34 CommentsFavourite and Forgotten / By Scamp /

2003 Anime: Kino’s Journey

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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.

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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.

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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.

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33 Comments

  1. just_passing_by
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    I loved how a lot of moments had multiple meanings to it, So you could rewatch it and experience something new.
    Really loved the ‘land of the adults’ episode.

  2. Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Episodes 2 and 12 are the best episodes of Kino’s Journey in showcasing what the show is all about, but my favorite is probably the last episode. It was only one of two personal stories concerning Kino, and it made a full circle on the nature of the journey they’ve been on, with little references to past episodes. In a way it was the most appropriate ending, but cemented the idea that Kino and Hermes could travel on forever.

    I agree, the content of Kino’s Journey is transcendent of medium. It sure made me look forward to the bold new possibilities light novel anime adaptations could bring :p

    • Scamp
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      2 is great, but weirdly the episode that stuck with me the most was the one about the guys on the railroad. Probably because it was the most divorced from reality so its themes stuck with me stronger.

      Also god yes, forgot Kino’s Journey was a light novel. Fucking hell how times have changed

      • Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

        Maybe it was just lucky all the early LN adpatations were so good. I mean Allison & Lillia was written by the same author as Kino’s Journey, and the anime was a steady stream of “what the flying fuck?!” I’m still not sure where the blame for that farce lies.

      • Scamp
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        Jesus Christ Allison & Lillia. What in gods name was that show? How could a show be that unbelievably stupid?

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      It was only one of two personal stories concerning Kino, and it made a full circle on the nature of the journey they’ve been on, with little references to past episodes. In a way it was the most appropriate ending, but cemented the idea that Kino and Hermes could travel on forever.

      With the most clever part being that the last episode is one of the first countries Kino visits, chronologically. The impact of that visit is quite visible in her further interactions with other countries, being the more distant Kino we know from the rest of the show. And of course the conclussion to the Beginner’s Luck chapter showing us how Kino survived the start of her journey.

  3. Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    OMG you called Kino a “he”, therefore your opinion is irrelevant.
    But seriously though I agree, it’s one of the best anime series ever, but I didn’t see so many of them to actually judge it.

    • Leah
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      I think he chooses to believe that Kino is trans, which is a valid interpretation.

      • Scamp
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        Actually on rewatch, I’ve come around again on that. Kino doesn’t seem to care whatever you call her. Her gender identity is never an issue. She’s just ‘Kino’. So since she doesn’t care either way, I just alternate depending on my mood.

      • jo
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        What, girls can’t drive around on motorcycles and be gender neutral without being trans?!

      • Anonymous
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        What the fuck Leah? That doesn’t even make any shred of sense. Gender identity is not an issue at all in the whole show. She’s female, a young woman. Kino however doesn’t care if someone mistakes her for a young man, she’s just Kino the traveller after all. Not Kino the transexual traveller.

        Most people tend to address Kino as ‘her’, because there’s also the other Kino she meets at a young age. He is a different person and appears to be male. It only makes sense then to use the proper words.

      • jo
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        I found Leah’s comment very strange since this review points out that Kino’s Journey highlights strange societal beliefs. One such strange belief would be that just because someone doesn’t conform to an exact stereotype of what their socially constructed gender role should be, it means that they are/want to be the other sex. It’s actually very offensive to assume that a non-feminine girl is mentally a man.

      • Leah
        Posted August 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        Hey hey hey, don’t jump at my throat, I asked him that a year ago or so and he told me he believed Kino might have been trans in one of the comments.
        I was only repeating what he said, and it would have been his right to believe that.
        Personally, I don’t really care what gender Kino is, as, as you mentioned, gender identity is not really an issue in this show. The light novels paint her a little more feminine anyway.
        Sorry if I caused anyone grief.

  4. Redcrimson
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    The book censorship episode has my favorite line in the show, where it not-so-subtly takes a swipe at waifuism and getting too attached to fictional characters.

