Otaku – Kino’s Journey

Crash Pad (Publisher’s thoughts)
Jacques GIGA Staff IconOver the past two years I’ve found myself caught up in many an anime and over many years I now have so many favorites (each for their own right), many of them have passed away from my immediate ability to recollect details; but what I do remember is the mood of each of these brilliant, dynamic, impressionable shows and/or movies.  About ten years ago I was just beginning to dream of being a creative conduit making video games, writing books, television shows, etc.  At the time, anime (Asian animation styled productions) were my choice pass-time and back then I had Cablevision in the Bronx NY,  which offered “The  Anime Network”.  With the magnetic allure of a “spoken” tale that I’m often drawn to, I had found a gem; Kino’s Journey.

GIGA: Otaku Feature – Kino’s Journey
“The world is not beautiful, therefore it is [beautiful].”

Here is some insight into Keiichi Sigsawa‘s series.
In Kino’s Journey, the protagonist, Kino, accompanied by a talking motorcycle named Hermes, travels through a mystical world of many different countries and forests, each unique in its customs and people. Kino only spends three days and two nights in every town, without exception, on the principle that three days is enough time to learn almost everything important about a place, while leaving time to explore new lands. Kino says in The Land of Visible Pain that this principle is probably a lie, specifically noting “if I stay any longer, I’m afraid I will settle down.” A phrase repeated in the anime and novels is “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is [beautiful].” Kino’s Journey explores what the anime director Ryūtarō Nakamura described as “a radical sense of ‘beauty,”[2] and brutality, loneliness, nonsense, oppression and tragedy are often juxtaposed against compassion and a fairy-tale atmosphere.

For protection and hunting, Kino carries a .44 single action revolver (called “the Cannon”, based on a Colt M1851) that uses liquid explosives in place of gunpowder and a .22 automatic pistol (named “the Woodsman”, based on a Colt Woodsman). Later in Kino’s adventures in the novels, Kino also uses a pump-action shotgun (based on a Winchester M1897) and a semi-automatic sniper rifle (called “the Flute”, based on an Arisaka Type 99 rifle), along with a variety of other tools, including knives. In the anime, she is shown to carry no less than five knives on her person, including one which can fire .22 bullets from its hilt. Kino is an unusually quick draw and practices every day before dawn.

Technology in this world exists, sometimes to the level of science fiction, although anachronisms are common (for example, the same land that has talking robots also appears to have phonographs, yet simultaneously the world has only begun to develop heavier-than-air flight). The level of technology also varies from country to country. The world is not heavily magical (the only “magical” elements include land that moves, a talking motorcycle, and a talking dog), although it has a certain fairy-tale quality.
Even though its been about 10 years since I last watched this immersing tale carrying an “everyman” theme, (well, at least “everyman” who has ever longed for a life on the road and finding adventure drifting from new lands to strange environments 2-3 times a week; just a rider and the rider’s machine), I feel as if the impression and memory is what makes or breaks a classic in any format of presentation, anime, video game, movie, book, or campfire story.   Here I am writing an article based on a feeling I had many years ago and there is so much of this story that I found inspiring.  Many say a picture speaks a thousand words; if that’s true, then the lingering vibrations of a strong emotion must speak lifetimes.  I have lived many lives vicariously through many an imaginary hero but years later, Kino still comes to mind as familiar as an old friend I haven’t seen in many a moon.  I was raised predominately around women but I have always found it difficult in the past to identify with a female heroine (aside from Major Motoko Kusanagi of GITS which came years later for me), Kino is one of the first females that I could identify with as a strong, resourceful, and inquisitive protagonist, who just so happened  to be a female lead.

Allow me to unravel this story for you:

Voiced by: Ai Maeda (Japanese anime, video games), Kelli Cousins (English anime), Aya Hisakawa (drama CD)
Kino is the main protagonist in the series and travels to different countries with her talking motorcycle Hermes, discovering their cultures and people. In the anime, Kino’s gender is ambiguous in the beginning, but is later confirmed to be female in the fourth episode, in which she first meets Hermes and borrows the name Kino from another traveler. She is skilled in combat, carrying both guns and knives, and is accustomed to life as a traveler. To those she meets, she is invariably polite and answers questions directly. Her gender is not initially apparent to the viewer, because she is almost flat chested (despite being in her mid-teens), heavily armed, and dresses in baggy masculine motorcycle gear, as well as her usage of a masculine pronoun to refer to herself.

I had been watching anime by the dozens since I first discovered the Anime Network so I dived right in and picked the first selection on the featured list.   While watching the first episode of Kino’s Journey I’m introduced to this personality, seemingly flat, pale, and monotone; uninteresting to be modest.  Initially I thought the show felt “airy” basic at best.  It didn’t contain a cast of typical pop anime constants; there were no Super Saiyans, Ninjas, Mechs, or Demons.  =(

But for some reason, I didn’t miss it.

