Hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity yet complex enough to provide for wonderful and engaging fables, Kino’s Journey is one that you hope never ends.
What They Say
Destination is a state of mind. Travelers not only find themselves in a variety of locations and geographic phenomena, but they also bare witness to the whims of culture and the skewed effects of subtle circumstance. Kino is such a traveler. Sitting astride Hermes, the ultimate internal combustion companion, Kino searches for life's answers, life's questions, and the myriad of interpretations connected to them. A wielder of cutlery, firepower and a piercing tongue, Kino is ready to embark on a journey unlike any other!
Kino’s Journey was fairly standard for the time from ADV Films in that it retains the original Japanese stereo mix but gives the English mix a 5.1 upgrade. The stereo mix is kept to a decent 224kbps encoding while the English language ramps up to 448kbps to cover all the channels. Because of the language nuances in the show, I’ll admit that I couldn’t bring myself to watch it in English and opted for the original Japanese. The series has a solid stereo mix with some very good moments of directionality throughout it for both dialogue and for special sound effects, such as gunshots or movements. The English language track got the bump up to a 5.1 mix which takes the existing materials and adds a touch more clarity and definition to it. Both tracks come off sounding good and are problem free.
Originally airing in 2003, this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This release mirrors the previous thinpak edition in that it’s done on three discs in a five/four/four format with no extras. Kino's Journey is probably one of the most frustrating transfers I've had to deal with because of how it’s designed. The first thing that has to be gotten out of the way is that the transfer is essentially flawless. There's no cross coloration, aliasing looks to be non-existent and colors are fantastic looking and solid. This is a great looking anamorphic transfer by all accounts. So what's the problem? It's filled with what you'd normally call scanlines. They're highly visible throughout the print, though some of the more active scenes are less prominent with it. But with so many wide areas of solid color, the scanlines are very visible. But, they're not really scanlines. They're a visual choice applied by the director presumably as this is exactly what the Japanese DVD releases look like as I've confirmed in the past. Depending on the sensitivity of your eyes to things like this, the print here may be completely unwatchable as it's very distracting at times and frustrating since otherwise this would be smooth and clean.
Kino’s Journey has an awkward cover for this release and a rather unappealing one which is unfortunate. It has Kino and another character, both wearing drab green colors, set against a white background. The logo along the top does have the cute outline of Kino riding Hermes but overall the character designs really don’t look good here and it’s simply too stark and unappealing. It doesn’t sell the show, rather it pushes you away from it. The back cover is better as it features a better looking shot of Kino with the outfit flying in the window next to a decent summary of the premise. There are a number of shots from the show that display the variety of characters and we get a decent production breakdown and a solid technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this series mirror the thinpak release with some very interesting pieces of static artwork of the various characters in a brown/gray scale of sorts that each have a very somber and serious feeling to them in a minimalistic way. The opening song plays along to this, albeit far too briefly. Episodes can be jumped to directly from the main menu though as seems to be custom now, scene selection has gone out of favor. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when Kino’s Journey first came out, I remember being quite interested in it because it was a title that had practically no serious buzz in the fan community for the most part. There were a few that had seen it and raved about it, but most were oblivious to it. And often that’s where I find shows that fascinate me the most, the ones that go off the beaten path a bit and avoid becoming mainstream pieces that fans fawn over endlessly. With each episode, particularly the second one, Kino’s Journey made me quite the fan and kept me enraptured over four volumes for all thirteen episodes. Revisiting it four years later, it’s still as engaging and strong as ever.
Kino and the world he inhabits is interesting. Kino is what's known as a Traveler, a proper "profession" of sorts, someone who journeys throughout the various countries of the world. Kino's particular rule is to never stay more than three days in a country before moving on. That amount of time is just enough to get a real feel for a country, plus if you stay longer that's time not spent in another place. Each country has its own set of rules and laws, but there are some basic ones that apply to Travelers. The most obvious is that they're not supposed to cause trouble after they check into a town. They have to respect the laws of that land. It's essentially a variant of the Prime Directive from Star Trek taken to a much smaller level.
Kino's travels bring him to all sorts of interesting countries. Each episode brings him to someplace new, though there are some multi part episodes and there's some continuity in getting to see his past. The opening tale has Kino entering a really nice looking European style city but it's filled only with machines that fulfill his every wish. Meals are taken care of, shops are maintained by robots and the city is clean and quiet. But no people are about. Kino actually comes across some on his way out of town however, and discovers the secret of the city. A few years prior, the scientists of the city created a drink that would allow telepathy among the citizenry. The reason for this was that if everyone knew what everyone else was thinking, nobody would hurt anyone else and everyone would be happy. But when utopia is sought, something always causes it to go wrong, and now people avoid each other like the plague, afraid that the smallest of things could cause pain to them.
Another city the Kino visits is going through something strange, where everything that he asks for his freely given to him, from food and boarding to weapons and ammunition. Apparently a preacher had found a text of prophesies and one of them talked about the end of the world. That time has apparently come according to the texts so everyone believes that the end is here, which means money means nothing and their time is just about over. Kino's not a believer of course, but he respects their traditions and goes along with it. When the sun comes up the next day and the world is still there, everyone goes into mild shock and then almost immediately picks up on a new tradition. The tradition of the city is to come up with a unique tradition to please each traveler that comes by, always reinventing, always coming up with something new.
