Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino no Tabi (Tokyopop, 2006)

When we first meet Kino, she's an eleven year old in a nameless town, known by another name she's long since forgotten. A traveler comes to town in the days before she is to undergo the operation that will mark her passage to adulthood, setting into motion events that will change her life forever. By the end of that first chapter, "Grownup Country," Kino has forgone the operation; forsaken family, friends and home and adopted the former Kino's name, sentient motorcycle and occupation.

The remaining chapters of this first of eight volumes chronicle Kino's and Hermes' (said sentient motorcycle) travels' from city to city. It doesn't seem as if the pair have a set itinerary, although they do appear to travel to some locations intentionally. Not all the cities they reach are occupied, and even those that are . . . aren't necessarily good places to live. Kino has two principles that she adheres to, both gleaned from the original Kino: do not stay anywhere longer than three days, and do not attempt to change the local customs. There's usually some lesson Sigsawa is trying to get across in each chapter - they're often parable-like, but never didactic.

Intriguingly, no one bats an eye that Hermes is sentient and can talk. Kino takes him everywhere with her, including hotel rooms and museums, much as if he were a companion or pet, rather than a mode of transportation. And indeed, he is her constant company thorough the book, her philosophical sounding board and wisecracking sidekick (though never of the annoying Disney variety). The two are well-matched, even if not always of one mind.

There's no real sense of the passage of time, how long Kino and Hermes have been on the road. We know it's long enough that Kino has become an expert marksman with two types of guns. Yet she's still mistaken for a little boy on occasion. The cities in this unnamed land seem mostly far-flung and distant (save the warring pair of Veldeval and Relsumia - who have rather a unique, if appalling, solution to the problem of prolonged warfare), and the geography is varied (thick forests to desert wastelands). Presumably more of the picture will come out in the ensuing volumes.

Kino no Tabi is a delightful beginning to a series. While it is a Young Adult novel (part of Tokyopop's new Pop Fiction imprint), this adult was utterly entranced by the premise, and by Kino herself). The issues presented in the chapters are not dumbed down for a younger audience, but are out there, front and center, to be thought about and discussed. And they're not easy issues for adults, let alone kids: parental responsibility, the "proper" way to wage war, the best way to implement a democracy, the price of citizenship. . . . Weighty matters indeed, yet entertainingly presented. An excellent beginning to both a series and an imprint!

[April Gutierrez]