The music makes me want to hop on a motorcycle and just ride. Anywhere. Everywhere. Hearing it causes all the suppressed wanderlust in my life to bubble to the surface. I haven’t been on an unconstrained road trip in many years.

For the three people out there who haven’t seen this great anime, it is about a teenage girl going by the name of Kino as she explores her world. This world is divided into many

Kino_no_Tabi_volume_1_coverlittle countries, each just a walled city-state with some surrounding terrain. Some of it is used for agriculture or low-density population and the rest is a kind of no-man’s land.

The technology levels of the different countries vary widely from 18th century to futuristic 21st century and even science fiction-y elements. Like a talking motorcycle or talking “dolls” indistinguishable from humans. The 2017 version even has an episode with a city on tracks that rolls around where it may, ala “Mortal Engines”.

Some episodes involve multiple countries, either in the same arc or in separate arcs.

Kino is taken by extreme wanderlust. Along with her talking motorcycle (aka “motorrad”) Hermes she travels from one country to another, viewing them as would an archeologist or an anthropologist, studying their cultures and customs without getting personally involved. At least that is the theory. Inevitably she does get involved, at least peripherally. In order not to build up too much affinity for any one country and be tempted to stay, she always moves on in 3 days.

Kino and Hermes

Kino is an androgynous figure. Sometimes she is seen by other characters as a lovely young lady. Sometimes as a boy. Both times in exactly the same clothing. The voice sounded slightly feminine but could also be that of a young boy. The 2003 version is one of the rare times I preferred the dub over the sub. I have yet to hear the dub for 2017.

She is always unromantic. A necessity for someone who is perpetually moving on. In “Country of Dolls”, she indicates she doesn’t feel the need for nurturing and support from other humans.

Since I knew nothing of the manga at the time, I wasn’t sure of her y chromosome until ep. 2. There is zero fan service here. The only time you see anything at all is a brief glimpse of her upper chest as she’s leaving a decontamination chamber when entering “City of Illness”. It is the only visual confirmation that she is “female” figured on any of her journeys. If you didn’t know otherwise, from her petite size and lack of visible bust line you might think she was prepubescent.

In the edition of the prequel OVA, “Kino’s Journey: In Order to Do Something – Life Goes On” she was still living with her “master”, an older woman known as Shishou, a woman with a huge reputation behind her. There was a note at the beginning of the show indicating that half of the time she said “I” she was using the masculine version. In the subtitles, they even colored the masculine “I” in blue and the feminine “I” in pink.

In the prequel, she was dressed as a little girl for most of the show so there was little question as to her biological gender but my personal feeling is that she’s either non-binary or an uber-tomboy. As she is aromantic in every show, her sexual preference is irrelevant to the plot.

Master says Kino is a genius with firearms. She carries a cap and ball revolver

The Woodsman

called the Cannon (1851 Colt Navy that has been upchambered from .36 caliber to .44 caliber.) and a .22

The Cannon

autoloader called the Woodsman. In addition, she has no fewer than five knives on her, one of which has a concealed gun in its handle. Later in the 2017 version, she has added a shotgun and an accurized M-14 as a sniper rifle.

I have taught a number of kids to shoot. Someone of her small stature should be experiencing difficulty controlling that .44, the shotgun and the rifle due to recoil and sheer weight but she doesn’t. Maybe that’s part of her genius.

The “Flute” sniper rifle

The big question is: Which Kino? Original or reboot? I’ve seen them both, 2003 and 2017. They are both good but from my perspective 2003 is better. The earlier series feels darker. The world is a more tragic place. Kino is more introspective. The animation has a flatter color range. The character design was by Yoshitoshi ABe and it was directed by Ryūtarō Nakamura both of whom worked on Serial Experiments Lain. You can see the similarities.

Compare the OP for the original with the OP for the 2017 version.

2017 was directed by Tomohisa Taguchi with Ryoko Amisaki for character design.

Some of the first season episodes get redone in 2017 and others are stand-alone new episodes. The 2017 version is considered by the author to be a completely new take on the idea rather than a second season. The two Coliseum episodes from 2003 were compressed into one in 2017. This episode introduced the characters Shizu and his dog Riku who were then featured in later 2017 episodes. In 2003 you see them in the Coliseum eps and never again.

Young Kino on Hermes

“The Country of Adults” episode is in both series. It is Kino’s origin shown as a flashback, why she left her country and how she became involved with Hermes. “The Kind Country” is also reprised. It was voted the favorite on a poll of manga readers.

In between the two series, there were 3 OVAs. “The Tower Country” which seems to be a play on the legend of the Tower of Babel and “Kino’s Journey: In Order to Do Something – Life Goes On” which is a kind of prequel showing Kino’s life with the “master” who takes her in and her decision to continue wandering. (The 2017 episode “Historic Country -Don’t Look Back” gives us some background on her master.) A third OVA came out in 2007 titled “Country of Illness”.

Kino no Tabe: Life Goes On could be seen as a prequel to the series but it could also fit in right after the Land of Adults episode, her origin story. Or save it for last. The other two would fit in as stand-alone episodes anywhere.

Many of the countries are just people doing absurd things for what they think are logical reasons. Some of the countries have a surprising depth of cruelty to them that they think necessary to prevent an even greater evil. There are a few episodes that will shock you, if not bring a few tears at the tragedy.

The 2003 series (and the OVAs) have the majority of deep thinking and tragedy in it. The world is a harsher place. There are slavers. There’s a state with universal telepathy (a really bad idea). Another with extreme levels of censorship. Another where people are taken for human experimentation. One with a madman for king and gladiatorial matches for entertainment for citizens while the serfs and slaves live in misery. (The 2003 version of this has a puppet play that reminds me of Hamlet.) A country where at age 12 your brain is forcibly rewired to become a perfect adult worker-bee. A country where the military annually hunts down indigenous natives in sport to satisfy a people’s innate bloodlust.

Riku the dog, Shizu the fighter and Tea the girl, 2017 version

Dark stuff here and we hear Kino’s thoughts and discussions with Hermes. 2017 has some darkness too but a lot more lightness and humor. I say watch everything. It won’t disappoint.

The world is not a beautiful place. And that itself lends it beauty.  So Kino can move on and see the beauty in a world that also contains cruelty and tragedy in full measure.

Neither Kino’s story nor Shizu’s reach any kind of conclusion. There is talk of another season for the 2017 version and there is certainly plenty of manga material to support it. I really hope they get around to doing it – and sooner than 14 years.