    As an aside, am I the only one that thinks Kino is kinda hot in an androgynous tomboy kinda way?

    • Scamp
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      I never got why people find Kino attractive as a lady. She doesn’t look like a lady. You’re probably gay. Gaaaaaay

    • lmm
      Posted August 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      No, you’re not.

  5. Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Kino’s Journey is one of my top favorite anime–it’s so easy to watch again and again, enjoy it every time, and even feel good about it because it leaves you with very interesting topics to think about. I personally loved every episode, and would be ecstatic if another season was ever made. There certainly is plenty of material available… *SIXTEEN* volumes in Japan.

    I remember hosting a marathon of this series a few years back, and there were three moments that left everyone speechless. First was episode two’s climax (i.e. those rabbits died for nothing!!!), episode four’s flashback reveal that Kino’s a girl (which took every single person by surprise–nobody saw that coming, yet nobody was bothered by it either), and then of course the final episode’s tragic conclusion.

    Kino is one of my favorite characters in anime, but it’s always been a bit hard to explain why. As you said in the review, there isn’t much in the way of character depth or development. But there’s something very relateable about Kino’s experience in general. The society she came from was probably the most unsettling to me, not just in how disturbing it was, but also how real it felt. But Kino can’t change an entire society–instead she can change herself, and her role as traveler and observer is easy to apply to the human experience in general. We like to all think of ourselves as the protagonist, but in reality we’re all too small to have that much of an effect on anything. Interestingly Kino gets involved in the affairs of various societies much more than she’d probably like, but it’s rarely in the form of actually curing everyone’s ills. She has an experience and then she moves on. Time always goes on, and the rest of the world always goes on without you.

    There are plenty of other things that can be discussed about Kino. The way her gender is treated as a non-issue is an interesting topic (it at least lends well to the idea Kino represents any individual), but then there’s that whole thing with her talking to a motorcycle the entire series. Perhaps this doesn’t stick out to some people since this is an anime (and anything is possible in anime), but the fact Hermes is the only random inanimate object capable of speech is kind of a big red flag to me. I think the approach of “Kino went insane after her parents tried to kill her” is a bit too simplistic, but I believe there is something to think about there. I mean, if you’re traveling the world alone year after year, isn’t it nice to have someone to talk to? Perhaps we are too quick to call people crazy if they decide to amend their own reality in certain ways. (Of course, “it’s an allegory so don’t sweat the details” is perhaps the most likely interpretation, but it’s still something that has always stuck out to me.)

    • Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      Hermes-as-a-figment-of-Kino’s-imagination only works in a few scenes at most since much of the time other characters acknowledge the motorrad’s sentience. Hermes even has scenes without Kino, such as with the talking dog. I don’t think there’s a whole lot going on there, since the series is pretty deliberate when it want something strange to be known. One does wonder how the show would function if Kino was alone without someone else to bounce thoughts off of.

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Hermes being a motorcycle makes some sense. It gives the story a character for Kino to interact with at points where she’s alone, while preserving the initial appearance of Kino being a lone traveller by herself travelling from place to place.

    • Scamp
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      I did have that thought that Hermes talking is just her imagination, but watching the show it simply doesn’t work. People react to what Hermes says quite regularly and ask it questions. I think having Hermes talk is solely done to have someone for Kino to bounce off of and say what the audience is thinking.

  6. tf5f89
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    It’s true this would work well in any medium. But my favorite thing about the series is probably that they applied that fact and combined it with some unusual visuals to make up for a low budget. I liked how they made something really good just by making the best of what they had.

  7. Nagisa33
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I watched an episode a day so I could reflect once each one was finished. Kino’s Journey was unsettling in a good way. Strange lands, with strange people, with strange and often hypocritical customs. It was a refreshing with its messages / commentary on society. Overall the experience gave me a feeling of melancholy, leading me to reflect the society I live in as well as other societies.

