Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式‏ on Twitter

The new anime series Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- The Animated Series is a lot like Star Trek. Though less with “star” and more with the “trek.”

In a world full of city-state countries with unique customs, our hero, named Kino, travels through them with her talking motorcycle. Sometimes her travels are fun, and other times they’re melancholic. But, Kino only stays in each country for three days because she believes nearly everything important to the culture can be learned in that time.

For us, Kino’s travels are a chance to explore and become exposed to these customs and the people along with her. It’s this exploration that makes Kino’s Journey exciting to watch. In a sense, Kino’s Journey is like the popular American TV franchise Star Trek in that we’re “exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new civilizations.” But, we’re not seeing vast and beautiful landscapes. Instead, Kino’s Journey focuses on the idea of cultural exploration and exposure on a world that’s similar to our own.

When we look at Star Trek, the series takes us to many different planets with all sorts of alien cultures. While the heroes in the series maintain they are natural observers, they tend to apply their cultural mores to the civilizations they explore. This creates instances where the heroes espouse a moral authority or superiority. That’s not to say the characters are quick to pass judgment, but it often feels like they are being portrayed as somehow superior. This leads to some cases where the heroes sometimes try to enact minor social change, be it good for the civilization or not.

Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式‏ on Twitter

Kino’s Jounery, on the other hand, doesn’t do this. Kino may be a traveler experiencing new cultures, but she does so as a true impartial observer. While this doesn’t mean she has no preconceived notions about each country she visits, she tends to put those aside so she can experience everything a country has to offer, be it morally “good” or “bad.” This offers us a clear look at each country without many biases. Granted, we still have our own cultural lenses to assess the different countries Kino visits. Yet, it becomes difficult because we’re getting a rather neutral look at each country. Think about this for a moment. We’re shown countries with cultures that are very alien to our own. While we want to levy criticism on it, Kino takes it all in and tries to fully comprehend the situation of each country. This means she’s not just looking at surface elements, but diving headlong into the customs and culture of each country.

Image source: TVアニメ『キノの旅』公式‏ on Twitter

Kino’s trip into a country’s culture is very evident in the first episode of the series. We’re taken to a country where killing is legal. Kino also knows this, willingly enters the country, and expects a fight. Yet, what Kino finds is while the citizens carry some sort of weapon on them—be it a rifle or derringer—the country itself is peaceful. So much so, Kino can enjoy a stack of pancakes without the threat of violence. From our perspective, this is puzzling because if killing is legal, then wouldn’t the country be a free-for-all?

It’s an interesting question to pose to the viewers because we then have to ask what fundamentally makes a country peaceful. Is it the threat of death at any moment or are there other factors at play? Yet, instead of probing the citizens of this country from her cultural lens, Kino observes the people and engages in polite conversation with them. Thus by not treating the country as somehow lawless or immoral but as normal, we’re able to grasp why this country is so peaceful.

Cultural exploration in TV is always engrossing, be it from Star Trek or Kino’s Jounery. And we’re going to see a whole lot of cultures going forward with this anime.

Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- The Animated Series is streaming on Crunchyroll and FUNimation.

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