[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.

 

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

At this stage, we have raised enough money to be able to pay for contributed posts, behind the scenes admin, and audio editing for weekly podcasts. Our next goal is to pay the editors who have worked on AniFem as volunteers since before launch, making enormous contributions for no pay. Help us pay them for their work at a rate of $15 an hour by becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month!

Support Us On Patreon

  • Roman Komarov

    I honestly didn’t like anything at it. As the original series didn’t have any good female characters, this one lacks them too. The whole idea of the first country looks like the libertarian NRA paradise, which looks kinda too far-fetched in the modern world with the events like the one in Vegas. I guess, something like that can seem too exotic for the Japan which don’t have almost any this kind of weapons today, but yeah.

    I remember I liked the original Kino no Tabi in its days, and I wondered what would I think of it today. It seems, that for me at least there is just nothing of interest. Same old stuff, with uninteresting characters and all the same dated ideas.

  • Vrai

    Kino’s Journey is a show about a literal observer—Kino by their nature as the Traveler casts no judgment on the places they visit–they’re a neutral party who isn’t actually out to save the world based on their own values. Yes, it is a study in relativism to an extent. And the understated nature of the writing encourages the viewer to make up their own minds. Whether a city lives happily or tears itself apart, Kino still leaves after three days. The goal is more thought experiment than morality tale. The timing of the premiere’s content is unfortunate, but nothing more.

    Though if you really want an analysis…it’s far more about how the man Kino meets at the beginning is only interested in how awesome guns and violence are because he’s never experienced any kind of violence or hardship–only those who don’t understand the harm caused by violence treat it flippantly or as something to be aspired to. Only fools idolize killers and guns.

  • Belaam

    The original always kind of reminded me of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities or Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams and this remake seems to put me in a similar place.

    Kino is observer and the cities/philosophies visited are more for reflection than interaction.

    I’m quite happy that this version seems to be going the same way.

  • TheSojourner

    I’ve never seen the original, though I’ve read good things about it.

  • Vrai

    Kino asks him why he’s come, and the man admits he’s committed many murders and wants to live somewhere where he won’t have to anymore. Some place “safe.” Only after hearing his reasoning does Kino say that it’s safe for this very specific circumstance. You’ll notice when Kino’s on their way there they heard the country was “polite,” and that is also true for them. It’s not a ringing endorsement of the place as safe for all, but a community formed from and safe for a very specific kind of person (people who have been killers in the past and want to leave that behind, but will kill anyone in their midst who wants to continue acting as a murderer. It is, in a way, a Dexter-like trap for unrepentant murderers).