After a long hiatus from my regular anime viewing due to school, I was a bit skeptical of picking it back up by watching a story about a girl traveling around the world with a talking motorcycle. It sounded boring, plain, and dull no matter how many tens of times people told me otherwise. Yet, within the first fifteen minutes of watching Kino no Tabi, I quickly acquired a profound respect for the series in lieu of all my previous misconceptions. Despite plain animation, a sparse musical score, a lack of a coherent storyline, and loosely developed characters, the series caries a magnificence, a charm, that easily earns it a place amidst my top anime. Kino no Tabi is a humble, thought-provoking journey through the human epic -- a deep exploration of some of mankind's greatest questions portrayed through brilliant allegory and fable.
One of Kino no Tabi's greatest appeals, though, is its purposeful ambiguity in answering the questions it raises. While speaking to one of my friends the other day, he raised a very good point regarding this, saying, "The best form of symbolism is the type that you don't recognize until the end, after which you can go back and say ‘Now, what did that mean?'" While there is a vast abundance of symbolism and imagery scattered throughout the series' thirteen episodes, all of it falls under this retrospective category; there are no "look at me, I'm symbolic!" moments obtrusively shoved in your face. As such, Kino no Tabi's beauty is entirely subjective, as each individual experiences and relates to the questions differently.
But enough of my flattering the series. Regarding the actual story content of Kino no Tabi, it revolves around a somewhat stoic girl, Kino, as she passes through different countries in a fictional world inhabited by humans. At her side is a talking motorcycle by the name of Hermes who foils her inquiries about the human race by adding non-human perspective. The two journey to a number of countries throughout the course of the series, usually one per episode, but sometimes two or more, in order to learn about the cultures and traditions of their world. While the series revolves around her interactions with the native populaces, categorically she's much more an indifferent observer rather than an active participant. Over the course of the travels she stumbles upon heart-warming, tragic, and even downright appalling encounters, all of which call into question the very fabrics and workings of the human psyche. Yet, while each country's traditions seem to borderline on absurd and irrational, I found it quite interesting to note just how commonplace some of these processes of thought actually are - it's quite disturbing when, in a number of scenes, you can tell yourself, "Hey, I relate to that."
Unlike crap like, say, Serial Experiments Lain where every other second some sort of pseudo-symbolic image is thrown up on the screen for you to supposedly gawk at as brilliant, Kino no Tabi's presentation is very calm and subtle. While the quality of the animation isn't exactly stunning, I think the series would have lost some of its charm had its style been changed. It carries a storybook-like quality to it which, given the context of the series, fits like a glove. A number of times throughout the series I felt as if I were reading a book and not watching an anime series, which, in my opinion, greatly contributed to the faintly surreal atmosphere that the writers were aiming to create.
Another reason the series carried a book-like feeling to it was the relative absence of music throughout much of the series. Aside from poignant opening and ending songs, there are only a handful of insert tracks, though all are superbly orchestrated. The phrase "silence is golden" comes to mind as the lack of music in many scenes contributes to their power; likewise, the very selective choice of music in other scenes equally highlights exceptionally important moments. If I had one word to describe the musical score of Kino no Tabi, it would be "masterful." There's nothing too spectacular about the voice acting, but again Kino's indifference is an essential part of her character so it's tough to really fault the series for this.
It's hard to really break down the characters score as there isn't a focus on any one character. Kino and Hermes are really the only consistent presence, and even then they haven't many particulars to talk about. Kino no Tabi's eloquence is carried primarily by the individuals present in each of its stories and no so much Kino herself. As such, the lack of depth-driven characterization isn't really a weakness, but rather a strength. Kino's personal detachment allows for the viewer to interpret the scenes without the bias of the writers, and given that this was the intention of the series to begin with, I have no complaints.
I sift through a lot of anime in search of series like Kino no Tabi, but ultimately it's well worth the wait. For those who enjoy thought-provoking, intricate anime, this is not one to be missed. This is definitely an inspiration to wade through the many other series I have lined up to watch over Christmas break, so hopefully I'll have more reviews up for your reading pleasure over the next few weeks. If you haven't had the chance to watch it yet, I'd highly recommend putting it on the top of your Christmas wish list - I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
For Kino's Journey, a much more succinct praise than anything I can come up with can be found, quite simply, in AnimeNfo’s average score. The series is, in essence, a thinker’s anime. There is no real overarching plot, no fanservice, and very little action throughout the show… and yet, Kino no Tabi nonetheless carries a score of 9.0. That Kino no Tabi can simultaneously have intelligence and broad appeal speaks for how amazing it truly is.
In short, this 13 episode series is a brilliant philosophical journey. The plot is primarily episodic, something that I usually despise; each episode has our protagonist traveling to a different town, and each town has its own unique custom. However, this somewhat regular structure didn’t end up bothering me at all. Though the stories are more often than not very simple, this does not stop them from being remarkably deep, for the towns each mirror a different part of human nature. From fanaticism to bloodlust to greed, Kino no Tabi seems almost bottomless in its range of behavior.
