The Blank Character: Kino’s Journey

Kino’s Journey is one of those stories where the journey is the purpose of the ride, if you catch my meaning. Kino, on her talking motorcycle Hermes, drives from country to country experiencing the nature of each country.

Kino is what I call a blank character. We don’t know a lot about her: her design is androgynous (in fact, she is frequently called “boy”), she always wears the same clothes, she accepts the rules of each place without comment. Her personality is flat, and so is her voice: she never loses her cool, or seems especially excited about anything. She does not seem to have any interests except practicing her quick draw techniques, which she does frequently. There’s not a lot of “there” there.

She seems to have neither goal nor destination. The only rule she seems to follow is that she must leave each country after three days and she has this rule only because “a man once said it.” (The man, of course, was Benjamin Franklin. “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Old Ben should have invented the refrigerator instead of the lighting rod.)

If you look at the show as being about Kino, it’s actually kind of dull.

That’s because the show isn’t about Kino. It’s about the lands she visits.

Each of the lands is an allegory of some kind. In the first, murder is not against the law – because the citizens protect themselves against murderers. (The National Rifle Association would love that: It’s the old “good guy with a gun” trope.) In the second they have the equivalent of gladiatorial games to entertain the despotic new king, who Kino obligingly whacks. There is a giant walking country. They get to a land where people are given virtue points to offset against their crimes. And so on.

Kino’s value as a “blank” character lies in the fact that being blank allows her to see the worlds she visits for what they are instead of what she wants them to be. She has no goals, and so she is neither excited nor disappointed when she discovers what lies at the heart of each country. She is flat and emotionless, so she avoids highs and lows in her responses, thereby not making judgements.

Kino's Journey

Kino, on Hermes. This is about as excited as she gets.

And that is what the creators seem to want. She is the protagonist, such as she is, and the show is told from her point of view; it would be easy for an audience to look at the countries she sees – which, again, are allegories – and adopt her judgements of them as their own.

By making Kino “blank,” the creators allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about each land, and the rules that underlie each of them.

Because Kino has no goal except to keep moving, Kino’s Journey can go anywhere as a journey and goes nowhere as a plot. There is no logical point at which Kino’s story ends; she leaves each country, but her meta-plot has no denouement.

In certain ways Kino is the opposite of Yuu and Chi from Girls Last Tour. She does the same as they do: all three of them are exploring their worlds, finding new places to see. But Chi and Yuu respond to their landscape; they see it with a sense of wonder that we are expected to share. Kino just watches, sometimes a participant as circumstances dictate, sometimes an actor, sometimes acted upon, but always outside of it.

That’s what a blank character does: they look at the world, allowing the audience to look at it with them. But by being blank, they act like a window, letting the audience see the world directly, without interpretation. (They also act like a window in that you can only see what small part of the world is visible through it; the character can’t be everywhere at once.)

A creator does that to say, “Look at the world I have created.” In the case of Kino’s Journey, it’s “Look at the worlds I have created.”

It ain’t really about Kino. She’s just there to watch. In fact, she’s so blank that the plot wanders off on arcs that she barely appears in.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, yeah, it’s allegory, but as with a lot of the philosophical stuff in anime it’s not exactly deep. So we end up with worlds that are cool to look at but not very deep as ideas. But at least the creator does us the courtesy of letting us make our own decisions about each country. And they do that by making Kino a blank character.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

2 thoughts on “The Blank Character: Kino’s Journey

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Kino, but from what I remember I would agree that she is more of an inciting incident then she really is a protagonist, meaning her arrival is why we’re there. Though I seem to remember one arc where she had some sort of reaction. I’ll have to go back and watch it.

    It seems to me that we don’t really get characters like Kino in Western shows. I mean occasionally they show up in Western fiction, but even then they bring some sort of judgement to the table.

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    1. Yes, in the last episode or two they go into her backstory, before she’s on the road, and in that arc she’s engaged with the plot.

      I don’t think we see protagonists like Kino often in any country. I know what you mean: The Man with No Name (“Joe”) from A Fistful of Dollars is clearly an outsider and watching what is going on without making external evaluation, but he also clearly has an agenda. (It’s the same as Yojimbo’s in Yojimbo, since it’s the same character 🙂 ). Part of a protagonist’s job generally is to drive the meta-plot to conclusion; Kino’s Journey has no meta-plot so Kino doesn’t have to do that. That makes it a lot easier 🙂

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