Despite it being hard to find an unbiased determination about what I was watching, I was able to find the admirable and powerful traits of a hero in the main character who was obviously voiced by a female but appeared to be a young male.  Even still, voice didn’t throw me for identifying gender, judging by appearance, my assumption was “Kino’s a young man” and with that I moved on, not giving it a second thought because typical of much Asian animation, male voices are often substituted for a female if trying to capture the “young pubescent male voice pattern”; ie. Naruto.   So, the voice wasn’t a curve ball to me considering how many young male protagonists like Peter Pan are often played by a female in voice or body on film and/or on stage.

I realized then, that to enjoy the show, I would have to remove the question of gender from my mind.  By the calculated design and creative genius of Writer Keiichi Sigsawa, I was made to solely consider characters and the stories thereof, before sex.  In my mind I said “Kino is whatever Kino is, it’s really not important to the characteristics of this lead… I don’t think”.  The Barrier between viewer and protagonist was kept raised if ever so elusively present, and I was captured enough by the very first episode that I went on to watch another and without knowing I spent the day and night thinking of what would happen next.  The enigmatic setting presented had absorbed me completely with an easy yet unpredictable baited hook called Hermes.  Watching the next episode became a nightly event where I would prepare my “set-up” and went traveling with my good friend Kino before bed to strange new lands, experiencing strange new laws, or customs and as Kino was my tour guide, at times I worried.  A young idea; short, direct, and peculiar, Kino became a regular face to me over Ice cream and warm brownies regularly for an entire week.

Ten years later I find myself caught up in reminisce which explains this article.

So now that the gender “question” was no longer an immediate question, considering I couldn’t figure it out, I decided to move on and slowly I was pulled into the captivating tale of this young person who was essentially alone aside from a talking motorcycle named Hermes.
Hermes (エルメス Erumesu)

Voiced by: Ryuji Aigase (Japanese anime, video games), Cynthia Martinez (English anime), Junko Noda (drama CD)
Hermes is a talking Brough Superior motorcycle and is Kino’s loyal companion; although it can be reluctant sometimes, it faithfully accompanies Kino through all their travels. The relationship between Kino and Hermes is presented as symbiotic—as explained in the Land of Adults where Hermes provides speed, and Kino provides balance. In the first couple of episodes of the anime and almost all of the chapter in the novels, it has a tendency to mispronounce words and phrases. Its name is a reference to the Greek god Hermes. Although its name is spelled “Hermes”, in the third book it emphasizes that the “H” in its name is silent.

These two archetypes were so balanced yet opposite making for a dynamic interaction between the duo over the course of the show.  Two friends, one androgynous and unrestrained and the other a machine, led me into a new world that hosted my imaginary exploits as a traveling companion/adventurer alongside Kino and Hermes who episodically put themselves into the hands of chance all for the sake of a nomad’s life.  That familiar rustic wanderers tingle is biting again now as I type this.

So I have decided to add another anime to watch every night over the next week.  I am especially excited to read the original novels.  That will give me an opportunity to relive the trail, the disheartening times, and the victories of little Kino and the incessant second guessing of Hermes.  So for all you who read this; I’ll be watching an episode every night and if any of our readers want to interact feel free to visit this page and leave a comment! =)


More Info
Kino’s Journey: the Beautiful World
(キノの旅 -the Beautiful World- Kino no Tabi -the Beautiful World-?)
, shortened to Kino’s Journey, is a Japanese light novel series written by Keiichi Sigsawa, with illustrations by Kouhaku Kuroboshi. The series originally started serialization in volume five of MediaWorks‘ now-defunct light novel magazine Dengeki hp on March 17, 2000. The first volume of the series was published on July 10, 2000 by ASCII Media Works under their Dengeki Bunko publishing imprint. As of October 2012, 16 volumes have been published, and over 5.6 million copies of the novels have been sold in Japan.[1] In Kino’s Journey, the protagonist, Kino, accompanied by a talking motorcycle named Hermes, travels through a mystical world of many different countries and forests, each unique in its customs and people. A spin-off light novel series titled Gakuen Kino began with the first volume published on July 10, 2006 by ASCII Media Works; four volumes have been released as of July 2010.

A 13-episode anime adaptation produced by A.C.G.T and Genco aired between April and July 2003 on WOWOW in Japan. Two visual novels for the PlayStation 2 were released by ASCII Media Works, the first in July 2003, and the second in December 2005. There have also been two 30-minute animated films produced, the first in February 2005, and the second in April 2007. A Kino’s Journey light novel was only released as a promotional gift for the second animated movie. Additional merchandise includes an art book, three picture books, and a drama CD.