Given the seemingly random personality traits found in each town, does Kino no Tabi have an overarching theme? Absolutely - this anime is in love with the human race, with every facet of humanity. Although these facets are often ugly and contemptible, Kino no Tabi seems to love the imperfections as much as the positive attributes. As the anime says at the end of the first episode, “The world is not beautiful: and that, in a way, lends it a sort of beauty.”
Kino no Tabi even manages to be fantastic from a technical standpoint. Animation is vivid, fluid, and outstanding from an artistic perspective. Character designs carry with them a sense of unfathomable warmth, and scenes of violence, when they do occur, are very well done. Oftentimes what is most impressive about a particular scene is not the amount of money that was used to make it (as is the case with just about any Gonzo anime), but with the immense creativity with which it is drawn. The animators aren’t afraid to take the unconventional approach to creating images, and the product shines as a result.
As for sound, many seem to be marking down slightly due to the lack of a traditional OST; instead of standard BGM, the soundtrack is underscored with largely ambient music. However, this in the end works perfectly in maintaining the philosophical mood; a flashier, Noir-esque music track would have ultimately distracted from the show’s mind-expanding vignettes. Voice acting remains superb throughout the entirety of the series, and sound effects compliment the infrequent action scenes well.
At the center of each humanistic fable is Kino, the main character of the show. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, this is an amazing character. Perhaps Kino's almost unsurpassed detachment from the events that are transpiring grant the character a sense of infinite wisdom, or perhaps the protagonists total rejection of gender roles, prejudice and hatred imply an honor that almost no one can truly have. Either way, the character remains simultaneously charismatic and enigmatic, and does a lot to carry the show. Kinos partner, named Hermes, is an amusing and candid individual who works well as a conversation partner. Surrounding the two are a remarkably diverse array of human beings, with even the minor characters portrayed with perceptiveness and intelligence.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I absolutely love this series; Kino no Tabi is one of the best anime that I have seen or will see for some time. I can (and will) recommend this to just about anybody; no anime as of yet has been so consistently rewarding to watch. In fact, my only real complaint with the show is that not enough people have seen it.
Kino's Journey is a brilliant and intelligent exposition of the many facets of humanity. The audience follows Kino and Hermes, her talking motorrad, as they travel through various fictional countries learning of other cultures and peoples. Each of the 13 episodes is one or more self-contained short stories which explore a particular idea or theme through the eyes of Kino. These short philosophical vignettes are shockingly discomfiting, as they push the audience to face up to many unpleasant aspects of human nature.
Sigsawa Keiichi deserves much credit for his courageous avant-garde style. Kino's Journey holds a mirror to its audience – a satirical reflection of humanity's shortcomings – surprisingly, not to criticise, but rather to pay tribute to the beauty of human imperfection. It is an oft-emphasised theme in the anime, and best expressed by the phrase "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is", which shows up several times over the course of the 13 episodes. It is important to reiterate that all events in the anime are seen from Kino's perspective – that of the detached observer. This is, in fact, one of the story's greatest strengths: Kino's Journey is not so much judgemental as it is expositional. It invites viewers to combine their own experiences with those of Kino to produce a unique interpretation of each vignette.
The animation quality is superb. Kino's Journey seamlessly combines contrasting visual elements to create the disquieting atmosphere of absurdity which permeates the series. For example, many of the vignettes are drawn to be evocative of fairytale settings and told in the structure of a children's story. Many parts of Kino's Journey are strangely reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, only much more macabre. Thus, it is always disconcerting to realise that the original "fable" has somewhere transformed into a dark and disturbing tale resembling a nightmare. All this is achieved imperceptibly through the use of clever and provocative visuals.
The voice acting is an unforgettable part of Kino's Journey. Not because of any standout performance in a dramatic scene – there is little drama to speak of – but because the pacing of speech, the subtle use of silence and pauses add enormously to the sensation of surrealism when watching the anime. The soundtrack is pretty, but not memorable. Given the ponderous nature of this anime, the formula works exceedingly well, as an overbearing and catchy soundtrack is bound to detract from the most important part of Kino's Journey, the picture story and the brilliant dialogue. High quality sound effects give the different fantastic locations visited by Kino their authenticity.
Characters are not the main focus of this anime. Even Kino and Hermes are not so much protagonists as they are merely a lens through which the audience experiences the different events which occur throughout the story. Surprisingly, this lack of emphasis works incredibly well with the story. Kino adopts the role of the impartial and sagacious observer, with Hermes as a talkative sidekick and foil. In this way, the memorable duo travel from country to country, giving and changing as little as possible, and taking only their experiences and memories with them as they leave. A simple and elegant partnership which is surprisingly deep and well-developed over the course of the anime.
Kino's Journey is visual poetry. The thrill of continuing from episode to episode does not come from suspense or action; rather, it is inherently rewarding to be audience to such art and ideas. It should be abundantly obvious that Kino's Journey targets a mature audience looking for something clever and thought-provoking, rather than the run-of-the-mill combat anime. Therefore, even though Kino's Journey is not an anime with a wide appeal, it should delight those who give it a chance to shine.