    What stood out for me the most was how Kino rarely got herself involved. I understand that each country had their own way of life but if something “wrong” is going on is it “ok” to jump in and do something about it? What may be wrong in one person’s eyes may be right in another’s. That was one of the many aspects that intrigued me about this show. Kino chooses to visit these countries and acts occasionally. She may choose to spectate or act like like in the final colosseum episode.

    Kino is a spectator of sorts, not getting too involved, yet she chooses to throw herself into situations. Kino chooses to travel to the different countries, take in their customs, and meet a new people. Will her journey ever come to an end or will she keep on experiencing different lands until she dies? My question is, what is her point in traveling? If she’s the only one (besides Hermes) to experience these various countries with no end, what’s the point? It makes me think of myself in that I take in a lot of anime, movies, and novels. If I just consume and don’t share them, apply the messages, or talk about them with someone then what’s the point? Kino seems like all she’s doing is consuming the customs yet not applying it. It seems like a waste. Then again living to have just to new experiences can be rewarding.

    Any thoughts?

    • Cyber-Kun
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      The point of her traveling is for her own goal of seeing the world. Kino doesn’t have any grand goal of making an impact on the world, being filthy rich, or the like. Her goal is simply to see the world as it is. The point of her life is to travel.

      It works well in this story and it also works well as a viewer. I am in a way sick of all these stories that attempt to do something great or be the king of the pirate ninjas. The goal of life is to be happy, and if all it takes is to travel, then do such a thing. Adding a bigger goal since people act like your life only has meaning if you do things for others, that would be unfaithful to the character.

      • Nagisa33
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        I’m picking up what you’re putting down. Also “King of the pirate ninjas” Too funny!

    • Scamp
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      It’s a weird one. I’ve never really understood the show’s overarching theme of the world being imperfect and therefore it is beautiful. I’m guessing the reason Kino doesn’t interact has something to do with that. They even make a really strong point of how difficult it is to not interact with the final 2 episodes.

      Basically what I’m saying is I’m not sure.

  8. tf5f89
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    A lot of the time, I’m not sure if there really was much Kino could do to change anything. She helps out when she’s asked to, but then she was just helping people who had already decided to change things. I think Kino might be there to give the audience a different way of looking at things with how curious yet removed she is.

    A lot of the show consists of pretty negative stuff, much of it critical of things in real life. But the way Kino came out of everything made it seem more or less OK. Certainly not good, but the things shown were facts of life, and life is enough. I’m mostly thinking of what Kino said in episode 12 about the world being unpredictable.

    I don’t know if that makes any sense. It’s how the show struck me, although it didn’t hit me as clearly as some anime do. I’m not sure if it was supposed to, though.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s[sic] themes are universal as long as humanity exists.

    Who recruited this crappy writer to this blog? It’s been really going downhill since this guy started contributing!

    I should really rewatch Kino no Tabi. I love it probably the most of my favourite anime, and it’s been some years since I’ve last watched it.

  10. T1g
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine watched this series on an old TV. There were double video lines and it was almost completly unwatchable

    • Scamp
      Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      My DVD had something like that too. I thought it was something wrong with my TV but it turns out that’s just how the dvd looked. You can see it on the screencaps. It irritated the fuck out of me

  11. Posted August 18, 2013 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    Although its definitely not the best episode, episode 3′s idea of a poem being indefinitely repeated and defining a country’s character really stuck with me. Those lines were nonsensical but very memorable.

    I do agree that Episode 9 was completely nonsense for nonsense’s sake.

  12. Ramiel
    Posted August 18, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    >He
    >fellow

    U wot m8?

  13. Johnny Joestar
    Posted August 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    One of my all-time favourites. My friend in Denmark says they have the novels there. I’m jealous.

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  • By Review: Kino's Journey | Deremoe on September 17, 2013 at 5:06 am

    […] Scamp made me realized this great Gem of an Anime. It’s nice it sports a lad as the protagonist and it makes it easier for me to take it in. […]

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