Kino is a young girl traveling the world with her talking motorcycle, Hermes. After she refused to comply with her city’s culture, her parents no longer wanted her and she fled under the alias of a traveler that she recently met. She now travels from city to city, never spending more than three days in any one place. What she is looking for is unclear, but what she finds are bits and pieces of who we are as humans expressed through science, technology, and culture.
There are two versions of Kino. The version that I chose to watch is the 2003 version that you have to pirate to watch. There is another version that was made in 2017 that is available to watch on Crunchyroll as of this publish date.
Kino is our young traveler. When we begin our journey, nothing is known about Kino other than she ran away from where she was before. Not one for words, Kino is quite the odd character. She feels more like an observer of the world than someone part of it. She does interact with the world on occasion but it is always to discover more about the world and the people inside of it. Kino is the window we have into the show. The world itself is interesting, but Kino’s determination to learn about the world adds a shine that is not easily replicated with other characters. She is a notably good shot and seemingly master assassin that chooses passivity whenever possible. While she is as much a mystery as the world, I never felt very connected to her or her ideologies. She felt very inhuman, as if someone attempted to teach a robot how to act and gave up after a couple years. Her demeanor combined with her almost narrator role was interesting, but never really lent itself to connecting or appreciating the character for who she was.
Hermes is a talking motorcycle. When I write about characters I really like to describe their personality, how they interact with other characters, and what their role is in the show. Normally this takes at least a bit of explanation but Hermes is super simple. Hermes is the naive question asker who sets up Kino to talk about or ponder elements of the world. That is it. There is pretty much no personality or anything else of note.
This is perhaps the most conflicted I have ever been about a show’s emotional impact on me. On one hand, the uneasy feeling that completely dominates the show is completely unique. Never before have I experienced an anime that has the ambiance that Kino does. I enjoy being unnerved, as odd as that sounds, but Kino hit me in a weird way. I would watch an episode and feel no real reason to watch another episode, but I did. There is a feeling of just drifting through the show, not in a way that makes you feel lost, but in a way that feels that there is no end. And no real beginning either. You could drop in and out of the show with the sense that nothing really changes and there is nothing lost in the pause that you took. I never felt connected to Kino, Hermes, or the cities that we visited together, but I was curious about what was coming next. Kino is this odd balance of a satisfying observation of the human condition and the unsettling truth that comes with observing that. I was turned off and interested at the same time, but it certainly put itself in a unique emotional space.
As I have said before, the whole show is an observation of humans through time. Because of this, each episode speaks to an element or idea of humanity. There are loads of ideas in Kino and I won’t cover all of them. These were some of my favorites.
I think that anyone who has struggled with social interactions, or just been invasively curious, has wanted to hear people’s thoughts at some point. The consequences of actually being able to hear others’ thoughts is perhaps one of my favorite things to think about. Can we handle hearing everything others think? Can we live with ourselves knowing others hear what we think? How would hearing peoples’ thoughts change how we think? Would we change at all or would we run away from society? The writer of Kino takes a shot at what they think the answers would be in one city. Technology advanced enough that it allowed citizens to hear each other and we hear the story of two lovers who struggled with the consequences of this new phenomenon. Their episode was by far my favorite and I think that while the story was simplified to fit the episode timer, it did a great job humanizing an issue that feels so extra-human.
Direct Democracy has never interested me. Functionally, it feels like there is no way to have it work. Do you vote on what to vote for? Do you vote for changes to votes? Who decides what changes you vote on? I think there is an idea that in America that we could suddenly become a better place if individual voters had more control. Maybe that is true, or maybe we enter the
Tyranny of the Majority. Kino visits a city that had this problem. After ousting an abusive king, all citizens demanded power and that led to the fall of the entire city. I make no judgment about that happening in real life or the merits of their system, but I can’t help but see that they were all better with the abusive king than they were abusing each other.
I don’t think this idea is new to anyone who has spent a long time reading fantasy or sci-fi, but advanced technology feels like magic. The first person to use science to make fire was a wizard in the eyes of others. The same with flight, irrigation, and so many other things that we take for granted on a daily basis. I hope that someday something big enough happens that it feels like the person who did it is a magician, but I wonder if our collective imagination has thought of everything that could surprise us. It is always enjoyable for me to go back to a time where these kinds of innovations can bring the kind of awe that some of the innovations do in Kino.
