The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- the Animated Series: Whole-series Review and Recommendation

“You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch.” –Gandalf, The Fellowship of The Ring

Kino is a traveller who explores a fantastical world with her talking motorcycle, Heremes. Moving from nation to nation, Kino makes it a point to stay for precisely three days before moving on, lest she becomes attached to the nation, and also to ensure that she may continue exploring. From nations allowing lethal force to be used on those who intend to or have committed murder, to a high-tech nation entirely contained within a mobile vehicle, Kino visits a plethora of countries during her travels. From the ludicrous, to the heartwarming, no two country is ever shown to be alike. Concurrent with Kino’s travels are those of a young prince, Shizu and Ruki, his Samoyed companion; after Kino encounters the son of the ruler of a nation where folks are made to fight one another, she executes the ruler and earns Shizu’s thanks. After deciding whether or not to become the new ruler, Shizu decides to travel, encountering a young girl named Ti on a ship-borne nation. She accompanies Shizu and Ruki on their travels to find a home, occasionally running into Kino or her antics. Originally a light novel by Keiichi Sigsawa, and seeing an animated adaptation in 2003, the latest iteration of Kino’s Journey continues on director Ryūtarō Nakamura’s interpretation of Kino’s Journey and the world, with the latter being both beautiful and brutal, kind yet tragic. Covering a wide range of issues that affect the real world, from law (and the interpretation thereof) to what elements might influence culture, Kino’s Journey presents the world from the perspective of a transient. Kino’s experience in travel and self-defense allows her to provide audiences with a unique outlook on the world – she believes that three days is enough to fully understand their ways, bringing to mind Gandalf’s remarks about Hobbits in The Fellowship of The Ring.

While directors and audiences have their own take on what the central message of Kino’s Journey is, the most open one is the notion that the world is vast, and that for most of us, our accustomisation to living in one country means that we remain largely unfamiliar with other cultures and countries. Thus, when we visit other nations, we are often left surprised or even confused with their customs and values. The exaggerated countries of Kino’s Journey reinforce this notion time and time again – audiences are presented with laws, customs and traditions that seem extraordinary, unusual and occasionally, downright immoral or incomprehensible. From a country that believes radio waves are still used to control people, to a country that casually lasers opposition, Kino encounters her share of exotic locations. These highly colourful locations might be works of fantasy and seem completely out of place in the real world, but the truth is that our world has some unusual customs and laws. My home country, Canada, for instance, takes maple syrup very seriously and have our very own Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve to regulate the market. Another strange law is that we can be denied from using just Loonies (one-dollar coins) to pay for anything costing more than twenty five dollars. In addition, the combination of rich gravy and cheese curds on french fries is a Canadian invention: it can’t be found anywhere else in the world in its authentic form. Being of Cantonese descent, my ancestral lands similarly has some strange things: besides the bewildering array of some foods that even I don’t have the courage to try (I’ve enjoyed jellyfish salad, blood tofu and chicken feet, but my stomach turns at the sight of things like century-egg and stinky tofu), Hong Kong has its share of laws that are quite distinct (for instance, singing on some beaches can result in a two week jail term). These are just the tip of the iceberg, and suddenly, a country whose justice system is based on a virtue point system, or allows its citizens to freely kill murderers, do not seem too far-fetched.

Through its narrative, Keiichi Sigsawa aims to convey the vastness of this world in Kino’s Journey. The various countries that Kino and Shizo visit are constant reminders that we live in a world of diversity, a world of contrasts and a world of contradictions: this sense is amplified when one has the opportunity to travel a great deal, and for the most part, our reception of other cultures is prompted by the fact that we’ve become so familiar with our own ways of living that we often forget that people elsewhere have developed other customs and traditions that have their own unique histories and value within that society. By continuously immersing herself briefly in so many different countries, Kino is not attached to any ideology or culture; she is thus able to offer audiences an unbiased set of remarks to audiences about how she feels about certain things, and in doing so, is able to cover a very large range of social or philosophical issues without allowing bias to set in. This neutral perspective in turn allows audiences to consider many topics, resulting in some interesting discussions. Consequently, the premise of Kino’s Journey, while outwardly about travelling, allows for audiences to also look inward and reflect on their own beliefs and background, to both appreciate the best and be mindful of shortcomings. The tagline for Kino’s Journey, that “the world is not beautiful, therefore it is”, is a well-chosen one, succinctly capturing our reality.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As a bit of a disclaimer, I went into Kino’s Journey with no prior exposure to the light novels, 2003 anime or the movies, so I’m not here to compare and contrast the 2017 version with the older iterations. Instead, I will delve into what I felt of things as I saw them, and I open by complimenting the scenery in Kino’s Journey: the world seems to be composed of walled regions that make up a country, and surrounding them are gentle plains, mountains and oceans.

