The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Kino's Journey -the Beautiful World-
How would you rate episode 1 of
Kino's Journey - the Beautiful World- ?
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How was the first episode?
In our recent interview with Keiichi Sigsawa, the author of Kino's Journey, he confirmed that this remake of his source material should be considered totally separate from the 2003 anime adaptation, which means that we will see some stories from that version told all over again in this new series. While that is a little disappointing for fans hungry for all-new material, it also means that viewers new to Kino's world may get to see some of the greatest hits, like the Coliseum arc being remade for episode two with probably much stronger fight animation.
Come to think of it, even with many more books to pull from, it's possible that the "new" material being adapted won't be as strong as the stuff deemed the best choice for adaptation the first time around. That brings us to episode one of this new series, which is by no means bad or even forgettable (much like getting shot, the story's full impact takes a little while to sink in), but it's far from the strongest foot Kino's Journey could have put forward. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, most of Kino's Journey revolves around broad hypothetical societies that rely on fantastical technology or even some levels of magical realism to convey. The goal is to get you to ask questions about how our own society works, rather than creating a believable alternate universe. So it's a series of modern fables, channeled through a passive protagonist who gets rare snippets of backstory and characterization but mostly acts as a sounding board for Sigsawa's sensitive thoughts on each fable-world.
That's not something you're bound to pick up on from this episode alone, which features a clever but perhaps too-simple tale in a generic wild west town that explores the massive difference between strict legality and social acceptability. (It turns out that one force is a lot more powerful than the other, and it's much more important to know the values of the community around you than the technical laws on the books.) Viewers may come away from this episode unsure of where the story is going, or even confused about the message, since it's a far more cerebral than emotional entry in a franchise that freely swings both ways. It's a mild short story in an anthology series with much more powerful tales to tell, so I hope this decent first episode is still good enough for people to give the rest a second chance.
Thankfully, the updated presentation is strong enough to satisfy prior fans. While I will miss the more fairytale-like aesthetic of the original series, I won't miss the extremely limited animation and odd decision to put an LCD scanline filter over the whole thing. Despite the CG motorcycles and more anime-esque art design, this remake captures the "quietly disquieting" tone of the story well, blending just enough coldness and warmth together to match a compassionate-yet-pragmatic protagonist whose motto is "the world is not beautiful, therefore it is."
While the animation of this series isn't anything to write home about either, it is stronger than the 2003 series, so I'm excited to see the Coliseum battle play out next week. If you've never seen Kino's Journey before, I might even recommend alternating episodes of the old series with new series episodes as they air, since even the "storyline" bits are all episodic too. That could be a novel experience, eh? (Sorry. That was a Hermes-level pun.)
SimulDub Preview: Old-school dub fans crossing their fingers for an approximation of the voices from ADV's English version of the 2003 series might be disappointed with this new cast's sound, but otherwise people will probably be pleased with this solid dub effort. Lindsay Seidel's take on Kino is more androgynous but less naturalistic than Kelli Cousins' more comforting delivery, but given the character's much colder portrayal in the series so far, that may end up fitting this version of Kino better. Derick Snow's turn as Hermes is less distinctive than the uniquely metallic rasp Cynthia Martinez gave him, but Snow's comic delivery and personality are much stronger, bringing a little more life to a character who has no visual way to express himself. Honestly, the one-off characters of "Doomed Shithead" and "Old Man Hiding a Twist" (played by Ian Sinclair and Garrett Schenck respectively) made a stronger impression overall since they get to ham things up more, but all four lead dub performances (the two Kinos and two Hermes) are good, so choosing between them will just hinge on personal preference. Otherwise, the only issue I noticed was a subtle value judgment change in the adaptive script. In the Japanese version, Kino only tells a fellow traveler that she's "sure he'll like it" in the legal-murder country. However, in the English version, she says "Even if it seems wrong there at first, you should stick it out." It'll be interesting to see if Funimation noodles around with some of Kino's uncomfortably blunt dialogue going forward, given how the series has continued to develop in unexpectedly divisive directions since then...
