By Iruka Shiomiya, Keiichi Sigsawa and Kouhaku Kuroboshi. Released in Japan as “Kino no Tabi – the Beautiful World” by Kodansha, serialized in Shonen Magazine Edge. Released in North America by Vertical Comics. Translated by Jenny McKeon.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)
In olden times, when the internet was just a young man, the first Kino’s Journey novel was published in North America by Tokyopop. It was also the last Kino’s Journey novel published in North America. Rumors swirled around why it died so fast. The usual low sales for novels? (This was pre-boom.) Or was it, as the most popular rumor went, that the author/publisher was enraged that Tokyopop changed the order of the chapters in the first book and pulled permission? A popular theory, but I have to say, when I saw the first volume of this manga adaptation of Kino’s Journey began, as Tokyopop’s novel does, with the backstory of the lead character, I had to laugh. Clearly someone else also thought it was a good idea to start here. That said, while the backstory is important (and chilling), at heart Kino’s Journey is an anthology series where you get a different place every week.
I would say the series is about the journey that Kino and Hermes (a sentient motorcycle) are taking, but that’s not quite accurate either. The series is about human nature, and how often that nature can turn sad, or frustrating, or tragic. This is not a depressing series, but the smiles you’ll have while reading it are going to be winsome. We start off with a traveler named Kino arriving at a town looking to repair a “motorrad” and befriending a young girl who’s just about to become an adult. That said, we quickly discover that becoming an adult here is a lot more disturbing than you’d expect, and the whole thing takes a Shirley Jackson-style turn – it’s quite disturbing. Kino and Hermes get away from the town and begin to travel, and along the way they meet various people, and places.
The rest of this first volume consists of two stories. The first, and longest, is about Kino’s arrival at a city that’s seemingly deserted, with robots running most amenities. There are people around, but they tend to vanish just as quickly. Once Kino finally meets one of the residents, we discover that it’s a classic “do not bring up what you cannot put down” situation, where what seemed like a good idea at the time quickly turns unbearable. The second story is a simpler one showing how a lack of communication can make tasks completely pointless – or, alternately, a sad but heartwarming story about men who sacrifice everything to work hard for their families back home. Throughout these stories, Kino remains an observer, not staying long and not really offering up advice. We, the reader, do the same.
I’ll definitely be continuing this series. It’s a good adaptation (done over fifteen years after the original novels and the anime series – another Kodansha property, Bakemonogatari, had a similar situation recently). If you like pensive, melancholy series that tell good stories but don’t linger, absolutely give this a try.