Review of Ryutaro Nakamura’s Kino’s Journey (2003)
I went into this series expecting great things. Being a fan of philosophy, I was looking forward to seeing a series that dealt with real themes in a serious way, in contrast to the conveyer belt of pointless fluff that permeates popular anime right now.
The basic story of Kino’s Journey is a travel log of the various experiences our protagonist (Kino) goes through on her motor bike voyages. Think The Motor Cycle Diaries minus Che Guevera, and set in an imaginary though fairly realistic land. With the exception of one two-parter, most of the episodes fit the stand alone format, with no connections between them. Even in terms of characters, Kino and her talking motor bike Hermes, are the only ones constantly featured. This gives the episodes a slightly disconnected feeling, as they don’t really build on each other, and I felt that every time Kino showed up in an episode I was seeing her for the first time. As such there is no overarching plot in the show in terms of a beginning middle and conclusion. I don’t particular have a problem with this, and feel myself welcoming of anything that tries to be original, as long as there is some real substance underneath it. Kino’s Journey certainly delivers in this respect.
Almost all of the episodes tackle themes and issues, from human solidarity and altruism, to the role of Messianic religion in society. Such variety is certainly welcome, and the content itself definitely encourages you to ponder such issues yourself. However this is by no means a perfect show. One of the down sides of covering a different theme in each episode is that they don’t always feel sufficiently explored within the twenty minutes. In this regard the show did feel slightly cluttered and rushed. The second issue is consistency. The high point for me of the entire series was the second episode. By the end of it I was filled with a transcendental feeling, that I imagine others get when some great human truth is exposed to you, in a powerful and indeed disturbing way. I was at this point very encouraged, and anticipating another eleven superb episodes. Sadly however this did not occur. The rest of the series did not keep with this level of quality. Certainly the episodes were engaging, but not on the same level, and they failed to express their theme with the potency that I described. The two-parter seemed slightly contrived. The means by which it explored its theme appeared to be purely for the purpose of having a huge action scene, rather than for direct and clear expression.
Another aspect I wasn’t entirely satisfied with was the protagonist herself. Kino is clearly meant to be a stoic and disinterested observer of the world she travels through, and I can understand the purpose behind this. As each episode deals with a different place and situation, it makes sense that her character should be disconnected and apathetic, so as she can experience these dilemmas, and yet move away from them at the end. This makes sense, but I would have preferred a more in-depth look at how Kino developed such an apathetic character. We are given some background as to how she started her travels, but no real explanation is given as to her reactions and outlook on life. She is in a sense a tragic character, unable to establish lasting relations with others, but we don’t fully made to realise why this is. I think this would have added an extra layer of variety and made the show much more engaging.
Despite these flaws I would definitely encourage all fans of progressive anime to watch this. At thirteen episodes it isn’t a huge commitment and certainly is superior to many other series of this length.