I’ve been a Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World fan for years. The original anime is one of my all-time favorites, and I was very impressed by the first installment of the current manga adaptation by Iruka Shiomiya. Vol. 2 is out from Vertical Comics, and followers of the franchise will find familiar stories as Kino travels to the Land of Majority Rule and the Land of Peace. These are two of the most philosophically noteworthy countries she’s ever visited, and they both make one think about how the story’s concepts play out in real life. So, are the manga versions of these old stories fresh and enjoyable? Is Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Vol. 2 good?
Artistically, this volume is fantastic. There’s so much to love. The shading throughout is top-notch, with lighter and darker values expertly balanced to help key elements pop. Nowhere is this more evident than in one of the book’s best two-page spreads, in which Kino and Hermes ride across the desert. The arid expanse is mostly rendered with thin line-work and a lot of blank space, save for the horrifying sight in the foreground: massive piles of dead bodies all stacked upon each other. There’s a lot more detail and variation in shading on the bodies than there is on the sand, forcing the reader to confront the disturbing textures of all the dead flesh. It’s unsettling to look at, fully selling the horror of the concept.
There are a variety of other great textures and details throughout the book, from water that truly looks wet and features realistic ripples to lovely renderings of cloudy skies. Shiomiya’s composition choices are also well-thought-out. He knows exactly when to use splash pages or two-page-spreads to hone in on an image for maximum effect, and none of their layout choices ever feel gratuitous.
The aforementioned scene with Kino and Hermes driving past mounds of dead bodies is from the beginning of the Land of Peace story, which is this volume’s best. I was already familiar with this one of Kino’s journeys from the old anime, but knowing how events would play out didn’t hinder my enjoyment while reading whatsoever. The Land of Peace is exactly that– a nation whose citizens face no threat of harm from other countries, and who can go about their daily lives with a sense of safety. Of course, there are some major caveats that get revealed in one of the manga’s best twists to date. This story is an excellent confrontation of just how troubling and hypocritical people and their political endeavors can be. Though Kino’s Journey hits close to home on a regular basis, none of its other stories do so in as unfortunate and bitter of a manner as this one does.
This volume’s other main story, the Land of Majority Rule, is also enjoyable. It features more of the series’ great political concepts and philosophical exploration, effectively grounded in how said concepts impacted the titular land’s people. This story is also notable for featuring some of the most creative and visually arresting pages in the manga thus far. They concern major plot spoilers so I won’t say what exactly they portray, but they pack major gut punches. Unfortunately, the Land of Majority Rule chapters are dampened a bit by semi-rushed pacing. We get a fairly lengthy exposition dump about what led the country to end up the way it is when Kino arrives, but none of the events are gone into with particularly memorable detail. It’s a great story of societal upheaval, but the execution could have been more hard-hitting.
All in all, Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Vol. 2 is yet another great installment in this iteration of the franchise. The artwork is flawless, with excellent attention to texture, composition, shading, and the overall sense of balance. The countries visited here are also some of the series’ most interesting and well-fleshed-out to date. The political and philosophical commentary is fantastic, and the getting to travel alongside Kino as a reader is an extremely gratifying experience.