  • The first episode of Kino’s Journey sets the tone for the series – Kino learns from a gunslinger that the country upcoming is a place where murder is not prohibited, but to her surprise, she finds it a peaceful place with seemingly ordinary citizens. Save for the presence of weapons, nothing seems unusual about the country, and she stops to enjoy a large cake before being confronted by the gunslinger from earlier. When he tries to kill her, the citizens intervene, and Kino learns that murder is how the country deals with murderers. This is to show audiences that initial impressions of a country and what one actually experiences can be quite different.

  • Immediately out of the gates, Kino’s Journey shows that our own experiences will invariably be a much better indicator of what another country is like, as opposed to merely reading about  it or watching someone else travel. Kino speaks with another gunslinger here, one who is seeking a peaceful place to settle down and leave violence behind: Kino remarks that the country she’s leaving is perfect for him. It does strike me as a bit unusual that the terrain surrounding a dusty, old-West like locale is a pleasantly verdant field.

  • Kino prepares for a tournament in the Colosseum country, and with her expertise, she handily eliminates other competitors without causing them harm. Here, she prepares a special bullet while conversing with Hermes, her motorcycle. Capable of cognition and speech, Hermes’ name is pronounced “ɜr:miːz” rather than the expected “hɜːrmiːz”, but befitting of the Greek God who he is named after, Hermes is fond of mispronouncing things or butchering idioms. His conversations with Kino are light and instructive.

  • In the arena, Kino meets her match in Shizo, but after taking things through, Kino kills the old king and leaves Shizo to decide on where he will take his life. Not content to rule over a nation, Shizo begins travelling with the aim of finding a suitable home for himself and Riku, his talking Samoyed. Like Hermes, Riku offers some amusing comments, especially when he argues with Hermes, but can also vocalise as dogs normally would. As Shizo and Kino part ways, their paths occasionally converge along their travels.

  • The space of thirty images means that I can only cover a limited number of topics external to the anime; here, Kino relaxes in a technologically advance country that constantly is on the move to prevent its central reactors from going critical. The country’s size means that a trail of destruction is left behind in its wake, and while the nation’s rulers try to minimise their damage, they invariably run into nations that causes conflict. Objectively, neither nation is in the right, as Hermes points out.

  • To prevent the militaristic nation from damaging a mural that students have created, Kino takes to the deck with a rifle and fires upon the guidance systems. Kino wields a variety of pistols, including the Colt 1851 Navy London and a Colt Woodsman Match Target. Here, she fires a modified Mk. 14 EBR that can be broken down for storage: the rifle is a gift from another country and is equipped with a ten round magazine. The real-world EBR is a modernisation of the venerable M14 and, chambered for the 7.62 mm NATO round, is configured to fire in semi-automatic. Kino’s skill-set in ranged and melee combat is intentionally chosen to ensure that she can explore locations without audiences wondering whether or not she’ll land in hot water, allowing the narrative to focus purely on the eccentricities of whatever country she visits.

  • Kino later visits a country where a traveller is credited with destroying a despot and liberating its people. Reminiscent of the scene in Futurama‘s “Jurassic Bark”, where a tour guide misidentifies the function of various twentieth-century pizza parlour implements, the tour guide of the Memorial Hall similarly exaggerates on the importance of various items the traveller used. The tour guide here is unnamed, but her bright personality and voice brings to mind the talents of Kikou Inoue.

  • In the Country of Liars, Kino learns of a man’s role in making successful a revolution that seemingly lead to the death of the princess, his lover who was also a part of the royal family he had aimed to take down. To keep him sane, the country’s citizens maintain that she’s travelling, and the man, prima facie forlorn at being responsible for his lover’s death, also maintains the ruse because it’s keeping the nation happy. It’s an interesting play on things, and likely hints at the role of deceit in politics, a topic that is at the forefront of news more often that one might like.

