Anime Reviews: Kino's Journey
It may not be the most spectacular visual marvel in town, but when it comes to good writing and expert storytelling, Kino's Journey has very little competition.
Title: Kino's Journey a.k.a. Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World a.k.a. Kino's Journey: The Beautiful World
Production: A.C.G.T. / GENCO
Series Length: 13 episodes
Air Dates: 4/8/2003 to 7/8/2003
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: "Whenever people watch birds flying through the sky, they get the urge to go on a journey." These words from a long-forgotten speaker have inspired Kino to leave her old life behind and set out on a journey of her own. Armed with a revolver and a laser-sighted pistol, Kino travels to every country, city, and hermitage she can in order to see all that there is to see in this world, accompanied only by her partner, Hermes, a high-tech motorcycle built with a unique personality and the ability to speak. With only the limitation of visiting for a maximum of three days, the two travel together to the ends of the earth, to see just how beautiful the world truly is.
The Good: Unique and enthralling setting; thought-provoking stories and characters
The Bad: Artwork is a bit bland
The Ugly: Walking into this series not knowing how disturbing it gets. No, I'm not bitter.
Y'know, this really isn't my kind of show. Much like Haibane Renmei, this is a series that is all about world-building and exploration, with very little emphasis on character arcs and ongoing plotlines. This does not mean I don't like them--far from it--but I generally prefer seeing characters change over time and having a large, complex plot unfold before me. Series like Kino's Journey are a breath of fresh air every once in a while, but any more than that and I'll be permanently drained. It's just not my kind of show, y'know? But this isn't about me...okay, it partially is, but this is also about you! Is this the kind of thing I'd recommend to you? Let's find out~
First of all, the world. Man, this world is a joy to be in. Every episode (save for the second half of the two-parter) features a new city or location that simply captures the imagination. From the City of Books with its mushroom-shaped citadel where scholars pore through books, to the City of Pleasure where aristocrats live in luxury while the poor live in the sewers, to the Land of Wizards where an ancient scholar once lived and left behind his mysterious writings, to even a City of Machines where people never have to do any work, there is always a new location in each episode, and each one is just as interesting as the last. Even in the final episode, in a village that is as normal as normal can be, there is still something wondrous to see.
That's not all, however; the locations themselves may be infinitely interesting, but there are other aspects to the world that keep it vibrant and interesting. For example, the many almost-futuristic machines strewn about, among them being Hermes. Hermes is what's known as a "motorrad," a type of motorcycle that is programmed with artificial intelligence and with a unique personality. And that's just so cool! The technology each country possesses varies wildly, too, from full-on lifelike androids to Da Vinci-style flying machines. We also get a glimpse of each city's customs and traditions, from performing brain surgery on children aged 12 to become more acclimated to doing unpleasant tasks, to honoring those with knowledge of agriculture as "mages," and even to very, very disturbing styles of warfare (what the hell, man?!). All in all, Kino's Journey is a just as much a journey for us the viewer as it is for Kino herself, and through both good and bad, it is a journey worth taking.
But even with its inventive and imaginative setting, where Kino's Journey truly shines is with its writing, particularly in the individual stories that make up each episode. As the title and my summary would suggest, each new episode takes place in an entirely new location, which means a new story for each one. And let's not mince words here: if you want to have your brain tickled by well thought-out stories with twists and turns all throughout, you've come to the right place. Nothing is ever as simple as it appears, and figuring out what exactly is going on is a treat in and of itself. The first episode has Kino entering a city where it seems only machines live, supplying her with cheap (but delicious) food and even cheaper (but even more luxurious) lodgings, but with her pocket scope, she sees that the town does, indeed, have humans living in it, too. They all live alone, far apart from their neighbors, and run screaming from any other human they see. The reason as to why is both unexpected and awesome (from a writer's standpoint), and the conclusion is profound and bittersweet. Excellent stuff.
Of course, as I will always maintain, good stories are worthless without good characters. We're still in the "The Good" section of my review, so you know exactly where I'm going with this. First off, can I just say how rare it is to see such well-written and attaching one-shot characters? Because wow, was I ever taken in by some of these. Most of them don't even have names, but you'll never forget them. At least, I won't. Particularly Sakura, the little girl from the final episode. Right in the feels, man! Right in the feels!
Obviously, our two main characters, Kino and Hermes, are the stars of the show, both in terms of being the leads and being characters I legitimately wanted to spend more time with. The writers walk a very difficult tightrope, where neither character truly changes as the series progresses, but they're just so interesting and vividly-realized that they feel like real people--and one of them's a motorcycle, for crying out loud! Kino may not change as the series goes on, which means we don't get to see an arc, but what we do get instead is a very subtle unraveling reveal of her as a person; staring down someone in a one-on-one death match or witnessing the horror of a natural disaster doesn't change her at all, but what we the audience get is insight into how she reacts to such things.
Kino is already established and complete as a person, but since we know nothing about her at first, the carrot on the stick to keep me--I mean, us--interested is those moments where she reveals a bit more of her personality, her beliefs, her philosophies, and her interests. And the series does this masterfully. It also helps that Kino is just a straight-up strong female lead character, which is, sadly, rare in anime, with only a handful of others (like Saber and Lina) to keep her company.
If I had to pick out a flaw with the series (as I must), it would have to be the rather lackluster artwork. Character designs vary wildly, to the point where some people just flat-out look like aliens compared to their peers, and the backgrounds seem rushed and sloppy a lot of times. In fact, the only time I felt the series really stepped up its game in the art department was in the "Coliseum" two-parter episodes, and surprise surprise, those are the big action-oriented episodes. Now, the artwork isn't entirely offensive and blasphemous to the series surrounding it (like it was in Fantastic Children), but it may turn some viewers away. Sucks to be them.
And that's Kino's Journey. Or at least, that's all I can help you with. The series is also rife with philosophy and complex themes, but I can't help you there; those are for you to pick up on, explore, and piece together. All I can do is tell you that my own journey with the series was both fruitful and enriching, and to compel you to follow suit--to start your very own journey through what has become a cult classic in the anime community. As I've said before, this isn't usually my kind of series, but true greatness is something that transcends personal preference.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. With a sprawling, engaging setting and masterfully-written stories and characters, Kino's Journey is pure brain candy that should inspire any anime fan to partake in its greatness.