First Impressions – Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World – The Animated Series

Kino no Tabi is certainly a very familiar name to anime fans of long standing.  It was a highly successful (including as licensed in the West) TV anime almost 15 years ago – and an adaptation of a popular light novel at a time when those were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are now.  It also spawned several movies.  Now, a decade after its last on-screen appearance, Kino no Tabi is back with what looks like something in-between a reboot and a sequel, a mix of already adapted and new novel material.  Virtually everything about this version is different – cast, main staff, and studio – but the final product isn’t as different as one might have expected.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any Kino no Tabi, and I was never that much of a fan – I appreciate what it brings, but frankly I never quite got what people were so worked up about.  But from memory, the feel and tone of this version struck me as pretty consistent with the 2003 version.  That was a pretty influential series in my opinion, oft-copied in the years since it aired.  And there can be no question that light novels were something different at the beginning of this century than now, not as driven by formula and raw commercialism.  I may have only mildly bought into Kino no Tabi at the time, but the goal posts have moved enough for me to have a greater appreciation for how much better it was than most of what would follow it.

This version of the story (from Lerche) has no small amount of CGI in it, but I think it’s pretty well-integrated.  It features Aoi Yuuki (who as an 11 year-old actually had a major role in the original’s final episode) as Kino, and as you’d expect she great – Aoi is an incredibly versatile actress and while she’s rarely asked to play a sardonic and subdued character like this, she’s up to the challenge.  Hermes, the talking “Motorrad”, is now played by Soma Saito and he seems fine to me as well. I don’t ever remember Kino no Tabi being much for explanations (like what made this world the place it is and why motorcycles and dogs – but not all of them – can talk without anyone blinking an eye) and the 2017 is sticking with that tradition – what you see is just is what it is.

The episodic nature of this series is one of its most distinctive features, with Kino traveling from land to land for three days at a time.  I always found the writing a little pretentious and self-aware to be honest, as if it believed it was deeper than it actually was – and this week’s intro chapter isn’t immune to that.  The heavy-handed romanticism of an anarchistic country where murder is “not prohibited but not permitted” is more gimmick than serious social exploration, which is about what I felt about most of the setups in the first series.  But the atmospherics are good, and Kino remains an interesting enigma.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting to note that while Kino was intentionally androgynous for most of the original series I’m almost sure she was eventually confirmed as female (it’s been a while so I won’t swear to it), which would mean either there was a subbing error here or the current version has decided to make Kino male (or at least try and restore the ambiguity).  I’m not sure it really matters much to the story in any practical sense (in fact nothing I remember would lend it any real import at all) but if this was an intentional change the fact that it was made at all is sort of interesting…

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9 comments

  1. H

    I quite believe the translator was making an error at that part due to not watching the 2003 anime or reading the novels, the original line by Hermes was pretty gender-neutral (to be more specific, the pronoun of said sentence was absent and implied to be referred to Kino, though this way of speaking is fairly common in Japanese). Instead of using any kind of pronoun (he, she, they, etc.) the translator should use “Kino” at this part, though I certainly don’t blame them if it’s truly just a misinformed mistake on their part.

  2. s

    I could have sworn it was somewhat confirmed that Kino was girl?? am I remembering incorrectly?

  3. H

    Biologically Kino is a girl and confirmed both in original anime and novels. I posted a comment about why I think that was a translation mistake above.

  4. As I recall from the original anime, Kino is a girl but because of the way she dresses and talks (“Boku”) most of the people she meets assume that she is male and she doesn’t correct them. The smarter characters see the truth at once.

  5. W

    “I always found the writing a little pretentious and self-aware to be honest”. I feel the same. The world in Kino’s Journey is the “if this become real than this would happen” kind of world, but the author don’t pay enough attention to details to make it a believable and function-able world. So I always finish an episode with the thought “Cool idea but that would never happen in real life.”

  6. Yep, episode 4 of the first anime confirmed that Kino is the girl. The usual lack of gender pronouns in Japanese meant that the novel kept it ambiguous until the equivalent chapter to episode 4 too.

    Anyways, I’m really glad to see that this got a second anime adaptation! The first anime remains one of the few series which changed the way I see the world. I haven’t watched the episode yet, but other fans of the first anime seem to like it, so I’m hoping I will too…

  7. S

    The original Kino came out during a period when I wasn’t following anime, so this is my first exposure to it, and I can’t say I get the hype. Seems like a mid tier episode of Galaxy Express, except if this were a Matsumoto story, there would’ve been a murder out of public view, the wrong guy would’ve been targeted for revenge and died tragically, and Matael would’ve said something profound at the end.

  8. S

    RE: “This version of the story (from Lerche) has no small amount of CGI in it, but I think it’s pretty well-integrated”
    They do re-use a lot of frames, though. Shoestring budget, perhaps?

  9. I’ll admit, Enzo, you blew my mind when you made me realize that Sakura from the original anime was, in fact, Aoi Yuuki. I think she does a perfectly good job at being Kino and the the new anime, in general, does a decent job of being an extension/reboot of the series. To me, the thought provoking intentions of the anime always seemed to be a thought experiment of what would happen if certain ideas were brought to a logical extreme. I can see where that wouldn’t draw everyone in, and personally, it didn’t get me invested at first as well. But when I watched the original I eventually relented and got wrapped up in the stories the author was telling and I became invested in what was being presented. And now, I have respect for what was presented before and what continues this season. While I can’t judge a whole series on the premier episode, so far, I’m pleased and I feel like this season still has the heart of Kino’s Travels. I’m ready for more and hope that the rest of the season continues to fascinate me like the original did.

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