Episodic shows are tough to judge. On one hand, they often feel as if they don’t lead up to anything. But on the other hand, they would lose a lot of their charm and distinct feel. In this instance, I don’t think that Kino’s Journey could have been anything other than an episodic show. Kino is not enough of a character to carry a story where a viewer needs to get highly invested in her. While each episode could stand on its own, there is a sense of time passing and progress made. To where? I am not sure. But as long as it feels like we are moving forward, I am okay with it. Because maybe the biggest travelers are not people like Kino who are perpetual wanderers, but those who travel each time they read or watch something.
Kino’s Journey —the Beautiful World— is part of my attempt to watch older anime. If saying that a release date of 2003 made this anime old somehow offends you, I apologize. I plan to get to older anime, but I started looking for shows between 2000 and 2005 first. The raw resolution of the show is rough. Maybe I pirated a bad copy, but I don’t think this is the case. The colors are really washed out. The first episode is so much so, that I thought there was just something wrong with the episode because it was like staring into a flashbang. And I played too many hours of Counter Strike to not know what that looks like. But as my eyes adjusted and color came in and I realized that they were just not vibrant. Brilliant colors have no place in a show whose energy is so mellow, whose ideas require a rewind or two, and whose characters feel stiff and uncanny. I won’t lie to you and say I was impressed with Kino’s animation. In fact, I really hope that everything else I watch is better than this. There are few action shots in the whole show. The shots that do have a lot of movement can be awkward and jumpy. The animators seemed to solve this problem by just not showing some scenes with action on it. I originally theorized that perhaps this was done to avoid showing shooting guns on screen for legal reasons, but frankly Japanese media law was not a class that I took and the coliseum fight two-episode arc really rained on that parade before any candy could be thrown. I don’t think that every anime needs to have flashy art or wild colors, but there seemed to be so few elements of personality. The character design of Kino was likely the most boring element of the show, the world looked lifeless even in places with lots of people, and even points of focus blended in with other elements.
The first thing that needs to be said about the world is that it is a confusing set of places. Kino travels to various “countries”, which seem a lot more like city-states, and witnesses some incredibly disconnected places. There are cities where technology has progressed far enough that people no longer need to work or can hear each other’s thoughts, but there are also cities that trade slaves and live in feudal society. Some cities invade others with tanks while others are in complete ruin from witch hunts that led to thousands of people to be hanged. Adding a talking motorcycle does not make the world any more cohesive either. But I get the impression that this world isn’t supposed to be cohesive. The show feels more like a slow wander through space in time, observing humans and their whims along the way. This might not work for any show other than this one. A show where the character wants to interact with the world and make an impact would struggle heavily with the disconnection, but that is not Kino. Kino wants to be a fly on the wall. Someone who moves from place to place through these cities, but never to stay in them too long. This gives the world an odd sense of stillness. As if these cities exist only on islands in space. As if they were always like they are now and they always will be. Almost like music boxes that play the same song every time you open them, but no one thinks about the music unless the box is open. It is an uncomfortable feeling, peering into the box at all the jewelry. None of it is yours and you don’t plan on taking any with you, but it feels like an invasion of privacy that can’t be avoided due to curiosity.
The music and sounds in Kino’s Journey —the Beautiful World— complete the offputting feeling that surrounds the show. Most of the soundtrack is haunted by what feels like amatuer flute and violin work, but upon further review it is intentional shakiness. There are hits of jungle-like percussion, accordions, and light piano that float through medieval themes like Kino took a quick stop in a runescape mixing booth. When the music became darker, the music leaned more on a feeling that was somewhere between the aesthetic Animal Crossing and hunting tones of Minecraft CDs. While only Animal Crossing was released before Kino, this fusion embodies the offputting nature that the show channels. Simple interactions feel dangerous or taboo. Instruments’ normal tones warp or play different roles. Perhaps the best part of the music though, is how the show simply stops playing it. The music always seems to be cut off in a way that becomes fairly formulated, but sneaks up on you with impact. This is not a soundtrack I would listen to again, probably ever, but it played into the show in a way that really elevated each episode.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||2||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||4||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||6||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||3||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||1||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||3||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||3||3|
I wish that I could feel satisfied with the score that I gave Kino’s Journey —the Beautiful World—. This show seems to live somewhere where no particular score would seem to fit it. Where the ideas and the ambiance of the show shine, the offputting characters and animation make it potentially the most conflicting review I have had to date. I want you to taste the show. Watch three episodes and decide for yourself. I won’t say this is a show you have to watch but I think it’s a show you should try. I ordered something new and offered you a taste, I just hope you like it enough to order it next time.