Full title: Kino no Tabi – The Beautiful World
Author: Shigusawa Keiichi
Illustrator: Kuroboshi Kouhaku
Label: Dengeki Bunko
Year of publication: 2000
Pages: 238

Nearly ten years old, with six million units sold over 12 volumes and an anime adaptation in 2003, the Kino no Tabi series is one of the few light novels that have been published in English. It’s the debut title by author Shigusawa Keiichi, and was first published chapter by chapter in a magazine called Dengeki hp. When these were collected and put into paperback form, an extra chapter was added, along with the illustrations by Kuroboshi Kouhaku. These two fellows also went on to work together on the light novel series Allison and Lilia & Treize, which had an anime adaptation just last year.

Kino no Tabi chronicles the traveller and companion combo Kino and Hermes, with the latter being a talking moped. This first novel consists of six chapters with haphazard chronology, which the author assures us can be read in any order we please. Each chapter depicts Kino and Hermes’ encounters with different city nations, in a visit that according to Kino’s rule may only last three days, as this should be enough to learn what kind of place it is, while also making it possible to visit a multitude of destinations.

The episodic nature makes for a somewhat disjointed reading experience, but allows the reader to lightly sample a wide variety of ideas without driving them into the ground. The first two short stories are fairly similar in that Kino arrives at a city to find it completely empty of people. After roaming the streets and spending a day or two trying to figure out where everybody went, our protagonist eventually meets a lone inhabitant and is told of the nation’s fate. Both these cases bring up interesting concepts – mind-reading and absolute democracy – and it is fascinating to learn what happened. Yet at the same time, these specific cases are very extreme, and it’s hard to imagine any society reasonably going so far. The third story about three lifelong workers is similarly drastic, and I was left with the feeling that although the ideas are thought-provoking, the setting given was perhaps a bit too simplistic.

While the first three chapters have Kino acting very much the hands-off observer, this premise changes in the fourth story, named “Colosseum / The Avengers”. Here Kino unwittingly stumbles into a tournament where the winner becomes a citizen, and the losers all generally die unless the opponent allows them to surrender. A guard, who informs Kino of this peculiar law established by the newest king, laughingly mentions a married couple forced to participate some time ago, where the wife was lucky to be able to surrender to her husband as first opponent, but then the husband was killed in the subsequent duel. Hearing this, Kino decides to make a difference. What follows is a series of fun to read duels, with a surprisingly gory climax. As Kino leaves the town behind, Hermes points out the similarities to a young couple they met on their journey, who spoke of going to a splendid country. As Kino nods in assent, Hermes continues, explaining how they later met only the wife, and that she told them with a smile that it was indeed a wonderful place, and that Kino should make sure to visit it sometime. Kino agrees that this is what happened, but doesn’t seem too happy about it.

From a rather slow, albeit interesting, start, this chapter raised my interest level a few notches, since it gave Kino a bit of flesh as a character. But what really knocked my socks off was the fifth story, “The Land of Adults / Natural Rights”. Unlike the other chapters, which all had third person perspective narration, this was done in first person, with a woman writing about an event in her past, where she met Kino. A number of things made this story stand out. First of all, it clears up the issue of Kino’s ambiguous gender, a fact that had been kept quite vague up until then. Second, the first person perspective is much more personal and emotionally involving than the distant, cold third person perspective used in the earlier stories, making it easier to feel sympathy for the characters. And third, the realization of who Kino is simply left me gaping when I realized what was about to happen. The sixth chapter goes back to regular third person narrative, however, but again it’s made clear whether Kino is male or female, which might have been the reason the chapters were ordered as they were in the book.

As I’ve already mentioned, most of the book is written in third person, with the reader unable to tell what Kino and Hermes are thinking. This is solved by letting the talking moped act as a sounding board to bring some thoughtful dialogue into the story. It also serves to emphasize that Kino is no more than an observer of the strange customs they run into, and the perfunctory writing describes the events in a strangely matter of fact manner, which along with the tempo creates a very unique, gloomy atmosphere. It’s not entirely displeasing, but I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea either. The lack of an overarching plot also means there’s nothing really pulling the reader into the next page, chapter, or book.

Some odd traces remain from the time it was published in a magazine: every chapter, the terms Persuader (note: firearm) and Motorad (note: two-wheeled ground vehicle) are explained with little notes, something that got on my nerves by the third time. I was also annoyed by the author’s apparent gun fetish, as gun maintenance is described in meticulous detail taking up entire pages at a time. Perhaps this has some connection to his pseudonym “Shigusawa” being a Japanification of the gun manufacturer SIG Sauer. Another thing that struck me as strange was how Hermes (Greek god) paraphrases Marie Antoinette’s (French queen) famous “Let them eat cake” quote, despite this seemingly being a different world from ours. Maybe it’s explained in later volumes.

I’d like to start comparing the novel to the anime adaptation right about now, but the fact is that I haven’t watched it (apart from a single episode years ago), so I’ll have to leave that to you in the comments section. It would also be nice if you could give some feedback on the format of this review. Was it too long? Too dull? Too little plot information? I’m worried about keeping it as spoiler free as possible, but I realize it will become a difficult issue to dance around when reviewing sequels. Regarding the lack of illustration shots, it’s because I can’t take photos of a page without getting my fingers in the shot, and if I squash it into the scanner I’ll ruin my precious book.

Amazon links: English | Japanese


  1. Nice series to get started on! Your comments as you covered the volume seemed appropriate enough and were interesting. One thing I would’ve liked to have seen was a summery of your overall impression of this volume, maybe before the last paragraph; something concise which I could take with me.

