Jan 3, 2018
ManicStylo (All reviews)
“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox and now, you’re selling it...” -(I really hate that man)

Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World - The Animated Series, or, Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World - The Animated Series as the gringos say (they don’t), is nothing short of one of the most disappointing experiences I’ve ever had to slog through, and I’ve graduated college. This contemporary adaptation of the light novels of the same name written by Keiichi Sigsawa and illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi also serves as a hard reboot/remake of the previous anime. If you couldn’t extrapolate already from my derisive tone, I admire the original adaptation immensely.

Remake and reboot culture has been running rampant in Hollywood for a decade now and apparently, its vile stench has begun to reach across the pond. Usually, when it comes to remakes or reboots of any kind, the popular attitude when approaching them is one of “cautious optimism”. I’d like to say that my attitude when it came to the announcement of this streamlined version of Kino’s was along those lines despite controversies surrounding the production staff and studio. I generally take gossip like that with a grain of salt, especially with a framework like Kino’s which in theory should be royally difficult to botch. Vitriol aside, the primary objective of any adaptation should be to stand alone from its source material, whether it’s a panel for panel or word for word reimagining. Taking the light novels and original adaptation out of the equation does nothing to aid this clumsy and uneven series, one that will likely be buried worse than its hidden gem of a big sister.

Time for the technicals. One of the biggest points of contention, when it came to this series, was its less than stellar production staff. I have time and time again been proven wrong by certain studios and animators but sadly I can’t vouch for this go at Kino’s Journey. If I could summate my thoughts on the art and animation into a single word, it would probably be “safe”. Nothing about the animation or art direction wowed me, nor do I really care all that much if it did (Kino’s 03 wasn’t exactly adored for its production qualities). The character models were polished, but entirely standard issue. On the topic of character models, Kino’s model was misguidedly off the mark. When Kino is made to look like a scrapped design off the cutting-room floor of a KyoAni drawing session, it entirely ruins one of the most vital aspects of her character (more on that later). There was nothing egregiously awful about the animation, aside from a few cut-corners with reused CG shots of Kino and Hermes. With the simplistic character models, I don’t imagine it was terribly difficult to animate and polish this series as much as they did.

The soundtrack was entirely unassuming so I’m not going to bother expanding my thoughts on it. Most newer anime are more concerned with how polished the aesthetics are, the soundtrack is usually secondary or tertiary. The opening and ending were skippable and most episodes didn’t even have time to fit them in. Aoi Yuuki’s performance as Kino was serviceable at best and derivative at its absolute lowest. I enjoy Yuuki’s roles however it didn’t sound like she was attempting to differentiate this one from any of her other characters. I contend that Mariya Ise or even Miyuki Sawashiro would’ve been better fits for this role. For you dub purists out there, it’s safe to say that this dub is perfectly passable (no funny business with the scripts as far as I could tell...screw you Funimation), but it’s nowhere near as good as the OG’s very underrated dub.

I’m not entirely informed on the process involved in cherry-picking the storylines to adapt from the light novels, however from my understanding, these storylines were voted on in some kind of popularity poll. If that’s true, then that just goes to show how much of a disconnect there is between producers and fans who have no idea how the “sausage is made.” The dozen or so storylines leave this adaptation feeling episodically inconsistent. Varying greatly in tone, scope, conflict, and characters, this adaptation feels as if it was only ever really interested in exploring the more shallow/surface level thematic elements in the individual countries.

There is a lot of squandered potential in these episodes, to say the least. For example, there was one particular episode that presented a pretty interesting moral quandary with a country that was constantly moving but in the process would trample and ruin other countries...however, most of the meatier content and thematic undertones are glossed over and played for comedy, shallow action, and a predictable/boring conflict. Despite the original adaptation’s similar approach of varied storylines, it at least provided a consistent utopian throughline that made each episode weave perfectly to create a consistent product. Tonally, this anime feels like a Jackson Pollock with shades of other shows thrown on a canvas that once resembled Kino’s Journey. Except I’d probably have more fun staring down a Jackson Pollock for 4 hours as opposed to wasting another 4 or so hours watching this show. Kino’s is often considered slow and thinky, which on its own isn’t necessarily a valid criticism as much as it is a matter of taste. Kino’s (2017) wasn’t slow or thinky in its execution as much as it was dull and uninteresting which is one of the biggest crimes for a self-contained episodic series.

To an extent, I agree with the sentiment that Kino serves as more of a neutral framing device to the actual star of the show, the titular journey itself. She is androgynous because her gender doesn’t matter (see my grievance with her character model), her age is vague, and her backstory is seldom explored because it has little importance to where she is now. However, there is one problem with this adaptation’s interpretation of Kino...SHE IS HARDLY THERE TO EVEN BE A FRAMING DEVICE. Sigsawa’s minimalist approach to Kino’s characterization is deliberate, she is our wish fulfillment and wanderlust incarnate, our eyes for this exploration into the deceptively darker side of humanity. Taking the character model out of the equation, they only really got HALF of her character right. Kino was not there to be the eyes for the audience, and when she was there she only half-assed her role. It’s like when Brando showed up to Apocalypse Now overweight and needing his lines fed. Kino aside, there are no compelling or noteworthy characters to speak of. Shizu, Tii, and Riku are hardly worth mentioning were it not worth noting that they are relegated to secondary protagonists in “Kino’s Journey”.

When the best episodes of your reboot/remake are the ones that were practically shot for shot reskins of their original counterpart, there’s a problem. Kino’s Journey is a source material rife with content that would’ve made for excellent food for thought had it been in better hands. Some of that content was explored in this anime but ultimately handled with little care, making for a half-baked soulless product. Utterly devoid of any nuance or didactic philosophical charm that the original provided in spades, Kino’s (2017) was a sorry attempt at streamlining the source. The only subtlety to be found in Kino’s (2017) is its subtle crawl towards commercial territory. Sadly, some of the episodes are mostly above average in quality when compared to a typical gimmick ridden, thrown together, edge-biting seasonal. Despite that grading curve, I cannot award this show more than its individual merits will allow. I love Kino’s but this just wasn’t up to the expectations that were previously set.