Character Analysis: Kino

I liked Kino’s Journey even though the main character, Kino their own self, was so … well … neutral is the best way I can describe them, that the series wanders away to other protagonists – Shizu comes to mind – just to keep things moving.

But it’s Pride month – GOOD! Whoever you are, whatever you are, you be you – and so people are posting lists of “Favorite LGBTQIA+ Characters.” Fair enough. People who want role models should know where to find them.

Kino’s name popped up on several of them.

I was interested in Kino because they’re what we call a “Blank character;” the real point of Kino’s Journey is to reveal the worlds that Kino visits, and to reveal them fairly Kino has to stand back outside them and observe. If they projected more personality into the show, they’d bias our observations of those worlds.

But if you think of them as a character who is, broadly speaking, queer, no offense to anyone intended, you know, those people may have a point.

Kino’s face looks feminine and they have an alto voice like a girl, but they dress and act like a boy. In particular, they’re also a gunslinger just like Clint Eastwood or Lee van Cleef or Charles Bronson or John Wayne or Alan Ladd … Well, you get the point. They’re all male. Kino fulfills a male gender role and dresses male, unlike, say, Nadie from El Cazador de la Bruja, who is also a Gunslinger Girl but wears feminine clothing.

Let me take this a step further. In my biz (Communication) there’s a field of study called semiotics, which is the study of the deeper meaning of verbal and visual imagery. I don’t believe in a lot of the BS semiotics cooks up because it often comes down to the opinion of the scholar making the argument, but let me do that right now just to let the Freudian cat out of the bag:

Among other things, Kino carried two pistols, one of them a Colt revolver they call “Cannon.”

Kino wielding her other pistol, Woodsman

Okay, you know that pistols are often regarded as surrogate penises, right? That’s actually a running gag in an old Burt Reynolds movie called City Nights. Burt and Clint Eastwood keep pulling out larger and larger pistols, one-uping each other, and we’re supposed to get the joke that their pistol represent their (ahem) Johnsons.

In the movie Burt’s was bigger. I have to suspect Clint beat him out IRL.

So one thing we know about Kino is that they use Cannon to practice their quick draws. They pull the pistol from the holster and put it back, and does that repeatedly.

Pistol out, pistol in. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In.

If I was the best known semiotician, Arthur Asa Berger, I could have a field day with that.

So they have a surrogate penis. There, I said it.

If you think that’s smutty, consider that they are often astride Hermes, who projects a male personality. See? If you believe in this semiotics stuff, you can see sex anywhere!

Kino is explicitly female in certain ways. It’s near the end of the series we meet them as a child, and they’re manifestly a little girl. They wear a dress, are cute with big brown eyes, have a girl’s voice and a girlish giggle. They’re presenting as a girl then.

But they run away from home on Hermes, and becomes who they are.

To say that Kino is sexually ambiguous understates the point by an order of magnitude or so. Yes, they wore dresses as a child, but now that they are grown Kino is flat-chested, narrow-hipped, and wears trousers. Other characters routinely call them a boy even after Kino tells them not to, because they looks more like a twelve-year-old boy than anything else.

It’s not explicit what Kino’s sexuality is, but if you break down the various categories I’m voting for Asexual. They show no romantic/sexual interest in boys. They shows no romantic/sexual interest in girls. In fact, romance does not seem to figure in their life, apart from Hermes, whom they tease gently.

Further, no one shows interest in Kino as a romantic or sexual partner. Sometimes they want to kill Kino. Sometimes they want Kino to kill for them. Several people like Kino and several people fear Kino, but no one seems to want Kino.

The complete lack of romance as a motivation is actually one of the really refreshing elements of Kino’s Journey. Kino is doing what they do because they are a fully actualized human being, not because they are a girl looking for a boy. Or a girl looking for a girl. Or a girl presenting as a boy looking for a partner of any kind. They’re not looking for romance. They’re looking at the world.

I find that fair. Kino is on a journey of discovery, and they explicitly want to see the world. The one rule of their life is that they must keep moving, and so they move on. They’re not looking for love and if they happened to find it in their perambulations, it would subvert them as a character.

Kino’s Ace. That works. It keeps their sexual identity out of the way of their story. And if people out there look at Kino and say, “Yes, that works for me and my life,” more power to them. Kino’s a good, strong role model. You could do a lot worse.

In keeping with the premise of this post I tried to be sure to use the plural pronouns “they/them” to maintain the ambiguity of Kino’s gender. If I have slipped up somewhere, I apologize.

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.

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