The original Kino's Journey was a transformative viewing experience for my teenage self, so it's basically impossible for me to completely separate my nostalgia for it from this shiny new adaptation of the light novel series. Take that into consideration when considering my mixed-but-generally-positive reaction to this premiere episode, because it's really quite good; it just doesn't live up the lofty standards set by its predecessor yet.
That has little to do with the actual execution of the episode and more so with its lackluster material. Kino's visit to the Country Where People Can Kill Others has all of the fable-esque qualities of a classic Journey. She and her talking motorbike Hermes visit a country with a peculiar quirk, which usually reflects some larger societal ill or struggle, and they use their time to discover the true nature of life there. Philosophical ponderings and encounters with symbolically important locals tend to follow, and at the end of the episode, Hermes will begin a conversation with “Hey Kino, I've been meaning to ask…” as the pair drive off to their next destination. All of this happens in this episode, and it looks as pretty and smooth as ever (though I prefer the original character designs myself). The only problem is that the central message of the story is somewhat muddled and not as interesting as the series' stronger material. Kino's expectations about the amount of violence in the city is initially subverted, only to be more ironically confirmed by episode's end. Kino and Hermes digest these events without much trouble or reflection, and they pass on their take to a man looking for a peaceful life in the country. Roll credits.
So this isn't a bad episode, just lacking in much meat to chew on. The show's take on Libertarianism's Logical Conclusion is a fine “What If?” for the show to consider, but it feels somewhat toothless by the episode's end. The idea seems to be that yes, it would be perfect if we could live in a world where everyone abides by The Social Contract, though the means we would need to enforce that peace would be unsavory no matter the intent. It's a somewhat obvious message, which is fine since Kino's Journey really is a modern-day fable anthology, but the side characters that usually spice up these simple stories didn't engage me as much as I would have liked.
Also, the pacing of the episode's script and editing felt a hair too fast, as if the episode was set to 110% speed. To use a musical analogy, this episode of Kino's Journey felt less like a brand-new take on a classic song, and more like a cover band dutifully hitting the appropriate notes, feeling close enough to the real thing to do in a pinch, but not quite replicating what made the original special.
The good news is that there's plenty of new and old material for Kino 2017 to mine, and I'm sure this polished aesthetic will fit much better with the higher quality stories, instead of this underwhelming offering. I haven't given up hope yet on this series, and I plan to follow it for the rest of the season, since even an underwhelming Kino's Journey is a step above most other shows in any given season.
I have seen all of the original Kino's Journey series from 2003 and rated it "excellent" on our site. That's much more an indicator of how well I thought it was put-together than how much I enjoyed it however, and I have never had any inclination to rewatch it over the years. So I held little anticipation for this new version, which I frankly see as unnecessary. That impression was only furthered as I watched through the first episode, as the storytelling approach, tone, and message are all the same as before. The artistry may have improved a little, but the first version wasn't bad to begin with, so what need was there for this? This is why my rating for the first episode is a little lower than it probably deserves based strictly on qualitative merits.
Evaluated independently, this tale about Kino's visit to a land where people can kill each other is more an extended parable than a realistic story. The message that it pitches is a simple and pointed one summed up in one line by a man who professes to be an ordinary townsperson: just because something is not prohibited doesn't mean that it's permitted. If everyone understands that, then laws to enforce it aren't necessary and everything will remain peaceful, as the whole community will contribute to putting down a problem case. I find this to be overly idealistic and unrealistic on anything bigger than a small scale, but it makes for a good story, and Kino not knowing the true nature of the town until near the end of the episode does maintain an interesting balance between the peacefulness of the setting and the underlying state of tension over the legal murder law (at least in Kino's mind, anyway).
The production values for this version are pretty good, and Kino's androgynous look hasn't been tampered with. I am rather underwhelmed by the new Japanese voice for Hermes, though I find it amusing that this is Sōma Saitō's second role as a character with that name. (He also voices the god Hermes in DanMachi.) Contrarily, the recast Aoi Yūki makes a fine Kino. She quite effectively brings home Kino's highly pragmatic outlook, which I'm glad wasn't tweaked at all from the first series.
While this might end up being the better series of the two “girl journeying on a motorized vehicle” series airing on Fridays this fall, I prefer Girls' Last Tour to this one.
