Drift along for the ride.
First, a confession: I was turned off from this anime after reading ADV's packaging for it. Not being familiar with Kino's Journey before receiving this DVD, the flowery description on the box seemed more cryptic than poetic, and the printed insert contained an excerpt from the original work by Keiichi Sigsawa that offered absolutely no context and therefore made no sense to me. Do they mean "journey" in the literal sense or the metaphorical sense? Who are these people? Why should I care? I was aggravated and prepared for the worst. As it happens, it took four episodes to win me over, but I now have to say that I'm charmed. Hooked, even.
Kino's Journey is not your average, straightforward anime. It's an experiment, of sorts, incorporating philosophy and an intensely lyrical touch. The meat is definitely in the story and the poetry of each episode—characters are meant to add to and enrich the story, but ultimately not to stand out too much (even the main characters, Kino and Hermes). Indeed, the protagonist Kino is of indeterminate gender. This isn't as important as the journey itself, or the stories told for each journey. This type of mirroring (the concept of reflecting story elements) is repeated again and again. For instance, a theme introduced early in episode one is "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is." In fact, the planners of Kino's Journey want to do something that isn't necessarily beautiful or flawless, but because of this creates its own sort of beauty. This idea will grow on you around episode three, I promise.
Kino is a wandering adventurer, a nomad who spends no more than three days at each destination. Hermes, a motorcycle with a soul who can talk to Kino, is his faithful companion for these voyages. Kino travels the land, going from country to country (in this series, "country" is used loosely to describe villages or settlements scattered throughout the land). Each country is different, and each has its own story. It is up to Kino to discover what that story is. If, at this point, I am sounding rather cryptic myself, you'll understand why the people who put together the packaging for this release had so much trouble. There's a vaguely fantastical aspect to the land and the countries Kino visits; in the first episode, a map is proven incorrect because the land keeps restructuring itself, creating new bridges before the eyes of the astonished travelers.
Kino's Journey has been called an anime for thinking people. Which is true, but should not be confused with the idea that only bookish types or intellectuals will enjoy this series—far from it. Indeed, the open observer of life, the "blank slate," will have the best chance of enjoying this work, not the jaded viewer or one who goes in with preconceived notions or expectations. Kino has no awesome responsibility to bear and is not out to save the world or even affect the surroundings in any great way; the goal is to observe, relate, and take everything in while maintaining a laid-back attitude. Kino is in some ways the ultimate Taoist. His sole desire is to be a traveler and not to spend too long at any one location, so as not to miss opportunities that might be waiting somewhere else. In truth, Kino is a little afraid of putting down roots, the reasons for which will become horribly clear in the final installment of this set.
Although the series is scheduled for more episodes, the four presented on this DVD form their own complete story and contain one entire arc in Kino's life. That said, each episode stands alone and doesn't require knowledge of the other episodes to be enjoyed. It is worth noting that the box has a suggested age of 15 or older. At first, I wondered about this, but it becomes clear very soon that the concept of Kino's Journey is likely to be lost on younger viewers and that the subject matter is for an older audience. To say more about this would be to give away the plot, and the whole point is to discover it as Kino does.
One thing that is quite beautiful about Kino's Journey, and had me captivated from the beginning, is the animation and character design. Colors don't garishly pop off the screen, but blend together peacefully and beautifully to convey a sense of light-footedness and grace that is intrinsic to the animation itself. The picture is a clear, crisp transfer with no defects and is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 16:9 transfer. The English soundtrack is 5.1 Dolby surround with an active sound field, or you can choose the Dolby 2.0 Japanese soundtrack. There is an English voice and signs subtitle, or English signs-only subtitle. Aside from that, extras amount to a clean opening and ending sequence and some previews.
If you appreciate some oomph in storytelling with some fantasy elements, you must check out Kino's Journey. This is the type of series that you will watch once, allow certain details to fade into the background, and then watch feverishly later on after other things have come to your attention.
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