First anime on the list is Kino’s Journey – the Japanese title is Kino no Tabi. I’ve seen it referred to by both across the internet. This is annoying.
It is about a traveller called Kino and her motorbike (referred to as a motorrad) named Hermes – which can inexplicably talk.
Each episode is about the strange people or stranger countries the pair happens upon in their travels. I really like the concept. (I’m at the age where I’m preoccupied with the idea of travelling and learning more about the world lately – I wonder why this happens to people…)
I’m going to mention the passable music early for the sake of the video below. The music generally suits the anime, as do the opening and ending songs, although none of it is particularly spectacular. There is one incidental part of the soundtrack played a few times throughout the show that I really liked though. I crudely ripped it myself since it’s not available commercially, if you want to give it a listen:
The animation often looks good, with nice backgrounds. But all of the character design looks off. People look exceptionally strange and cartoonish, and I really disliked Kino’s little-boy-like appearance.
Outside of presentation, one of the first things to notice about the series is the laboriously slow pace. The episodes really can drag on.
Throughout the series; Kino’s backstory is slowly exposed with a strange progression. She makes for an interesting character with some fascinating skills at the beginning, but seems to become blander as it continues.
Despite it’s oddness, you can soon realise why her bike Hermes can talk – it provides a nice foil for her. Another outsider for her to engage with and discuss things. It works well enough. Hermes also provides some of the series’ only comic relief.
Some of Kino’s background is left very vague though. Her dealings with ‘Master’ and the source of her travel budget is never mentioned. Although I believe the Master subplot is explored in one of the two movies after the series that I have yet to see. These also might be explained in the light novels the series was based on. But I can only speak for the original anime.
There’s also a bizarre use of screens with floating text, usually repeating some quotes from the episode, accompanied with a ‘ping’ noise. These never seemed to serve a real purpose. They were just annoying and pull you out of the experience.
The series touches on some high concept material in the strange civilisations Kino encounters; showing mutual telepathy devastating a relationship, for example. But a lot of the episodes just seem muddled or pointless, not helped by Kino’s often neutral stance on issues. (This is particularly evident in the fifth episode “Three Men Along the Rails -On the Rails-“)
The double-parter coliseum episodes (complete with bullet blocking katana) and Kino’s knife-gun in a previous episode are evidence that the rare action sequences are a bit more ridiculous than they should be.
Episode 9 “Land of Books -Nothing Is Written!-” is apparently a fan favourite, but I found it strange, needlessly complicated and not as deep as people seem to think it.
Ironically some of the best episodes are the least original ones. Episode 2 “A Tale of Feeding Off Others -I Want to Live-” is fairly recommendable (despite offending my vegetarian sensibilities) despite the entire episode simply being about some merchants in trouble. But it tells a good story.
Episode 8 “Land of Wizards -Potentials of Magic-” doesn’t even tell a particularly clever story, but somehow I enjoyed the ride more than I enjoyed all of the more serious episodes. Helped in part by the voice acting of the main character of the episode – one of the only anime voice overs I’ve heard sound human and normal.
This was compared to the Mayor in the same episode who brought out my “no one talks like that!” response to most dubs. Unfortunately a lot of the voices in the episodes garnered this response. (It was also strange to see Vic Mignogna in the credits so often)
On the subject of dubs, Kino is voiced quite well in English, (reminiscent of Jennifer Hale voicing Commander Shepard) but does sound too detached at times. Hermes, the talking bike, has a very fake sounding voice. But you get used to it.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Kino’s Journey. It’s just never as good as it could’ve been – in storytelling, action or in humour. It’s packed with good ideas, but also with missed potential. In a year I doubt I’ll even remember it.
(P.S. I’m six episodes into Haibane Renmei, and despite looking like something I’d absolutely hate – it’s already better than Kino’s Journey. Still no idea what to think of it yet though.)
(P.P.S. Yes, I only got screens from the first episode. Shush.)