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.
In another world, there exist many countries, each with different cultures, customs, and traditions. From technological marvels to folk legends, each location yields a vast wealth of insight of its people: their hopes and their dreams, their failures and fears. Kino is a traveler whose goal is to visit as many new places as possible, learning about others' ways of life, but also making sure to stay clear of their affairs. Together with the talking motorrad Hermes, Kino sets out to explore the beautiful world and meet its inhabitants, wherever they may be.
Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!