Kino's Journey is basically a parable. It's an outgrowth of folkloric literature that seeks to make its viewers (and readers, from what I recall of the one novel that came out in English) think about the world through a specific lens, and hopefully to come to the conclusion that the author wants them to. Simply put, the story has a point that it wants to make, but not by flat-out telling you the answer. This effort not to hit the viewer over the head with an answer is part of what makes this very low-key introductory episode a success – the message is there, but it's not thrown in your face.
The lesson in this first outing is that just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. We're just thrown into the story – we don't know who Kino is or why she's got a talking motorrad (although apparently all of them talk, because no one is the least bit thrown by it). There's a reference to a Master who trained her, and the fact that Kino no longer has a home to return to. All we know is that Kino and Hermes are riding around the vast countryside, stopping at walled “countries” (city-state seems more appropriate) for three days, no more and no less. That's an interesting number in itself – three is one of the most important folkloric numbers, so it was almost certainly chosen for its implications. Kino's indiscernable gender also keeps her from distracting from each tale – Kino is simply the vessel through whose eyes we learn the lesson.
It's a bit concerning for the future of this show that the lesson is heavy-handed in its efforts to show us the lengths to which people will go to preserve their peace, and I'm not entirely thrilled with the use of filters and CG in the visuals. But the juxtaposition of the brilliant greens when Kino is outside the city and the more stolid shade inside is nice, and the quiet conversations by the fire are peaceful. This is a philosophical slice of life that works on both the symbolic level and by maintaining our interest in its mysterious protagonist, and while it has a risk of turning into Pilgrim's Progress: The Anime, it is absolutely worth keeping an eye on.
Oh Kino, it is so good to have you back. The original Kino's Journey is one of my all-time favorite shows, a mixture of exhilarating travelogues and philosophical dilemmas that's unlike almost anything else in anime. I was worried if a new adaptation with a new staff could recapture that show's magic, but so far, things seem to be turning out okay. Kino is undoubtedly different, but it's still the Kino I love.
Kino's Journey focuses on, well, the journeys of Kino, who rides her talking motorcycle Hermes between different countries. Each of these countries tends to be defined by some big collective cultural assumption, and this episode's assumption is “murder is not a crime in this nation.” And so Kino explores this strange place where killing is legal, hoping to discover what makes it tick.
Aesthetically, this new series offers a different but generally pleasant take on Kino's world. The character designs are far more detailed than the highly stylized original, but the use of heavy color filters still gives the show a strong sense of otherworldly atmosphere. The direction is fairly dynamic, and while the animation isn't the most fluid, it achieves the level of character acting necessary to enliven a show like this. My biggest fault with this new series is its heavy use of CG—basically all shots of Kino actually riding Hermes felt awkwardly composed, and the clean-edged mechanical complexity of Hermes' design often didn't gel with his environment.
(My thoughts on this episode's narrative reveal a late-episode twist, so skip the next two paragraphs if you want to see this one completely fresh)
Story-wise, this was a relatively straightforward but still satisfying episodic adventure. As it turns out, “killing is legal here” is an oversimplification—you theoretically can kill people, but any sort of violent action invites immediate and devastating mob justice reprisal. Those who move to this country purely to evade restrictions on their behavior tend to suffer a grisly fate, as civil order is maintained largely through the severity of citizen punishment.
As usual, the oddity of this country's philosophy reflects on our own world in a variety of ways. This fictional country's society feels like a send-up of libertarianism, postulating that any society predicated on “no actions aren't permitted” would either collapse or achieve peace on the back of whatever society informally decides still can't be permitted. Without law, we create law—and in this case, the law achieved results in an idyllic retirement home for a famed serial killer. And of course, even that peace requires a happily complicit populace. As Kino's new friend says, “you'd fit right in here, because you can kill people.”
In short, slight aesthetic quibbles aside, this is still a show that sets me rambling on its thematic takeaways with every episode. The original Kino's Journey was one of the most sharply written light novel adaptations I've seen, and this season definitely still bears its philosophically inquisitive heart. It is wonderful to have Kino back.
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