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A time to travel again with Kino -A review of the original “Kino’s Journey” anime

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For whatever reason: Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World really drew me in. And I wanted more. Unfortunately, only the first volume of the light novels was ever published in English -and the manga adaptation only has about 3 volumes in print at the moment. (By the way if you know somewhere I can read a not-official translation let me know.) But there is the 2003 anime series.

Which I’ve been told is better story-wise and thematically. And there is a lot of truth there. It does have a very distinctive feel -that I’m really not sure how to explain. But the very dated, 2000s art style took some getting used to. But in a lot of ways, I liked it a whole lot more than the 2017 series.

Since this might be my fandom for a bit –so many possible fanfics — let’s examine another adaptation. Which seems to be closer to the source material. Or at least the first volumes than its successor.

This is Kino’s Journey

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One of the biggest differences between this first adaptation and the second is that this one is solely focused on Kino. She is featured prominently in all the episodes. Riku and Shizu, despite their importance in the original source material – only show up for the introduction arc.which does make their appearance stand out.

But it means we do get to learn more about Kino – this series explores- though not very long or very deeply more of Kino’s relationships to the original Kino, to Hermes and with her Master. There’s more meaning to it when she interacts with people and how she sees the world.

This first series, doesn’t have the same kind of optimism. Most of the episodes end on a far more tragic note: like when Kino enters the land of Majority, or the Land of Peace -it ends with knowing these places won’t change or are functionally dead. Compare that to the the countries from the successor series, many of which are happy like the one that permits killing or the Country of Liars.

There is a lot more melancholy in this series. And I think that’s something that is really powerful. And this one is also, more clearly, told out of order. We can tell when a few of the episodes take place in regard to each other, but for all we know they could be a month or a year apart.

Kino doesn’t seem like the type to really care much about when something happened, so that makes sense. But it is an interesting narrative choice in this case -since it’s not something that’s necessarily important or noticeable in much of the story.

And another thing this adaptation delves deeper into, or I suppose comments on, is Kino’s gender presentation. There are several times when others address Kino as a boy, and she promptly says, she isn’t but also doesn’t say she’s a girl.

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But several male characters do hit on her -and it’s uncomfortable since none of them are in her age range and one of them is a robot that looks like a child… And while it’s a little unnecessary, I think it does add a very real sense of danger of being a traveler.

She already has to worry about food, what kind of people are in a town and shelter -none of which are difficult. But also horny, murderous kings and the like. Of course, she never has an issue because she’s a brilliant marksman but it’s a notable difference.

There are also the human traffickers in one of the episodes though I don’t think gender makes a huge difference to them in whom they sell but still….

Kino doesn’t seem to even manage disgust as this. She’s completely disinterested in romance and sex -though she seems happy when others can find it. But her happiness isn’t from other people but being able to be herself.

And it’s interesting to see how, though she keeps her cool through most situations and doesn’t care all too much about many people- when there are innocents killed, she despises it like the Tatatan tribe or the Kind Country, the final one shown in the series where everyone is killed by a pyroclastic flow. 

It’s the first time we see her showing real emotion -grief -during her journey. 

Relevancy…No Matter What

Because Kino’s Journey focuses on so many lands and aspects, there’s always going to be one that feels particularly relevant or impactful at a certain time. And somehow, in this series, it was the first one.

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Kino visits a country known as The Land of Visible Pain -robots do all the work: running the hotel, cooking the food –there’s not a human in sight and no explanation. Eventually, she travels to the residential area and discovers each resident lives alone. Their houses are very far apart and it doesn’t seem like they talk to each other.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? But the concept of loneliness isn’t what the episode is focused on and those who are self-quarantined aren’t sick. But the idea is still there. They don’t have to worry about food or material goods -but they have to occupy themselves while they live alone, never speaking to or really seeing another human for the rest of their lives. Even if they were married at some point,

And that’s something I can really identify with at the moment.

The other -the land of majority rules-is exactly what it sounds like. It shows the issues that come with having a pure democracy, namely one that really isn’t a democracy because if you’re not in the majority, you’re executed.

And living in a democracy works if that doesn’t happen…and if the majority of people aren’t dipshits (Yes, this one goes out to all the anti-excusing, COVID-19 denying, unmasked protestors waving their guns in front of their local government buildings)

Cause, then we’re all going to die. 