Another episode that has some impact on me deals with the surprise aspect of things. The fourth episode is creepy enough as it is, where kids are surgically operated on when they turn twelve so that they become happy productive adults and defectives are simply eliminated, but there's such a twist in how this plays out that it's completely surprising and causes you to re-evaluate the first three episodes as well as how the series is. There is a really creepy and disturbing layer to this show that comes out as it plays along, something that doesn't come through in the trailer or promotional bits to the show that preceded its release. Up until the last episode, I was averaging the show to be something like a B range, but that last episode so completely altered my view of things that it had to go higher. It's hard to explain without giving everything away unfortunately.
Another episode has us once again following Kino as he's riding down the rail tracks on his motorrad. Along the way, he ends up meeting three people and tells the first two the same story. The first person he comes across has spent the past fifty or so years polishing the rail tracks and cleaning around them. The second person has spent the past fifty years breaking down the tracks and placing them into piles so that they can be picked up. The third person has spent the past fifty years taking the piles and building the rail line. All of them have been performing their jobs for the company that hired them in their teens, their first and only job in fact. None have been home and none look behind themselves either to see what's going on. They're all focused on their jobs.
In exchange for telling him their tale, Kino tells the first two people about a country he went to that was so modern that people didn't have to work as everything was practically given to them by their machines and automations. But even with a utopia like this, the people didn't like how it made them feel or the idea of being so completely lazy. In addition, they didn't completely trust the machines that were running everything, so they created jobs where they have to validate the machines numbers and accounting. But since the machines can go so much faster in their calculations, the people of the city have a huge backlog of papers to verify. This causes them stress and with the stress they feel human and not lazy.
The tale, combined with that of the rail workers, says plenty about the working situation of many out there and does it in a really simple way, at least seemingly. Kino's reactions to the way the men work and the way each of their jobs is making the other seemingly irrelevant is interesting, especially when he gets to the third person and doesn't even bother to really spend any time talking with him. Suffice to say, one hopes that the company that they work for doesn't operate in a similar manner.
The second two-parter brings Kino to a country that's spoken of highly by other travelers as a place to be sure to go and visit. Its people live among the trees and forest in their wonderful city and are the friendliest there are out there. So when Kino arrives only to find that he's trapped inside it now, he's unsure of what's happened. Seven years prior, a new king came to power and changed the way the city work. The bulk of the people were sent to live in the sewage and undercity while those who qualified lived as first class citizens. When travelers and strangers come to the city, the king has ordained that they must compete with others to become a citizen, at which time they can add a new rule to the laws of the country. Kino's not interested in any of this but the situation becomes forced and he opts to be part of the initial group of over sixteen people who will fight or surrender in their efforts to become a citizen. Each of them has their own reasoning and it's very projected that one of them is the son of the king, but with it being so heavily pointed out you know that things won't work as expected.
The two episodes them proceed to be essentially a tournament show where we go through the ranks of those who are fighting and Kino makes his way through it. Some of the fights we see, but we skip several of the early ones in favor of just the more important matches towards the end. There's an assortment of people trying for citizenship for varying reasons and each of them show their cause in some way. There's also an amusing moment when the king comes and talks to the semifinalists and offers the two women a chance to skip out on the contest and be his bride instead, earning citizenship and more. Naturally they refuse (Kino included!) and move on to the matches, but it says quite a lot about this king that hasn't already been said by the conditions of the city or the underside where the bulk of the people live.
The middle set of episodes is pretty focused around the area of knowledge and it does some interesting things with it. One episode has Kino coming across a country that hasn't had a visitor in over five years, so they're pretty celebratory over it. Kino ends up coming across a young woman who lives somewhat outside of the main city area because she's been something of an outcast after her aunt had taken advantage of her during her childhood after her parents died. She swindled her out of her inheritance and set her to live by herself in a house that had been the residence of an old man who had once left the country and returned years later but kept himself separate from everyone. The kids all thought of him as a mage of some sort with the knowledge he had and some of the things he created.
Nimya takes advantage of this house quite well though as the previous occupant had left numerous gadgets and toys that excited her imagination as well as detailed books on all the things he had learned elsewhere in the world. All of this information eventually led her to trying to realize her childhood dream of flying in the sky like a bird, so she's built a machine to do just so. In talking with Kino, Kino hasn't seen anything like it elsewhere and says that she may be the first to truly fly. But there are problems she has to overcome in dealing with the city before it can happen, so she works to recruit Kino to her cause since the citizens will be somewhat deferent to Kino considering how long its been since there's been a traveler. There's a lot of back story that gets played out in this episode and some small relationship bits that flesh it out nicely, but the mixture of the joy of knowledge that Nimya has as well as the simple pure beauty of attempting flight when nobody else has even considered it to be possible (in this region at least), that's what makes this episode so good. The moments when the attempt is taking reminded me of Wings of Honneamise and their own attempts to get into space when nobody else would take them seriously.
