Anime Review: Kino no Tabi/ Kino’s Journey (2003)

Kino, a young person who doesn’t like to be called Missy nor Boy, travels the world with their talking motorcycle Hermes. They have many fascinating adventures and interactions with interesting people in the towns they visit. This is Kino no Tabi- The Beautiful World- , a 2003 anime of 13 episodes based on the light novel series by Keiichi Sigsawa. In recent years, a new version was made, but I prefer the older one. We’ll look at the story, themes, visuals, audio, and characters in Kino’s Journey. I’ll also write about my personal enjoyment. Note: I refer to Kino as “they.”

Story: 9/10 Magnificent

Each episode, or sometimes every 2 episodes, Kino and Hermes go to a different country. (These are fictional countries btw, and each one is extremely small.) If you don’t like episodic series, you may not enjoy Kino’s Journey, but I still recommend it; among episodic anime I have seen, it’s one of the best. It has fascinating stories, characters, mysteries, or concepts each episode. There wasn’t a single episode of Kino’s Journey that bored me or felt like it didn’t belong.

Normally, this idea of going to a new country each episode would be a weak plot premise. However, it’s original. I’ve never come across with a story concept quite like this. Also, it’s the stories within the story that make Kino’s Journey so classic. As I mentioned, each episode’s characters and plot are fascinating, and well-written, too. Some of the best, in my opinion, are episodes 2, 4, 7, 9, and 12. Each is structured, paced, and presented in a nearly perfect way. The concepts explored in these episodes, and really all the episodes, are fascinating.

Speaking of concepts, the thematic quality of an anime is also important in the story category. As I mentioned, Kino no Tabi has no shortage of thought-provoking content. How all living things feed off other living things, literally and figuratively, is the motif of episode 2. The nature of childhood versus adulthood, and the idea of altering personality with surgery, are explored in the fourth episode. Episode 7 shows how bold thinking and sacrifices are needed to change to a corrupt system. Violence, competition, war, and human societies are important themes in episode 12. There’s also the overarching themes that every society is different and no society is perfect. Those are just a handful of examples.

Included in the story category is the atmosphere of an anime. Kino’s Journey has a wonderful one. It always make me feel physically and emotionally relaxed, but mentally awake and interested. It feels like the show happens in a post-apocalyptic world, with humanity divided and scattered into many very small “countries,” often only the size of a city, and usually surrounded by walls. Yet, it’s not a thriller or a story of survival like many post-apocalyptic shows. Kino and Hermes do well for themselves and survive without too much struggle, though it’s a frugal existence. Anyway, the tone of the show is laidback and well, comfortable, for lack of a better word.

Art and Animation: 7/10 Good

Compared to anime of the late 2000-teens, art and animation in Kino no Tabi may not be “good.” In fact, many would call it bad. However, for its day (early 2000s), the visuals were about average quality. Because I like the character designs, some of the very pretty backgrounds, and the subdued, brownish color pallet, though, I consider it well above average. (The characters all have wide faces and stouter bodies than characters of this decade, and I like them.) Subtle and diverse face expressions also help my opinion of the art. The animation isn’t as smooth as that of anime today, but it’s pretty good for its time, and doesn’t come across as particularly jerky to me.

Note: it’s difficult to find a version with decent quality rendering on free streaming sites, and as far as I know no standard, paid-for streaming sites have it. To see it in its best quality, you’ll have to buy the Blu-Ray online. There hasn’t been a digital remastering or a version rendered in true high definition, but the standard definition on the Blu-Ray is still better than what I found online. Try looking on Amazon for the DVD sets or the Blu-Ray Release. Anyway, you can’t judge the visual quality based on what’s available online, even in these days.

Sound: 8/10 Excellent

Some of the scores in the soundtrack are so muted they’re hard to notice, and rather than being orchestral, they have a unique and slightly unsettling sound. It’s difficult for me to describe. There are also a few more “normal-sounding scores.” I like all of them and find them soothing. The opening song is memorable and has a beautiful sound. The lyrics are enchanting too. It’s called “All the Way,” by Mikuni Shimokawa. The ED, “The Beautiful World,” is sung by Ai Maeda, who also voiced Kino. It too is a truly captivating song with euphonious vocals.