  • What are my perspectives on travel, one asks? I admit that I am perhaps more similar to Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit than Kino in that I simultaneously enjoy the comforts of home (food, drink, cheer and a good book) as well as the thrill that adventure brings. Bilbo’s adventures takes him into helping Dwarves recover Erebor, earning their respect, and leads him to experience battle. When the Dwarves take back the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo is quite ready to return home. I’m surprisingly similar: I long to explore the world, but ultimately, the thrill for me is that travelling always ends up reminding me of how much I love home.

  • A great many of my peers travel: from those who travelled to Southeast Asia or Europe in celebration of their graduation, to one friend who moved to Japan to pursue a fuller immersion in the nation’s culture, the reasons motivating their journeys are varied. For me, my travels are akin to those of Kino’s in that they’re shorter, but this in no way diminishes their enjoyment: I only spent five full days in Japan last year, but in this short span, I enjoyed wagyu beef, soaked in an onsen, ate my way through the foodstuffs that I’d previously seen in anime, walked through some of the famous historical locations and even managed to order food in a ramen place where the owners did not speak English. Here, I’ve got a screenshot of Photo, a girl who was traded into slavery and became free after her captors died from ingesting a toxic herb, leaving her to pursue her own happiness.

  • For the present, my circumstances mean that I’m predominantly on making enough money to buy a home, and this means less travel. The me of five years ago was not quite ready to accept this, but after my travels to Japan, Taiwan, Cancún and Laval, France, I am very happy that I took the opportunity to travel both for myself, and for something beyond myself (my journey to Cancún and Laval were to represent my supervisor and his lab at academic conferences). Kino enjoys a hot dog here and begins reminiscing about her old Master, a highly accomplished gunslinger who instructed Kino in combat.

  • Hot dogs remind Kino of her old Master, who once travelled to a country and levelled the corrupt law enforcement with her Apprentice after they arrested her apprentice. In a siege lasting three days, the Master and Apprentice demonstrated that they were not to be trifled with and frightened the law enforcement into dissociating. Kino later learns that her Master’s actions liberated the country from the law enforcement’s impact, and was counted as a hero. Corroborating these actions is the subtle observation that most of the males in the country seem to have some sort of lower body injury.

  • Ti and Shizu enjoy pizza while deciding on their next action. Their travels to find a suitable home lead them into a country whose inhabitants were descendants of slaves controlled by microchips attuned to radio waves. After Shizu prevents a murderer from acting further, he sets off to investigate the phenomenon and finds the radio towers out of commission. The townspeople are unable to accept that their citizens were responsible for their actions and prepare to arrest them, but Shizu manages to manoeuvre out of the situation with Ti.

  • The Country of Radio Waves story was a striking commentary on how some individuals are adverse to responsibility. This refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions and accept that other individuals should similarly be held accountable for their actions is a belief set in stone for this country’s peoples. While seemingly an extreme example, the Country of Radio Waves is a shot at the folks in the real world who shirk responsibility and shift blame onto others. This culture of victimhood is evident among those who participate in virtue signalling, the practise of becoming offended or outraged at something on behalf of others but refusing to engage in any activities to redress the situation where effort is involved.

  • I’ve managed to avoid being hauled into the internet wars surrounding virtue signalling, preferring to chill in my own corner of the world where the focus is writing software and relaxing. Back in Kino’s Journey, Ti slowly bonds with Riku after the two share a walk together while Shizu is out looking for work. Gentle and heartwarming, Kino’s Journey excels in showcasing the contrast between the better and worse sides of humanity. Some folks have taken to complaining about the new iteration and ceaselessly maintaining that the original was superior – I feel this to be not dissimilar to whose who are whining about how Battlefield 1 is “dead” and how Battlefield 4 is superior (which, incidentally, are the same people who whined about Battlefield 4 and how Battlefield 3 was better) and have responded the same way to those complainants for Kino’s Journey as I do for Battlefield: I pay them no heed, for they have earned none.

