Kino’s Journey is the story of a teenage boy and his talking motorcycle which – spoilers for a 15-year-old series ahoy! – turns out to be the story of a teenage girl and her talking motorcycle. The 13-episode fantasy series follows the pair as they journey across a patchwork of tiny nations, never stopping for more than three days in any one spot.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Keiichi Sigsawa light novels that the series is based on garnered another anime adaptation only last year. This Kino’s Journey is the original 2003 version directed by Ryutaro Nakamura of Serial Experiments Lain fame, however – and like Lain, it can be justly considered an anime classic.
A self-consciously highbrow series, Kino’s Journey uses Kino and her motorised companion Hermes’ travels to frame a collection of short stories. Although nominally set in the same world, each stop on Kino’s journey is essentially a literary device for exploring a high concept idea or philosophical question. There’s the land where everyone can read each other’s minds, for example, or the technologically-advanced city where no-one has to work (but still does).
While she strives to be a neutral observer of human nature, Kino herself is no cipher, though – especially after we discover her origin story. And while she usually tries to avoid getting involved in other people’s affairs, some of the folks she runs into have other ideas – often unpleasant ones! Unfortunately for them, the passive Kino also happens to be a crack shot with a pistol…
With the notable exception of the two episode Coliseum arc that introduces us to Shizu and his talking dog Riku (both of whom loom much larger in the novels and 2017’s anime reboot), each storyline only takes up a single episode – and more often than not comes with a nasty sting in its tail. This satisfying cycle of set-up and payoff makes Kino’s Journey a surprisingly brisk watch considering its contemplative nature, while a sense of humour prevents it from being po-faced.
The retro aesthetic of Kino’s Journey helps create a unifying ambiance for the show’s disparate fables, with characters sporting an overtly cartoony style and scan line effects giving it the vibe of an old TV show. Like Shaft’s Monogatari series or Masaaki Yuasa’s works, it’s a distinctively ‘artsy’ style; unlike them, it may also be a touch jarring for today’s anime fans. You’ll soon get used to the look of Kino’s Journey, though – even if those damn scan lines do still irk us!
A smart, cerebral series that occasionally teeters on the edge of pretentiousness, Kino’s Journey is an anime that, given a fair shot, will stay with you for a long, long time. We like cute shows about cute girls doing cute things as much as the next body pillow-hugging otaku, but it’s good to get a dose of mature storytelling once in a while. With its mix of magic realism, interesting ideas and memorable main character, Kino’s Journey certainly fits the bill.
Release: 19 March 2018
From: All The Anime
Age Rating: 12