As much as I love the seiyuu Aoi Yuuki who voiced Kino in the 2017 remake, I think Ai Maeda is the better fit for Kino’s personality. I most definitely prefer the 2003 voice of Hermes (Ryuji Aigase) to the one in the 2017 remake (Souma Saito). A few other notable seiyuus appear as supporting characters in the 2003 show, including Aoi Yuuki when she was much younger.

Characters: 9/10 Excellent

I mentioned that the story was episodic, but it is also partly serial, in that Kino and Hermes are developed a little more each episode. You know nothing at the start, but you’ll know all about them and their personalities by the end, thanks to character-building in small increments. Let’s start with Hermes. He/they is a great character. He’s witty and snarky, practical and to the point (most of the time), and despite caring first and foremost for himself, he does understands Kino quite well. He’ll give them a push in the right direction when needed. It’s always interesting to me to think about how Hermes came to possess consciousness and personality.

As for Kino, they are in my top twenty favorite anime characters ever. Their unique character led me read fan discussions about them online, which is where I learned the terms non-binary and agender. It’s fine to interpret Kino as a female as far as their sex, but as far as how they identify, they object to being called Ojou-chan, or Little Miss, and Shounen, or boy. So it’s very likely they don’t identify with either gender. Kino is Kino. Gender doesn’t play a role in that.

Kino is an interesting and awesome character for other reasons, too. They have amazing skill with pistols and quick reaction speed. They are fearless and mentally tough, not easily influenced or traumatized. Kino has a stubborn streak, but they are usually calm, collected, and courteous when speaking. Some have said Kino is sociopathic because they have killed people, albiet in self-defense, and seemed to feel very little emotion over it. I think sociopathic would be going a little far, since Kino does value life, and tries not to fight or kill others except as a last resort.

They remind me a bit of a wild animal because of their instincts, sharp senses, and simple way of living. Yet Kino is also a pensive one who enjoys hearing and considering dilemmas, questions, and the unique perspectives of other people on their journey. Another very interesting thing about Kino is the question of why they don’t want to settle down in any country. “Three days, two nights,” is the longest that Kino will stay in a given country. It’s a rule that they follow almsot religiously. In the show, Kino’s reasons for this are explored, but remain a bit mysterious.

The other characters, which usually only appear in one episode, can be fairly intriguing and/or entertaining. Besides the dialogue between Kino and Hermes, these supporting characters are the driving force of the series. They build the plot for each episode. One likable character is Nimya, the “wizard” girl who builds a primitive airplane, and Shizu, the handsome young traveler with a secret identity who meets Kino in the Coliseum arc.

Enjoyment: 10/10 Perfect

Something needs to be moved so I can put Kino’s Journey back into my top 20 favorite anime ever. It’s at least in my top 30. That’s because it’s one of the anime series I most enjoy watching. I’ve seen it at least three times and I would watch the whole thing again if I had time. I never get tired of it. The things I like most about Kino no Tabi are the old-timey art style, the OP and ED songs, the personality and character concept of Kino, and the many interesting situations, stories, and themes explored. My personal favorite episode is the second one, “A Tale of Feeding Off Others,” but I also love the story of the poet in episode 3 and the country of books in episode 9.

Overall Score = 8.6/10.0 Excellent

This is an underrated and unforgettable anime. I recommend it to everybody. End of story. If I had my way I’d give it at least 9.0/10.0, but I am trying to be a good critic. If you’re familiar with either version of Kino no Tabi, and have a little time, please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you! This has been Anime Rants. Ja ne!

7 thoughts on “Anime Review: Kino no Tabi/ Kino’s Journey (2003)

    1. Thank you very much for this and other recent comments! It really does make me happy to have people reading my work and thinking about these topics. I’m glad there are others who love the original Kino no Tabi. Probably sometime in September, I plan to review the Kino remake, too. It was good, but for me, it can’t replace the old one!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I really need to finally watch “Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World.” It has been on my anime watchlist for quite some time now. The unique blend of dark themes and philosophical undertones, along with the intriguing world-building, has me eager to experience the journey that awaits in this anime.

    Liked by 1 person

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