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

In every previous adaption of Kino’s Journey, the focus has always been on the deception of initial appearances and the duality or ambiguity of reality. The first episode of the newest anime adaption immediately and viscerally underscores this primary theme of the story. For fans of any previous adaption based on our protagonist’s meandering wanderings, the newest addition is off to a very good start.

[This article contains spoilers for episode one of Kino’s Journey, but it also contains minor spoiler information from the original source material and previous adaptions.]

Kino’s Journey, as the title makes clear, is about the journey of a person named Kino. Kino wanders a world that is vaguely European or Anglo-Colonial (think Canada, Australia, or the United States between roughly 1790-1930), but where most countries seem very small nations, if not in fact city-states (perhaps similar to the German principalities prior to unification), able to be transversed by vehicle in a matter of days. Kino’s experiences are for the most part not fantastical, yet Kino is surrounded by fantastical elements. Most notably, Kino rides a talking motorcycle companion named “Hermes.” There is nothing to suggest Hermes is anything more sophisticated than a standard 1930s style motorcycle, and there is an open question about whether Hermes actually really is talking to Kino at all outside of Kino’s own perceptions.

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

It’s also worth noting that Kino is a gender-variant character, and while some may choose to refer to Kino with feminine pronouns, I believe this is a premature supposition. Kino’s gender ambiguity is a central component of of the series’ demonstration of the primary themes of the aforementioned “deception of initial appearances and the duality or ambiguity of reality.” Kino’s use of “boku” (a masculine pronoun, used by boys/men, sometimes used by girls known as “bokuko” but also sometimes used by trans boys/trans men), militaristic or rugged motorcycle gear, short hair, and martial stances (especially given the background of what men and women wear in most of the countries Kino visits), clearly would mark Kino as “male/boy/man” by most social conventions. Yet, Kino’s whole existence defies social conventions.

While there are other hints, especially when Kino is less encumbered by clothing and gear, that suggests a possibility of female physicality, Kino’s physicality is, itself, a later revelation that I refuse to comment on directly here (even with the spoiler warning). We shall get there in due time. Regardless of Kino’s physicality, which again we don’t know the details of in this first episode, Kino’s gender identity could fall in many different potential places. Not only do we not know Kino’s sex and accompanying anatomy with any more than shadows of the barest amount of potentiality, we know literally nothing about how Kino would describe Kino’s own gender. More to the point, we have no right to know or to demand Kino be less ambiguous. Kino’s own ambiguity in a world of ambiguity is what makes the story what it is. This is why for the foreseeable future I will not use pronouns with Kino.

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

While Kino’s identity, and Kino’s relationship with a sentient, talking motorcycle (which may or may not actually be sentient and talking outside of Kino’s, and therefore viewers’, own experiences), each chapter of Kino’s journey deals with a smaller, sometimes resolved experience of ambiguity, duality, or obfuscation of reality.

In the first episode, Kino arrives in a country where “murder is not prohibited.” Kino, armed and trained in the use of firearms, suspects that the country will be violent and that murder will be common place. Kino’s own desire to experience as many different cultures and countries as possible leads Kino to accept the risk and enter the country as planned.

To Kino’s surprise, the country (which looks very much like an American, Canadian, or Australian frontier town in the mid-to-late 1800s; think Spaghetti Westerns) is incredibly peaceful. Although people are clearly and obviously armed, there appears no general interest in using those weapons. When Kino inquires of a shopkeeper as to the purpose of his rifle, Kino suggests that perhaps it is for thieves. The shopkeeper replies that no, it is in such an accessible place because there’s always a potential need for killing people. While this seems ominous, again, it also seems to clash with the relative tranquility of the country.

When Kino is threatened by a very recently naturalized citizen who has moved specifically to the country with the intent to commit murder, the entire town draws their weapons and converges. The new citizen has made a very flawed assumption. He has assumed that because murder is “not prohibited” that society will “permit” him to do so at his own discretion.

Instead, the main use of killing in the country is to counter any murderous intent from people who would seek to kill without justification. The “murder” of the new citizen isn’t illegal, because it’s not actually murder. It’s justice—and it’s swift justice at that. Thus a country that at first appears to have all the hallmarks of a violent society remains peaceful with very rare exceptions. Due to murderous misunderstandings by both native and immigrant citizens from time to time, the shopkeeper’s words ring true. There really is always a potential need for killing people (but only people who have brought it upon themselves). You just never know when some idiot is going to miss the point, requiring them to be stopped before they can take innocent lives.

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

This first episode, so clearly introducing some of the underlying ambiguities (Kino’s gender, Hermes’ sentience) while also deftly accomplishing an episodic resolution of a fatal misapprehension, is in the best tradition of all of the previous adaptions of Kino’s Journey. It is true that I advocate attempting to take different sources on their own merits, and if possible, I would advocate that for the new Kino’s Journey as well. However, my significant familiarity and satisfaction with previous versions of the story means I can never truly do that. So I’m incredibly happy that as a fan, this seems very much like even more of what I loved the previous times around.

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

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