Kino's Journey Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Monday, January 10, 2005
Release Date: Monday, October 18, 2004



What They Say
For centuries, those in search of self-discovery and knowledge of the world have hit the road in furtherance of those quests. Young Kino, along with her talking motorcycle Hermes, has the same goal - to travel and observe and learn from different cultures. Staying exactly three days in each location, Kino and Hermes learn much about the world and themselves...

Episodes comprise:

1. Land Of Visible Pain
2. A Tale Of Feeding Off Others
3. Land Of Prophecies
4. Land Of Adults

Kino's Journey features the impeccable combination of director Ryutaro Nakamura (Serial Experiments Lain) and screenwriter Sadayuki Murai (Perfect Blue, Cowboy Bebop, Boogiepop Phantom).

The Review!
Stunning. Simply stunning.

Audio:
I listened to the Japanese stereo track while watching this disc for my review, and noticed no distortions or dropouts. The track itself is good, though the series is heavy on the dialogue with only a little background music and incidental sounds at key moments. The two main cast members, Ai Maeda as Kino and Ryuji Aigase as Hermes, deserve endless praise for their portrayals; Kino with a sense of awe, wonder and maturity, and Hermes as one with experience but also a need to try and understand what Kino is thinking.

I spot-checked the English language track, which is presented in 5.1, and I noticed no technical problems, though it didn't really seem of great benefit over the stereo track, likely because it is so dialogue heavy. Kelli Cousins voices Kino on this track, with Cynthia Martinez taking the role of Hermes, and it's an interesting casting choice, though I wasn't quite convinced by Kino on this track from the brief portion I sampled. It definitely showed a lot of promise though, and this is a dub I look forward to seeing develop.

Video:
The video quality for this series is a strange beast. The transfer itself, being such a new show, is excellent, with a no noticeable artefacts, aliasing or other problems during regular playback of this anamorphic transfer. What is strange is the choice of the creative team to add what looks like scan lines to the picture. It gives the series an interesting and quite unique look, as it comes off almost dream-like in a way. But it can be a bit distracting at times, and it may have looked better if it wasn't there.

Subtitles are the usual ADV yellow font, and I noticed no issues with them.

Packaging:
The front cover has a gorgeous piece of artwork of Kino in the foreground, with a painted sky in the background and some ghost-like characters in a line behind. The show's logo is at the bottom of the cover, in its original Japanese with the English translation underneath. The volume number and title are also listed here. The back cover contains a few screenshots and a strange description of the show, kind of in riddles. The episodes are clearly listed, along with special features and the show's credits. The technical specs are also clearly listed in the usual ADV boxes.

The four-page insert also contains a translated prologue section from the original author.

Menu:
The menu is a simple system, with an image of Kino and Hermes on the right hand side, an episode listing on the left side, and languages and special features menu at the bottom. There's also a main window (which is bordered), with a slow-moving image of one of the lands. The opening theme's chorus plays over this menu. The two sub-menus are bordered slow-moving images, with a bit of background music playing over them. They're nice and quick to access, though the only problem I have is that there's no individual scene selection, which is something missing from a lot of ADV menus nowadays.

Extras:
if this volume is anything to go by, the series will be light on extras, as all we get are a clean opening and ending, and a few (admittedly nice) production sketches, set to some background music.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mesmerised. It's not very often I feel mesmerised when I watch a show, but there's just something about Kino's Journey that just grabbed me completely from the get go, and kept me engrossed right through to the end of the disc, at which time I just wanted more. Perhaps it's because the show is based on a series of novels by Keiichi Sigsawa, but the storytelling and characterisation is about as rich as it comes. The scripts are so tight that you really don't feel that any time is being wasted at all. It's a shame then, that the series has received relatively little fanfare and isn't a show that got retailers excited (after all, it's not particularly flash nor full of babes).

The series opens with a child called Kino talking to a motorrad (which is essentially a talking motorcycle) called Hermes. Hermes tells Kino about what he thinks is important to be a traveller, such as decisiveness, while Kino muses about luck. After the short prologue, the episode begins proper, with a slightly older Kino and Hermes journeying to a new country. While initially they can't get across, because the map they have doesn't take account of the ever-changing world, they soon enter to find only machines getting them through customs, serving them food and cleaning up. As Hermes asks Kino what it'd be like to be the only person in the country, Kino spots some others through a telescope. As they drive past the houses, all the people draw their curtains or run out of the way, but Kino manages to corner one man who eventually lets them in, and hears the story of why everyone in the country now secludes themselves.