One of the best episodes is the one where Kino enters a country where all the books in the world have come to. Kino brings a book into the city which will allow Kino to take a book out of the country. With so much knowledge and potentially interesting books there, Kino's rather excited to get to this particular country. But once in the library, Kino realizes that things aren't as they seem. There's a process by which every book that enters the country is checked and scrutinized to see if it's harmful or not. So the library is mostly made up of harmless books like children's material and how-to guides.
Through some events that played out before Kino got into the country, Kino ends up being brought into an underground section of the city where a resistance group of "publishers" have been plotting and scheming to try and change the way things operate in the city. They try to recruit Kino into finding a hidden entrance into the Castle, the place where the Critics who are never wrong reside, the place where they determine what is harmful and what isn't. Kino doesn't get directly involved but much of what's going on plays across Kino's view, including meeting the mysterious "Author" who takes the concept of books and reality and twists the show around beautifully. With some of the twists in previous episodes, this one actually goes forward far enough to truly convince you that what we're seeing isn't "real" but a story being read by someone. This episode truly messes with the perceptions of watching shows and the feeling most people get at one time or another about being a character in a book. The reality of this series is constantly shifting and this episode is one of those that really uses it to its advantage.
With the final three episodes of Kino's Journey I am once more amazed at this beautiful little series and the strength and power of its storytelling style. While I certainly wouldn't want all my series to be like this, getting one like this is rare and it really makes me appreciate it all the more. Kino's Journey is the kind of show that reinvigorates my excitement and interest in anime since it shows me things that simply aren't done elsewhere. And this last set of episodes continues that tradition beautifully.
In fact, the first episode actually manages to make me enjoy a recap episode. Following Kino and Hermes as they float down the river on a simple wooden raft, Kino reflects on the places she's been in the past and a number of the people she's met. What's great about this recap episode is that it flashes back to stories and settings that were not in the episodes we've seen. We instead get several small stories, often just quick meetings between Kino and someone else, and a fast resolution or tale. A few minutes and its over, something not worthy of an entire episode but is worth telling since it helps to continue to build the world she lives and travels in. We even get to see an early stage of her journey when she was still in a simple dress and ended up meeting the older woman she would call Master, something we're teased with throughout the series. This is the kind of recap episode I wish more series would use, but I'm not sure many of them would be able to use it properly.
The two remaining episodes tell full tales and quite interesting ones. The middle tale is one that's something of a favorite among science fiction novels and TV shows over the years as Kino enters into a city where war has seemingly been abolished. We learn that they've been at war with a neighboring country for almost two hundred years but it all changed fifteen years prior. The city itself has plenty of monuments to the past and the symbols of war, but the place is peaceful except for a few squads that are in training along the outskirts. Kino learns that they're preparing for "the war tomorrow" and that she's more than welcome to come watch it. As with past novels and TV shows, there's a variety of ways in which the human mind has come up with to deal with war and to make it either more controlled or removed entirely. The method here isn't too far from some that I've seen in the past as the two countries have simply redirected their fight elsewhere and turned it almost into a sport. But there's a dark price paid for it and the final few minutes of this episode had me on the edge of my seat wondering how the violence would really play out. With a series like this, there's every chance even the lead could die?
The final episode brings Kino into a country that's pretty infamous for treating travelers badly, but she wants to experience it firsthand and see if the talk is true. To her surprise, the city is almost the complete opposite of the rumors and the people there are overly pleased to see her and she's welcomed in wherever she goes. Kino ends up at a hotel through the help of a young girl whose parents run it and she offers to be Kino's guide for the duration of her stay. She's intent on becoming a tour guide for the area when she's older and takes over the family business so she's glad to be able to get her first hands-on experience with Kino and show her all the beauty of the city. All the things Kino had heard about the city starts to fade away as she enjoys the time there and gets caught up in the lifestyle. So much so that she starts to contemplate staying longer than the three days she said she was at the start?
These final episodes of Kino's Journey are simply fantastic. I can't say that they're the best of the series as I don't think there's anything truly bad in the series. From a recap episode that blew me away to just about every twist and turn of every other episode, this series has held me captive with its style and delivery of its substance. While the series has a hook early on about Kino herself, the series as a whole is something that really just focuses on telling engaging stories. With only a couple of two-part storyline, the stand alone tales all managed to tell great stories that fit just right, they didn't really leave you wanting more or feeling like it was being rushed. Episodic anime series tend to be pretty poor since they're usually filled with repeated scenes and whatnot, but this series managed to avoid that and more of the other usual traps of such a format.
Kino's Journey was a series that had left almost no impact on me from the first trailers I had seen of it. With little hype about it before its release and not many people talking about it, the series was like a thief in the night that captured my attention and held on tightly. With its deliberate pacing and ambiguous stories it's something that won't appeal to a lot of people. But for those looking for those rare shows that sits on the fringe and gets critical praise but doesn't make the move to everyone getting into it. That's unfortunate because I think this is one of those series that will appeal beyond the anime hard core crowd and into the casual market if pushed just right. For those that do get it, I hope they enjoy it as much as I did as this is a series that's left a mark on me.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.