The 2003 version of Kino’s Journey is one of my favorite anime series of all time. So naturally, when I found out that a manga version of the story was coming out from Vertical Comics, I was instantly interested. Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Vol. 1 collects chapters 1-4 of the manga by Iruka Shiomiya, adapting Keiichi Sigsawa’s original light novels and featuring character designs by Kouhaku Kuroboshi. Fans of the franchise’s past installments will recognize the stories told here, which include Kino’s origin, the Land of Understanding Each Other’s Pain, and the tale of three men working along railroad tracks. These tales may have been told before, but a good adaptation can breathe new life into old material. Does this manga do that successfully? Is it good?
One of this volume’s strengths is the degree to which it acquaints readers with the countries depicted. Kino’s titular journey is one that spans nation after nation, as she spends three days in each place before moving on to the next. It’s a relatively brief window with which to establish a country’s lore and collective personality, but Shiomiya does so very well. The Land of Adults found in chapter one, for instance, is a great example of horror presented with the veneer of normalcy. The concepts brought up here address the sort of atrocities that societies commit against children, and the intolerance they have for resistance to said atrocities.
The Land of Understanding Each Other’s Pain, meanwhile, is a memorable answer to the question “What if everyone could read each other’s thoughts?” The story confronts this idea from a unique angle, and Shiomiya does a good job conveying the citizenry’s emotions and motivations quickly and poignantly. All in all, the reader gets to experience the series’ fantasy lands alongside Kino.
This volume also has a brief prologue and epilogue that take place in-between Kino’s reaching her destinations. Rather than exploring concepts for nations, these segments provide good opportunities for Shiomiya to explore Kino’s psyche. Most of her regular adventures consist of her reacting to the world around her, so seeing her look inward is a nice change of pace. These brief glimpses of her inner thoughts help flesh her out and make her more relatable. Though the plot doesn’t progress much here, these fleeting moments still feel just as important as the main story chapters.
Art-wise, this is one of the franchise’s most beautiful iterations to date. The world really comes alive thanks to Shiomiya’s technical skill and attention to detail. The nature imagery throughout is beautiful, thanks in large part to the intricate textures and shading. The way light sources illuminate their surroundings is very believable and makes the world feel that much more immersive. More artificial settings also look good as Shiomiya does a good job capturing the looks of buildings, vehicles, and robots. My only complaint with the art is that there are a few shots where the perspective choices frame Kino is a weirdly sexual light. This series has never been about fan service, so seeing the familiar and beloved heroine drawn in ways that are meant to be titillating is bizarre. Add in how unclear her age is and this gets even more uncomfortable.
The main difference between this version of Kino’s Journey and the 2003 anime that jumped out at me was the quickness with which Kino’s origin was revealed. The chapter set in the Land of Adults explains why Kino first left her homeland, as well as why she took on the alias “Kino” in the first place. This story takes place in chapter one of this manga, so it’s the first impression readers get asides from the brief prologue. In the anime, however, this backstory isn’t delved into until several episodes in. This change isn’t entirely a bad one, as it does provide the reader with more of a sense of why Kino’s doing what she’s doing. The downside, however, is that there’s less mystery as a result. While plenty of other parts of Kino’s past still aren’t explained in detail, having the most crucial turning point in her life shown first thing robs the revelations of some momentum. Your mileage may vary on this point, but I personally preferred other iterations’ decision to build Kino up more as a character before revealing her origin story.
Overall, this manga is yet another great installment in the franchise. The countries explored are interesting, the artwork makes the world feel immersive, and we get some nice explorations of Kino’s psyche. My only complaints with this volume are with Kino’s occasional objectification and the decision to tell her origin story right off the bat. Nonetheless, I would recommend this volume to both longtime fans and readers with no prior exposure to the franchise.