For general information on this series: Kino’s Journey entry
This review is for the first volume of Kino’s Journey by Keiichi Sigsawa (with art by Kouhaku Kuroboshi). The English edition (which strangely kept the Japanese title Kino no Tabi) was released by Tokyopop in October 2006. None of the remaining volumes were ever localized, and as of now there are seventeen volumes available in Japan.
The anime adaptation of Kino’s Journey was one of the first anime I really enjoyed, and perhaps the first that showed me just how unique and varied that medium could be for its storytelling in general. When I learned it was based on a series of books (called “light novels”), I sought out all that was available in English: the first volume, released by Tokyopop. As such, Kino’s Journey is likely the first light novel I read with the knowledge of what light novels actually are.
There really isn’t much out there to compare to this series, in my opinion. It’s a series made up entirely of short stories, and there isn’t much in the way of characterization or even plot. Instead, Kino’s Journey is primarily about ideas. The series features a protagonist named Kino, who travels from country to country on a motorcycle named Hermes. The two can communicate with each other, and together they spend most of the stories observing the places they visit and the people they encounter. It’s a travelogue that tackles philosophical ideas regarding human nature, and every story gives you something clever and interesting to reflect upon.
Along with a brief prologue and epilogue, six stories are included in this volume:
- Grownup Country — (ep 4 of the anime) — Kino’s backstory; a land in which to become an adult at the age of 12 means to undergo an operation that essentially renders one soulless
- The Land of Shared Pain — (ep 1 of the anime) — a land in which everyone can read each other’s thoughts
- The Land of Majority Rule — (ep 5 of the anime) — a city in which every decision is voted upon by the entire populace
- Three Men on the Rails — (ep 5 of the anime) — an area in which a railroad is being repaired by one man, taken apart by another, and being built from scratch by a third
- The Land of Peace — (ep 12 of the anime) — a land in which two nations wage war in an unusual manner
- Coliseum — (ep 6 and 7 of the anime) — a city in which all visitors are forced into battle tournaments
(Note: In the original Japanese edition, the order went: Land of Shared Pain, Land of Majority Rule, Three Men on the Rails, Coliseum, Grownup Country, and Land of Peace. The order was changed apparently to make the story more linear–a change I personally don’t care for, but not a big deal really.)
The stories are all interesting and make for very quick reads. I felt the translation was a bit too straightforward and plain though, which I think keeps this volume from leaving as great of an impact as it could have. That said, I found it interesting to get a bit more of Kino’s thoughts and feelings about each of the places visited, so even if you’ve seen the anime there’s still a bit of a different experience to be had with these particular tales.
The cover was entirely changed from the original edition, and the choice made for the final design was quite strange in my opinion, as Kino is not featured on it at all. Curious localization decisions and tame translation aside, the thing I find most unfortunate is that no more volumes were ever released after this one. As such, Kino’s Journey will likely always be at the top of my English light novel localization wish list. Perhaps fittingly bittersweet for a series as somber as this one, but I intend to continue the journey in some shape or form, be it through fan translations or otherwise.
Cho’s Rating: Recommended