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Kino's Journey (2003)

Kino is a traveller with a rule that 3 days and nights are enough to get a feel for another country. Almost at random or informed by other travellers, Kino arrives at a new country to experience the best or worst that it has to offer. Along the way, Kino and Hermes meet other travellers who always want to exchange stories. This is a journey that is part quest for knowledge, part soul searching and part spiritual for both them and us

I became aware of Kino's Jouney after buying a CD of Mikuni Shimokawa's music which had the theme tune to Full Metal Panic and, unbeknownst to me Kino's Journey. Watching the ADV trailers on one of the DVDs I had purchased I recognised the song and thought the show looked interesting. It was certainly different from what I was watching at the time. Even now it retains a unique sense of style. Had it not been for the theme tune I might have skipped this show altogether.

Kino's Journey is based on a set of light novels (of which there are 21 to date) written by Keiichi Sagasawa and illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi. The 13 episode anime series was released in 2003 was directed by Ryūtarō Nakamura. The premise of the show is very simple. Kino is a traveller and is on a road trip to visit as many countries as possible. Only 3 days (2 nights) are spent in each country but that is enough to get a flavour of each location and perhaps not become too attached the people.

This journey premise or conceit facilitates an episode of the week style of show where Kino meets a cast of characters from rogues to inventors via slave traders and automatons. In every encounter, Kino seems to be on a quest for more knowledge and understanding of not only of the world, but the people in it. Kino comes across as a bit emotionless or flat but being on the journey experiences a plethora of emotions from across the spectrum. Is the emotional quest also part of the motivation to stay on the journey?

Kino's Journey is set in a strange world. It is neither futuristic nor historic. It is a world that encompasses almost every potential setting without it seeming strange. For me, it worked because Kino travels to new countries and each has its very own unique personality. It is the journey between countries that seems to provide the glue that holds it all together. Kino rides through luscious forests only stopping to marvel at the scenery or picking which path to take along the road.

Reflecting on it Kino's Journey is quite difficult to categorise. It's not quite a slice-of-life show, it's not fantasy, historical/period-drama. It's also not science fiction but somehow incorporates all of these elements into a very pleasing whole. The journey is shared with Hermes, a talking motorbike. Hermes provides a much-needed foil for Kino and expresses views much more in line with the audience. Where Kino remains detached and tries not to influence the people she meets, Hermes advocates getting involved, showing a wider range of emotion.

With each new country Kino visits what unfolds feels like a classic fable - some more overt than others, but each with its moral at the end. I have to say that at times these fables ventured into dark places, like all good fables should, but as an adult I was surprised just how dark they got.

The show explores ideas related to corporate waste, consequences of technological advancement, social media (before it was a thing), the cost of peace between nations, humanity, following your dreams, democracy and censorship. I particularly enjoyed the tale where all citizens within a country could read each other's thoughts and what that meant for privacy and relationships - it seemed relevant to now with our always-connected societies. Another that stuck with me was the story of how two neighbouring countries had achieved "peace", the lengths that they went to and the value placed on human life.

The ideas explored within each episode I often associate with the science fiction of Aldous Huxley if that helps put it in context or a frame of reference. In most of the episodes, an idea is taken and built on in a logical manner. Sometimes the development of the idea felt sinister and the endpoint ... extreme but looking back on it how it got there made total sense. Each episode gives us just enough time to explore its key theme but occasionally I wanted a bit more time to explore it further. That said, the one two-part story left less of an impression than the other tales.

The character designs are fine and the world is very pretty but they won't blow you away. The simple designs are animated well enough. The visual part of the show does what it needs to but nothing more. The soundtrack and soundscape is sparse - a style I particularly enjoy. It is a quiet show with a gentle folk-like musical arrangement overlaid. For the more introspective moments, often when a question is posed in text on the screen, feature a kind of choral arrangement over them. This helped create an other-worldly feel to the proceedings.

Perhaps the most striking element of Kino's Journey is the feeling in impresses on you when watching and how it lingers in your mind. Whilst watching I did feel something akin to the wonder that Kino experienced in each new world and also a sense of melancholy after. This happened as I found myself mulling over the episode. It was a show I found I needed a bit of quiet time afterwards to fully appreciate it. It is a quiet, thoughtful show which remarkable invites and leads the viewer to draw parallels in our world with what we have just seen.

Kino's Journey manages to capture the wonder of a personal journey and draws the viewer in with them. The animation and character designs are serviceable, neither enhancing and most importantly not detracting from the story. The wide-ranging stories are always interesting and thought-provoking. There are some real standouts with much relevance to the past, present and future. It's not quite dystopian but you can see how some countries in Kino's world could get there. With sparse action, this is definitely a show you feel which is not for everyone.

FROM Anime Ltd
13 Episodes [TV Series]

IN A NUTSHELL: Kino's Journey balances exploration, the wondrous variety of the world and a touching sense of melancholy