Beautiful, fairytale-like, often inscrutable – a koan in anime form.
In Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, we follow the enigmatic Kino and her talking motorcycle Hermes as they travel across a world like ours but not – a world of walled countries ranging from the primitive to the futuristic, riven by distance and culture. Kino is a traveller; she rides from country to country to experience their customs and see how the people live their lives; but she has one rule – and that is to only stay for no longer than three days. On her journeys, Kino will visit all manner of countries – pleasant ones, unpleasant ones, with cultures both closed and open; and often, her unexpected presence in a country is sufficient to spark change.
This series is, in fact, a semi-remake of an earlier Kino’s Journey anime that I watched way back in 2011, adapting many of the same stories from the source novel, but also including some new material. This current series is, in many respects, an improvement over the original. The character designs are much better (though the original is closer to the LN), the color palette more vibrant – while the stories and the presentation thereof are the same, the production values and quality of animation are better.
At the end of the day, however, visuals aside, the stories that Kino’s Journey tells must be compelling – and in that respect, the show is a bit of an enigma. In many of the places that Kino visits, she observes some kind of quandary or issue, and oftentimes gets caught up in it against her better sense. Often, however, there is no neat and happy resolution to the issue. Kino only intervenes, or doesn’t, and for good or ill, the country changes, or doesn’t. Kino does not ‘fix’ these countries, and although she intervenes, it is very rarely for the sake of the country as it is for its people. She is decidedly above politics and taking sides, except insofar as her inaction might hurt people. But in doing so, many of the episodes end on an ambiguous note, where not everything is resolved before we follow Kino as she rides away.
There is a tendency for us to seek moral or ethical lessons through the media we consume. At face value, each episode of Kino’s Journey doesn’t always offer any kind of moral or ethical assurance or guidepost, even if there is a kind of putative expectation that it should, based on the entire premise. Kino is first and foremost a traveler – and as such, her goal is to experience. It is through that act of witness that we are able to come to some sort of object lesson unique to ourselves, one that the show may only obliquely point towards in its unconventional style of storytelling. It’s a rare trait – and one that Kino’s Journey does with a particular dose of flair.
I give this: 4 out of 5 Colt-esque Revolvers