  2. I finished reading the first volume last year when I had the opportunity to purchase it at an anime convention. Living up to the genre “light novel”, the read was indeed very light. I love the illustrations in the book so much that I even bought the artbook XD
    I just wish they (the publishing companies in North America) would translate more light novels so that I can read them. >___<

    Anyway, great start. Like Meery said, it would be awesome if you could summarize your opinions on the book, something like a mini review.

  3. I love Kino’s Journey! The Japanese version is awesome, but for gods sake, DON’T buy the English version by TokyoPop! They made tons of edits, the worst of which was the rearranging of the chapters. It sucks ass and is disrespectful to the source material. Support the Japanese release, not the English!

  4. I’m starting to love these little segments sir, and frankly, I wished I had the patience to relearn Japanese (and possibly bring my GPA up, by retaking the class). But to my point. I did understand the author had a firearms fetish (must be easy to long for such things in a country where owning one requires a binder of paperwork). I’m fine with the current layout, as it leaves enough for me to want to read it , but as Anon has said, I am not trusting the English release.

    Besides, the light novels if I remember correctly being released by TP have stopped, I guess there isn’t much of a projected market here.

    Jusuchin (Military Otaku)
  5. @Lostsouls: I don’t know if it didn’t sell ‘enough’ per say, but the reordering of chapters and changing the interior art brought down the wrath of the Japanese publisher on Tokyopop and they pulled the license. (We assume. The reps basically said later it was a ‘licensing issue’ as to why they never did release book 2.) Which is too bad.

  6. if you really love light novels you should try playing Dengeki Gakuen RPG

    A super crossover DS game containing Kino no Tabi, To Aru Majutsu no Index, Bakusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan, Shakugan no Shana, Toradora and a few others. It is really interesting and most of the game is voiced =3

    Kugimiya Rie playing both Shana and Taiga at the same time made me lol

    gamefaqs link

  7. Whow, woo-hoo! The one LN I was interested in, you just so happen to review first, that’s great. Thank you for doing Kino first Patrik, I liked the review, I’d say it was an excellent review, but I’m no expert. You should definitely watch the Anime, it feels kinda abstract, like watching an episode of Doctor Who, kinda scary the world Kino lives in ya’know.

    I’m working on getting my PC up to scratch at the moment, but would like to at least get the first of the series sometime soon. – Note: I always thought a light novel was just a single book. Is it then pretty common for a LN serial to be published as a series of books? – Is that 238 pages for the whole series or just a single book?

  8. The english version is quite good as well. Was a good read, and I don’t care much about the chapter changing. In fact, the Land of Adults works great as the first chapter and gets you interested in the story right away. The translation was good as well and the book itself looks awesome 😉 I actually prefer the english cover to the japanese one (same artist anyway).

    But what about the other volumes? Has Kino’s Journey been stopped for good in english or is there still a chance for it to continue? v.v

  9. I first watched the anime a few years ago, and have seen every subsequent movie made since then. Each of the stories described here coincides with an episode of the anime. Just as in the light novels, Kino’s gender is kept ambiguous until Kino’s backstory is revealed. And yes, Kino does spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and maintaining their gun (also Kino seems to spend many sleepless nights practicing their quick-draw). While Kino’s character maintains a stoic and polite attitude, Hermes’ wry sense of humor acts as a nice foil.

    The hypothetical scenarios depicted in each episode are what stand out about this series. Each situation is thought provoking, and could be related (in an absurdist exaggerated sense) to a real life scenario. Kind of reminds me of that Doctor Seuss book, “Oh, the places you’ll go.” The scenarios aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and should be seen as little more than thought experiments, hypothetical situations where every character aside from Kino and Hermes is a stereotype to be used anecdotally, and forgotten just as quickly.

    There is little in terms of plot, but there is a definite moral to each individual story. Also, the anime is punctuated by occasional tidbits of text accompanied by a haunting hymnal or zen score, that may be excerpts from the light novels. I found the series to be a welcome foray away from the convoluted plots of other anime. Instead, it was a breath of fresh air, emotionally relaxing and mentally stimulating. I’ll definitely look into the light novels. And I hope everyone here looks into the anime and novels who hasn’t already.

    Kraven Ergeist
  10. I don’t think it’s really true that Kino’s gender is left ambiguous — Show Spoiler ▼

    The description of the gun-cleaning in the first chapter even puzzled my Japanese tutor with its gun-specific vocabulary.

  11. @ Exia

    Lol. There is already an anime of it in 2003 and it’s awesome to me so I went and bought the entire series. It’s one of my top favorites series as well as DNAngel.

    @ dm00

    Show Spoiler ▼

  12. dm00, Silver, I disagree. Kino’s gender is definitely left unclear on purpose. Remember where this was first published, without a prologue. Even there it’s not spelled out. Throughout the book this is used to spice it all up.
    Show Spoiler ▼

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to guess at Kino’s gender, but I believe the author made an effort to disguise it somewhat, in order to keep us doubting.

  13. @ Patrick

    That’s the thing. He tried to somewhat disguise it but not totally so it’s not exactly ambiguous.

    Show Spoiler ▼

  14. Silver, ambiguous means “doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness”, which I think is fulfilled by the way Kino’s gender is never specified, and with the lack of any he/she/him/her it’s simply impossible to know.

    Show Spoiler ▼

  15. Great review Patrik. My only suggestion would be to include a ranking system to make it easier to understand your final verdict. Probably something like “Must Read to Don’t Read” rather than a numerical scale. Or better yet, be creative and come up with something original.

    I look forward to the next one.

  16. I guess you didn’t actually read the “Let them eat cake” article you linked to. Marie Antoinette never said it, it was an old quote and the attribution of it to her was libel concocted by French revolutionists.


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