A certain kind of je ne c’est quoi

This series, as I mentioned, has a much different feel from its successor and I’m still not quite sure what the right word is. It feels more mystical, somehow -there’s a lot less basis in reality. There was not a lot of things in the second series that were completely implausible. But this original one-makes it more confusing-what is real? What’s in Kino’s imagination? 

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There’s a lot more focus on blurring the lines between reality and fantasy and a few more twists on expectations. They’re a bit clichéd, sure, but there’s definitely more to wonder about human nature: since they all have radically different ideas: what’s a good way of keeping peace? That’s a big theme.

And I feel like it’s interesting to see how so many of these places make assumptions about human nature, but they’re never interacting with others. And how easily humans are flawed and manipulated by those in power.

Yep. Most of these governments are corrupt, putting out propaganda and…it shows. It’s interesting, if you’re taking the show at face value and assume all these countries are real -how little they understand about the world outside where they live. They don’t always communicate with others and misunderstandings are common. 

A more connected world

But in opposition to this -we get to see how some of these countries are very connected and affect each other. There are a few episodes where the events in one country affect another. Which is really nice and interesting.

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It makes the world feel fuller, more realistic. Like it makes the world feel like it could actually have these events and some of them are far more realistic. Like the war between [Countries] where they stopped fighting each other and decided instead to have a yearly slaughter of the native people… I can see that happening at some point in most colonizing nations’ history. They don’t think of them as humans -and it means their children don’t die, so they’re okay with it.

And then another country -the question of faith-finds a book with a rambling poetry. They take it as a prophecy. Their priests interpret it as a sign of the apocalypse, but when it doesn’t happen on the right date – they have to take destiny into their own hands and the leaders find a new way to satiate their need for control and bloodlust.

It’s a very interesting insight into human psychology

A powerful finale

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It’s interesting to see how out-of-order things are. In the final episode, Kino receivers another Persuader -a gun that used to belong to her Master from a shopkeeper- and she ends up carrying it on her back. But, she has that gun in pretty much every other episode, showing that that was one of her earliest journeys.

It’s interesting -and I’m sure much more noticeable on a second viewing -to see how the events of the Kind Country may have changed her view. I’m really looking forward to examining it when I can re-watch the series.

It feels like after the events of that visit -Kino had never connected as much with any of the citizens or travelers. She enjoyed their company and remembered the countries, but she couldn’t force herself to make those connections anymore. Nobody had ever shown that same kind of kindness before and with their shared family history and genuine friendliness…and I don’t think she can ever bare to feel that pain again.

Obviously, Kino doesn’t get a lot of consistent human contact and there’s no guarantee she’ll ever meet the same person twice. By distancing herself from these situations and not letting herself get attached to anyone. 

Awkward Animation

The thing that takes this series down is the animation. It’s decent but doesn’t have the same depth as the later series. It’s simplified. Not a lot of shading and I don’t feel like I’m actually in the world. 

And the stilted, animation also makes for the show’s few actions or intense scenes not as impactful and these few scenes are really important to the plot or emotional part of the story. And it’s just kind of blah.

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In some ways it does help with the aura  of the show -but I think that a deeper, more mystical ghibli like style and animation would have done the show a lot of good. Art style means a lot in a show like this and this very limited style kind of ruins it.

But overall I really like this adaptation -it’s distinct, mystical, tragic but there’s more beauty to the world because in this version -the happiness is rarer and the situations surrounding these circumstances are much more tragic. And there’s beauty, the world is even more so-even if it isn’t visible.

And that just might be something we need right now.

I hope you all are doing well, washing your hands, wearing masks and keeping your distance because it looks like we’re still going to be here for a while. And that’s the scoop.

And that’s the scoop!

Score: 9/10

Info

Year of release: 2003

Director: Ryutaro Nakamura

Voice Actors: Ai Maeda, Ryuji Agase, Kazuhiko Inoue, Takashi Irie, Hoochuu Otsuka

If you liked this review read: Visit the unique world of Autodale, a dystopia like you’ve never seen before.

 

 

5 thoughts on “A time to travel again with Kino -A review of the original “Kino’s Journey” anime”

      1. Very cool. I never read the manga or light novels, but I’m sure they’d be great reads. I didn’t even know that about Kino with the gender aspect being canon. It was intriguing in they’re backstory with how they start out saying “Atashi” before switching to “Boku” when they say “I” in the Japanese version. That plays a big role because the former is strictly feminine while the latter is informal and more masculine.

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