  • With this being said, I am interested to see what the original Kino’s Journey looks like: a glimpse at the first episode in the 2003 anime reminds me of the Strike Witches OVA. Back in the 2017 run of Kino’s Journey, I particularly enjoyed the short where Kino visits a country whose justice system is based on virtue points. She speaks with an older fellow who once served as the nation’s president over tea, and learns that he remained virtuous so he could accumulate enough points to kill someone without consequence. Kino’s resolve to defend herself forces him to re-examine his world-view, and while such a country’s justice and social system might come across as being quite ridiculous, it’s no more ridiculous than those employed in authoritarian states.

  • When mistaken for a travelling Chef, Kino creates Kino’s Fried Chicken, a recipe so diabolical that Adam Richman would make a food challenge out of it. Kino’s cooking has a ways to go before it matches the taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with its eleven secret herbs and spices; it’s a joke that her cooking is downright lethal. Another chef later dials down the recipe and finds that it’s a surprisingly tasty dish, with the result that both variations become that country’s national dish. In my home country, Poutine is the most widely-accepted as the national dish, while in Hong Kong, Dim Sum and char siu are the most famous parts of their cuisine.

  • In a pleasant touch, Shizu later comes across the same country and is invited to try their fried chicken, learning that there are two variations: the “too young to die” version and Kino’s “Ultra Nightmare” fried chicken. The latter is suitable for everyone, while only the most hardened psychopaths with a death wish or spicy food aficionados would likely try the latter. Kino’s Journey tends to spend less time in depicting places that are peaceful and friendly – while undoubtedly pleasant places to be, they also are less conducive for prompting audiences to give some thought to the places that Kino and Shizu visits.

  • One of the most hilarious moments, and one of the few where Kino shows some genuine emotion, comes from when she leaves a country after a pleasant memory that she has no recollections of. She only learns from Hermes that she entered, consented to have her memories modified, and then proceeded to have a great time there. Hermes naturally knows what went down, but respects the country’s wishes; he refuses to answer Kino’s question to her great frustration.

  • There will be plenty of opportunity for me to continue exploring the world and then looking forwards to sleeping in my own bed in the future, so for the present, I’m going to focus on a different kind of adventure in my career. I suppose that if I had one regret about my time as a university student, it was that I did not apply for any exchange programmes during my undergraduate degree. I would have taken Japan, where I would learn about fluorescent in situ hybridisation and k-dimensional trees, before partaking in hanami with other students. Perhaps, a change of scenery would’ve also helped my luck in that I might’ve found love to accompany my experiences and learnings.

  • When Kino enters a nation reputed to treat visitors poorly, she finds herself surprised to learn that its citizens are friendly and inviting. She meets Sakura, who takes her on a tour of the nation. During their tour, Sakura remarks to her that she’s occasionally made fun of by other children, reminding Kino briefly of her own childhood, and Kino finds herself impressed that her previous expectations of the country have been completely off the mark. She stops by a gun shop, whose owner provides maintenance on Kino’s sidearms free of charge and gives her a new weapon.

  • After watching a play in the park detailing the nation’s history, Kino participates in a BBQ with the citizens and enjoys the evening. This past weekend was the last of January, and this month’s really flown by. The weather’s returned to a classical January in the prairies, with icy cold and overcast days being the norm, but there are nonetheless things to tend to. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon shopping around for new button-up shirts and enjoyed a fancy dinner (Crispy chicken, shrimp and scallops with mixed vegetables, abalone on a bed of peashoots, and the pièce de résistance, lobster on crispy noodles). After I helped invigilated a karate exam today, I sat down to a home-made chicken burger and fries: it’s still quite cold out there, but as Hobbits believe, good food and warmth are the real treasures.

  • After leaving, Kino watches in horror as a volcanic eruption sends a pyroclastic flow down the mountainside, enveloping the town in ash and toxic, hot gases. Kino reads a letter from Sakura’s parents, who explain that the nation had long been aware of their doom and coldness towards travellers, having been met with scorn and dismissal at the hands of others. When their nation was formed, it was intended to be home for individuals who had not known a home and did not feel as a part of the world before. As such, they sought to give Kino the best experience so as to leave at least one visitor with pleasant memories, choosing to leave the world on their own terms.

  • The original Kino was similarly a traveller who journeyed between places, selling herbs to fund his necessities. However, upon meeting a young girl on the edge of her adulthood in one country, he is accused of spreading discord and asked to leave. He ends up saving the girl, whose name was that of a flower but could similarly become an insult, but dies in the process. The girl subsequently took up Kino’s name and began travelling, meeting the Master at one point to develop her combat prowress.