Some girl and her bike travel around to weird places…
Kino no Tabi (KNT) is loved by many for its atmosphere and imagery, yet at the same time it is not a series for mass viewing. In fact, in some ways it is not even a series. Let me start by saying that I highly liked its concept and most of the countries in it were very interesting to look into. At the same time it is not a show you will watch for its plot or characters as everything is pretty much a passive observation of dystopian societies.
A very simple way to describe KNT is to call it INTERESTING but not ENTERTAINING. Although it can be entertaining by being interesting, it can’t be the other way around. You see, most people distinguish a series from a documentary by the simple fact that a series will have active characters, affecting the plot in one way or another, learning and changing along the way. KNT is not about that; it literally is a collection of unrelated stories and we are just witnessing the heroine passively observing the societies she travels through. They are interesting societies alright, making you think and ponder about the folly of mankind. And that is all they are. Nothing more.
Eventually, the thing I didn’t like at all in this series is its absence of characters. And no, I don’t mean there are no people in it. There are, hundreds of them, and they are all nothing but short termed peons, plot devises to tell a story without ever affecting it. Just look at the very name of the series. It is not called “Kino journeys the world”; it is “Kino’s Journey”. That means Kino is not important; her journey is. Meaning, people in this series have no control over their lives; they are just passively living their puny little lives and tolerating their pathetic lifestyles, die and fade away in cynicism. That makes the SITUATION interesting, the society or lifestyle, but surely you won’t give a damn about the characters living in them. Heck, you will barely remember their names or faces but their dystopia will be crystal clear. I understand that eventually all these societies were made by people and in a way it is mankind actively inviting its doom. Yet it is all completely faceless since you don’t care about the people. Heck, in real life social structures you can at least remember and study the founders and their main followers. Russian Communism for example has Marx, then Stalin and Lenin and Gorbatchof. Studying those guys is like witnessing the evolution and downfall of the ideal non-class society. It may be an idea but you still see the people behind it. Well you don’t see that with this show; you just see these political systems that appear to be there since the dawn of time. Who made them, why, where, how, all these are never explained.
Before you call me a snob, you must understand that I like unorthodox series and this is in many ways one of those. Many like it for its mature themes and as such more work should be used to explain its in-works. After all, it is supposed to be interesting, thus it has more to do with thinking and less with feeling. Yet eventually it doesn’t; it ends up being just another light show about unexplained situations. No matter how smart or interesting it appears to be, it still is nothing but vaguely presented good ideas. I came to view them as a “what if” series. Something like “What if Hitler had won WWII” or “What if I was an 80 year old rich black woman from Mars”. Yes, very interesting but that is all it is. Where is the development of the idea? Its roots, planning and results? Nowhere, it is just an idea.
The story itself falls under the same logic. It is a line of interesting “what ifs” and nothing more; unrelated stories of dystopias. Good in theory but nothing much in practice without interaction or development.
The heroine too follows the same logic. She is a girl who doesn’t like her simple boring life and just travels the world with her talking bike (lol, why was that even included?). Everywhere she goes by, she just witnesses the people living in weird societies that seem to have forgotten basic moral or logical norms and now decay in misery. I originally liked her motto in life. “If you don’t like your society, then travel”. Which is a lot harder than it seems as most people don’t want to leave their puny lifestyles and change even when they see their doom closing in. Again, it is interesting but doesn’t develop in any way since she is, too, nothing but a passive plot devise.
What is even worse about her is how she seems to have broken powers for no reason. How the hell did a little girl become so good in battle or in the use of weaponry? She had no training at all. How does a girl even manage to find food and shelpter if she constantly moves? It’s as if the scriptwriter himself lets her be almighty without excusing it, just so she will survive no matter what, throw out some moral monologue and then ride towards the sundown, making the viewers go wild with her cool attitude. Well excuse me for not falling for such cheap gimmicks. I don’t find her frozen personality or her Deus ex powers or her talking bike cool at all if she is unbeatable for no reason. Kenshiro, beat her up! In fact, I even ended up disliking the whole RUN AWAY FORM YOUR PROBLEMS attitude of the show. How about staying home and just dealing with them? What is this fear of responsibilities supposed to be telling us? Run away from your problems like some indecisive harem lead? Screw this neo-otaku attitude.
Anyways, it is not a bad documentary of fictional dystopias but it sure is an unexciting adventure series. The production values ain’t bad but definitely lack super slick filters or mindfuck imagery to be deemed great; such a show could easily hold a ton of those. The characters don’t matter, the plot doesn’t matter, the stories are just unrelated interesting ideas. Unorthodox in overall but definitely not a masterpiece without some sort of development.
Now excuse me as I dodge my responsibilities with uncanny skills, ride my talking spaceship, make fun of my country’s bad economy and run away to Mars. SEE YA IN THE FLIP SIDE SUCKERS!!!
… that is what this show is telling you to do. How interesting…
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 7/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (loose)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 1/2 (nice presentation but too many hax powers)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 2/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 1/2 (generic)
Backdrop 0/2 (none)
Development 0/2 (none)
Catharsis 0/2 (none)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 3/4 (its idea is generally interesting to remember)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
Too low on appealing characters and not much of plot but does great on the emotional level.