This is a great episode to introduce us to the world of Kino's Journey and its two main characters. The prologue is a nice setup for how the rest of the conversations will go, as Hermes tries to find out what Kino is thinking a lot. Much of the episode takes place solely with Kino and Hermes, and is very dialogue heavy. But it's wonderful to get such an insight into the how the characters think as you do through this pair's dialogue. It really does add so much depth to them (especially considering one of them is a talking motorcycle), with them discussing things that are far beyond what you often get in anime. One of the most telling moments is when Kino tells Hermes about not staying in one country for more than three days, as Kino is afraid of ceasing travelling.

Episode two is one of the more profound episodes of any series I've seen in a long time, as Kino and Hermes find a group of three men in a snowy land where their truck has got stuck. Without food, they're withering away until Kino manages to help them, by hunting for rabbits and making them food. Kino and Hermes hear about their country and how they need to get home and make their delivery, and so also help them get their truck free... but it's only then that they find out what they really do. To be honest, this episode simply blew me away. It's been some time since I've seen anything that really hit me as much as this, and when it was over I just knew I'd fell in love with this series. I really don't want to spoil much of it, because it's so well told, but watching Kino question killing the rabbits and the choices made between killing them and helping the men is really something, as is the reactions of Hermes to the events that unfold. The twist at the end is simply inspired, and the outcome is quite breathtaking. This is an episode that really needs to be experienced first hand.

Kino and Hermes then travel to the land of prophecies, an interesting country where everyone pins their beliefs on a so-called prophetic book that came from another country. All because of a single line in the book, the people there all plan their lives around the world ending. Shopkeepers don't accept payment from Kino because there's no point, since the world will supposedly end. Kino and Hermes then go to the land of tradition, where they're given a warm welcome by the townspeople because they're the first travellers in years. Onto the land of sadness then, where the pair hear the story of how a girl is picked to recite poetry because of events many years before which taught the people sorrow. But then this land is intertwined with the first as we find out the origin of the book of prophecy, and the fate that would befall the land of prophecies.

While this episode is structured a bit differently to the others, in that it's broken into three distinct sections, one for each country Kino and Hermes visit, the stories behind them are really interesting to hear, and the writers do a startling job of making them involving so it's almost as if you're there next to Kino, listening and enjoying the rich histories of these countries. The way they're all intertwined at the end is another masterstroke, and it makes for another great outing.

The final episode on the disc is another favourite (as good as they all are), as it shows us the history of Kino and how she became a traveller. Yes, this episode reveals Kino's gender, which some had probably assumed was male just because of her appearance. But it's a wonderful tale of how a little girl is growing up in a land of conformity, where the children have an operation to be turned into adults at the age of twelve, and meets a traveller who is so different that he challenges her beliefs, with tragic but life-changing results. It's a great story, and it's great that it comes at this point in the series, when we've had three episodes to get familiar with the character, as it shows really how much the original Kino's beliefs affected her, and challenged and ultimately changed her way of thinking to break out of the box. It's another amazing episode that really rounds of a triumphant disc.

Something else that I briefly touched on about the stories is how they end. While you get plenty of backstory and interesting reveals through the tales and conversations heard during the bulk of the episode, the ending always somehow manage to profoundly impact the story with some surprising events that really define the characters. From the inspired moments at the end of episode two to the final scenes of episode three, the endings carry so much weight and meaning that they really leave a sense of satisfaction when the episode is over, and even better, leave you with plenty to think about. When coupled with the social commentary that is present in the themes of the episodes (though they're in no way banged over viewer's heads), such as the theme of breaking out of an inherited way of thinking, it makes for an experience that really is unlike almost anything out at the moment.

Summary:
I really find it hard to come up with any negatives towards Kino's Journey. It's been some time since I've seen a series that is filled with such rich characterisation and storytelling, and manages to be wholly satisfying at the same time. While I can see some people perhaps not being keen on the series if they're just looking for some mindless entertainment, if you're looking for something with a bit more thought and meaning behind it, I can't recommend Kino's Journey enough. It's a stunning series that everyone should give a chance, and it's easily one of the best releases of the year.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Sketches

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Kino's Journey