Iruka Shiomiya’s manga Kino’s Journey: the Beautiful World is based on Keiichi Sigsawa’s light novel series of the same name.
Kino wanders her world in the company of her talking motorcycle, Hermes. The pair visit community after community, never staying more than three days.
Volume one covers three incidents in Kino’s journey.
The Land of Adults
The Land of Adults is populated entirely by perfectly happy people. A traveller named Kino befriends a young girl who explains that when inhabitants attain twelve years of age, they undergo an operation that makes them feel contentment and joy regardless of circumstances. Little changes. Each new day is like the last; every new adult takes over the roles that their parents filled. Utopian perfection! At least for anyone who has had the operation
Kino suggests that the young girl refuse the operation. When she does, another side of changelessness is revealed. Nonconformity enrages the adults, who plan to murder the refusenik.
The Land of Understanding Each Other’s Pain
Kino arrives in a futuristic city, filled with attentive robots but otherwise seemingly empty. The robots lavish attention on Kino and Hermes, which they find a welcome respite from the hardships of the road. Still, who built the city and where did the builders go?
Kino discovers that the human inhabitants are not entirely gone; they live in isolated households outside the city proper. Curious why none of them take advantage of their glorious city, Kino visits one of the locals. The solution to the mystery is simple: the locals solved a age-old short coming in human communication … a solution with unforeseen consequences.
Three Men Along the Tracks
Kino encounters three workers, each one tirelessly labouring away on behalf of a distant company. No one from the company has visited for decades. The workers are isolated; they do not know the other workers exist. Nonetheless, each person’s work is an input needed by their unseen companions. Interdependence without communication …
I intended to read the first light novel in the series and bought the manga adaptation by accident. Still, one has the review the books one acquired, not the ones one set out to acquire.
The epub version of the manga loads very slowly, and for some reason every second page is blank. It’s not that pages are missing, just that for some reason blank space has been inserted where (I assume) it does not exist in the paper version of the manga. It’s intrusive enough to be annoying; if you’re interested, buy physical books rather than electronic ones.
Readers may wonder how it is an otherwise ordinary motorcycle can talk, and why it is cultures of such variable technological levels can coexist without interacting with each other. We never find out. There’s no plot arc, just episode after episode.
This series, and this manga, reminds me of slice-of-life works like Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, Mushishi, and Aria. But it’s darker: closer to Girls Last Journey. The traveller has a beloved vehicle and that’s it. There are two failed utopias: one shapes kids to fit and kills them if they resist, the other has driven its citizens into isolation and sterility.
The artwork is as detailed as it needs to be to convey the plot details. There are moments of scenery porn, as seems to be required in slice of life manga. The cover is oddly atypical. Kino chooses to dress in a manner that obscures her gender. The gratuitous butt-shot on the cover is out of character.
Kino herself is a detached observer; revelations during the Land of Adults incident makes it clear why she might feel it necessary to remain aloof. She lives in a world where seemingly amiable people can turn homicidal in a moment. Safer to remain unconnected, so personal feelings do not interfere with survival. Readers might find her hard to warm to, but does every protagonist need to be warm and likable?
But I sometimes like dark. I think I’ll look for the light novels.