinating to watch to see how she chooses to act, because she doesn’t always make the choice you think.

Kino’s (Character) journey

Kino, though very stoic, is polite to her hosts and is obviously very happy when she gets the chance to experience something new or when she is riding on Hermes.

She doesn’t have any particularly strong traits, at first glance. She has strong, but complex and sometimes unclear morals -she is willing to kill people, though she prefers not to. She’s observant, a good shot and seems to have a soft spot for kids.

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Kino and Riku

She is always polite to her hosts, and is always willing to answer their questions.

Her philosophy is, “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is,” and I really like that.  It gives us an interesting perspective that Kino is able to find beauty in the horror around her and not in spite of it. And I think that might be something I need right now.

But what’s interesting is her backstory. It isn’t revealed until the penultimate episode, prior to that we only get a few hints.

We get a few mentions of her Master, who taught her about being a traveler and about how to survive, but we never see that their relationship explored or know how long they spent together, or what happened to her.

When we get to her backstory, it’s all about what drove her to become a traveler, back when she was a completely different person.

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Kino Prime and Kino

 Very rarely do characters get scenes which can easily be read as an allegory to being LGBT that aren’t forced. In the past, Kino…who went by a different name that is not revealed but is implied to be Sakura, had long hair, and wore pink dresses.

Like all children in her country, she looks forward to her 12th birthday, where she’ll have a surgery that gives her the mind of an adult… It isn’t until she meets the traveler, Kino Prime, that she finds out there’s another way.

And so she escapes. And seemingly never looks back. The original Kino dies trying to save her, and so she escapes on Hermes, and takes on  Kino’s name and method of traveling.

At some point, she also sheds her old clothes and adopts a very androgynous sense of style. Although, we can’t forget the source material, is about two decades old and from a country with very strict gender constructs.

 

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Kino escapes her home country

But looking at it from today’s perspective -yeah, I can see why people would read Kino as a trans boy, non-binary person and at least in this adaptation even asexual.

And Hermes is integral to Kino’s character. Hermes is far more innocent and naive, often mispronouncing words or mixing them up. Hermes is her only constant and pretty much the only being she confides in -she has no friends or family she keeps in touch with and often doesn’t seem to recognize fellow travelers.

Hermes gives Kino somebody to play off of during those long, lonely stretches of traveling and provides an extra perspective.

The others’ journeys

The show doesn’t focus solely on Kino. There are a couple of recurring characters and a couple of one shot characters who get their day in the limelight. The most important of these is the trio of Shizu, Riku and Ti: a displaced prince, a talking dog, and nearly a mute orphan girl respectively.

They’re looking for a place to settle down, make their home and live fairly unremarkable lives. A very different goal than Kino. Theirs will have an end, though we don’t see it. Shizu is also a nice foil for Kino.

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Shies and Riku

He is immensely respectful and goes out of his way to help others, like taking Ti under his wing, despite her trying to kill him once. He’s a very honorable character. And you can’t not like a little girl whose first instinct when danger comes is grenades.

Riku helps advise and protect Shizu, but what he needs is somebody to look after and protect. And Ti needs a family. In that way, they really work. My only disappointment is that we didn’t get to see more of them in the show.

The beautiful world

The animation style for this show is very beautiful and has a distinct Ghibli influence. There’s something fairytale like about it. There’s a lot of focus on the landscapes, architecture of each culture and on occasion food.

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Even fire is beautiful

There is a nice variety in the different countries and how they’re set up. I especially love the moving country, which gives us a variety of landscapes as it makes it way through the land as well as the city itself, which is breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

And I love the long focused shots on Kino just making her way through lush valleys. It’s all very relaxing and enjoyable. And in a time like now, where my world is limited to my apartment and the surrounding neighborhood, it’s very much appreciated.

 The never-ending journey

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Not Kino but another journey we see.

The ending of this series is perhaps one of the best I have seen. Because there isn’t an overarching plot, storyline or character development, it was hard to guess how this series was going to end.

It’s a slice of life story, so I knew there wasn’t going to be a definite conclusion. And that Kino wouldn’t settle down anywhere. Certainly not any time soon.

Instead, the ending scene has Kino about to a nap on a hammock declaring to Hermes that her journey is finished, but when she wakes up, she will begin a new one. 

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Beautiful

It still gives the series an emotional ending, while still allowing the recognition that her story is far from over. 

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Score: 9/10

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Info:

Year of release: 2017

Length: 12 episodes -24 minutes each

Light Novel author: Keiichi Sigsawa

Director: Tomohisa Taguchi

Writer: Yukie Sugawara

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If you liked this review read: Girls’ Last Tour is something new and wonderful

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