[Review] Kino’s Journey – the Beautiful World – episode 1

The story follows the travels of Kino, a young adventurer who rides a talking motorcycle named Hermes. They explore the people and cultures of different places throughout their adventures, spending only three days at each location.

Source: Anime News Network

2003’s Kino’s Journey is a special anime to many, many people: quiet and understated, with a simple art style that underlined the sometimes violently dark content and meditative tone. Most importantly, it had Kino, a young traveler who was assigned female at birth but who chose to travel through various countries with masculine presentation and who didn’t gender themself beyond using “boku” (a masculine-coded personal pronoun).

The original series was beloved by a cult fanbase, but unfortunately became difficult to watch legally once ADV Films went out of business. To date, Amazon only streams the dub (which chose a markedly more feminine voice for Kino), while the sub is unavailable on any streaming platforms.

A young person in travel year stands in front of their bike; in the foreground, a man's clenched fist is visible

Curious newcomers might be excited to hear, then, that Kino’s Journey – the Beautiful World – looks to be more remake than sequel. Many elements from the original series are reestablished here with an eye to new viewers, and it’s a perfectly engrossing premiere with little to no knowledge of the original series. (I must confess that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to finish the original myself, but was fortunate enough to watch the premiere alongside my family of major Kino fans; so take that as a vote of confidence, newcomers.)

The story here is low on action and high on atmosphere: Kino is on their way to a country where murder isn’t prohibited, and on the way meets someone who’s excited to travel there and kill as much as he likes. Once Kino arrives, they mainly observe the various people of the town and their daily lives and, like Hitchcock’s bomb under the table, we wait for the inevitable confrontation.

It’s a well-done piece of suspense, and the bloody conclusion feels earned, restrained, and thoroughly unsettling. Snapshots of lives like this, some quiet, some cataclysmically violent, and many cyclical, are the kinds of stories that 2003 Kino excelled at, and 2017 Kino seems primed to pick up that mantle.

a shotgun on a store shelf; an out of focus older man smiles in the foreground

As far as the animation style goes, the designs are a little more in line with current anime trends, and there are a lot of filters used to impart that sort of “rustic midday” look on the town. Hermes, Kino’s talking motorbike, is animated with fairly well-integrated CGI, while Kino’s design is somewhat more feminine than the original. Which… we do have to talk about that briefly.

Many of us were hopeful, in the lead-up to this series’ release, that the subtitling team would use neutral pronouns for Kino. Crunchyroll’s press releases for the series used “they,” and the original anime featured instances of Kino protesting to being referred to as “boy” (bouya) or “miss” (ojou-chan). Kino’s response to both was “I’m Kino” (Boku ha Kino desu). However,  the subtitles for this premiere do have Hermes refer to Kino as “he” once, in a line that doesn’t have any gendered connotations in the original Japanese.

Kino sits at a table on an outdoor patio, Hermes parked outside. subtitle: Too late. He just did his best to polish one off minutes ago.

I’m of several minds about this. First, I fail to understand the apparent bone-shaking fear that translators have for the singular “they,” especially when Crunchyroll set a precedent for it (and extra especially when it’s Hermes, who once said that “Kino is Kino”). Second, choosing masculine pronouns is at least better than choosing feminine ones, given Kino’s choice of presentation. And third, I trust anime about as far as I can throw it, and now I’m worried the translators are angling for some manner of shocking reveal about Kino being AFAB (which I hope is only the translators and not an actual directorial choice tied to Kino’s new, more feminine design).

It’s a small moment that set me on my guard, given that Kino is a pretty rare case of a transmasculine anime character and it would be ten times more painful for the new series to trample over that. That said, it’s not enough to detract from a wonderfully done premiere. So go forth, enjoy, and then maybe politely tweet Crunchyroll to let them know pronouns are important to folks.

Kino, in shirtsleeves, talks to Hermes in a dark room. subtitle: it'll be easy with two of us

Major, major thanks to Dee for helping with the translation elements of this review.


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