  • One aspect in the new iteration of Kino’s Journey is the use of different tints depending on the scene, which confers upon Kino a slightly different hair and eye colour. It’s meant to evoke the idea that Kino is reminiscing or else clear up that the timeframe of the scene is different. While predominantly depicted with dark green hair and eyes, some scenes show Kino with dark blue hair and eyes; in her flashback, the scene has a red hue. Kino is voiced by Aoi Yuki (Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s very own Madoka Kaname and Noël Kannagi of Sora no Woto): she previously played Sakura earlier, and in 2017s’ Kino’s Journey, provides Kino with a fantastic singing voice.

  • In the finale of Kino’s Journey, Kino runs into a herd of highly aggressive sheep that stalk her. Despite her efforts in trying to evade them, she’s trapped by a ravine and so, seeks out an alternative route. Eventually, she comes across a jeep and its former occupant, who was stranded and perished. Acquiring his rifle and paying respect to the deceased, Kino subsequently engages in a massive firefight with the sheep, scoring roadkill after roadkill en route. She eventually kills enough of the sheep to retrieve Hermes and uses a ramp to safely cross the ravine.

  • Hilarious in nature, the finale seems a fitting way to wrap up Kino’s Journey. I got a request to watch this one back in November from one of my readers, and as I was just beginning to get into Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus at the time, plus begin the episodic talks for Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter, the act of writing about another show would have placed a serious strain on my schedule. However, I mentioned to the reader that I would give the series a whirl, and so, pushed my way through Kino‘s Journey while we’re still early in the Winter 2018 season: this post was originally scheduled to come out in February, but with some delays in Battlefield 1‘s North Seas update, I figured that I might as well get ahead of things and finished writing about this one first, before dropping in to enjoy some dreadnought-on-dreadnought action in Heligoland Bight.

  • It would seem that watching Kino’s Journey was quite worthwhile, and while there are detractors who believe this iteration to be inferior, others have stated that there is an enjoyable adaptation to be had, bringing old characters to life once again with modern animation techniques and refreshed artwork. The art and animation in the new version are of a superb caliber, and I admit that I came for the visuals, eventually staying to see what adventures (or misadventures) awaited Kino and Heremes, as well as how Shizu’s quest to find a home was progressing.

  • Kino stretching out to take a rest marks the end of 2017’s Kino’s Journey, acting as a fitting conclusion to this series. Unlike Bilbo, who returns home after, Kino remarks that things will have to stop for now as she desires a rest. With this post in the books, I look ahead into February, and while I did say that I had plans to write about Violet Evergarden, I’m probably going to defer that first post to the series’ halfway point because the series has yet to make its message known to me for the present. This is because my analytical mind isn’t as evolved as those of Tango-Victor-Tango #sarcasm. Jokes aside, the main reason is actually the timing: Battlefield 1‘s North Seas update is imminent (it releases January 30), so I wish to give that a whirl on short order. I will be returning to write about both Slow Start and Yuru Camp△ at their halfway points in Feburary, as well.

Folks experienced with Kino’s Journey might offer a different perspective than I would on the themes and narrative elements that I found enjoyable, and I’ve heard that veterans consider the 2003 anime to be more faithful to the original light novel as far as emotional impact goes. I’ve drawn my conclusions about the series purely based on the 2017 anime, and with this in mind, I consider that the present incarnation of Kino’s Journey to be an enjoyable portrayal of the themes outlined above. In conjunction with its fantastic depiction of landscapes (which alone make Kino’s Journey worth watching) and the dynamics amongst the characters, Kino’s Journey is a series that I would recommend to audiences for presenting its message in a succinct manner. Complexity arises in its simplicity, and Kino’s Journey prompts viewers to introspect and consider matters that might normally not be at the forefront of one’s thoughts. If Kino’s Journey is representative of the sort of enlightenment that being a travelling entails, then it would be a journey worth embarking on; travellers could spend their entire lives doing thus and count their lives as well-spent. Our current society is perhaps not quite as conducive towards travel as seen in Kino’s Journey, and while I hold that a balance must be struck between travelling and advancing one’s career, it is undeniable that travelling is the single, ultimate way to learn more about the wonders and best aspects of human nature.

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