My shorthand way of describing Kino’s Journey is that it’s Aesop’s Fables the Anime. The characters do not act like real humans, nor do their dialogue and actions seem like those of normal humans. That is because it is not a story about people. It’s a story about society. It’s about democracy and religion and work and the things we take for granted because we do not question these societal constructs.
The story follows Kino, a perfectly nice fellow as he travels from country to country on his talking motorbike, staying in each country for only 3 days. The importance behind the 3 day rule is that it is enough time for Kino to see the country and understand its traditions and customs from all angles, but too short a time to have any influence on proceedings. Kino remains detached from proceedings, only asking the probing questions to get to the heart of why these customs came to be.
Kino’s Journey will force you to reconsider your view of the world through its weird parables. The writing is unrealistic and doesn’t flow like natural dialogue should, but that’s not the point. It’s structured in a way to reveal the fallacies behind the world the character’s live in. Every country Kino visits has its own structure that you can obviously see has serious issues, but during the course of each character’s conversation with Kino, it gets straight to the heart of why it is they do not notice the irony of their society’s structure. “None of our people die in war” is a very specific way of phrasing the mindset behind why an extremely powerful country and its equally powerful neighbour can happily slaughter the technologically inferior country and still think they’re living in a more peaceful world. A rather eerie parallel to first world country foreign policy.
Not every episode gets it right though. Episodes 8 through to 11 didn’t do much to light my fire. Particularly the episode about the book censorship and the resistance movement was a complete mess. It did have the odd good scene. I loved the shot of the critics, a bunch of stuffy self-righteous people trapped inside a single room inside a large tower with their only audience being each other. But nothing came together and all its messages got completely mixed up. But thankfully the show made up for this poor run with the last two episodes being arguably the best in the series. Episode 12, the one about how the two advanced countries stopped everyone dying in war, was my favourite of the whole series.
Kino’s Journey is timeless, and could honestly work in whatever format it’s in. Sure the anime itself works. The artwork is unique enough to stand out, stylised enough not to age, and reserved enough to take a back seat to the storytelling. But Kino’s Journey could be live action, a manga, a novel, a flipbook, scribbled on a public bathroom door, and it would still work. It’s themes are universal as long as humanity exists. You might need to change the talking motorbike to a talking hoverboard in the future and change the railroad the three men are working a completely meaningless job on to a friction-free hyper-gravitational pneumatic tube, but there will always be people working completely pointless jobs and not questioning why it is they’re doing it. There will always be people following the beliefs of someone above them despite their obvious stupidity simply because that person they idolise said it was true. There will always be war.
So long as these things still exist, Kino’s Journey will still be relevant.