Kino's Journey

TITLE キノの旅
DIRECTOR  Ryotaro Nakamura
COMPANY  Genco Inc.
YEAR 2003

REVIEW by Natalie Belton

I have a confession to make: I don't like most post-2000 anime series. The shift in animation style, obsession with pre-adolescent girls, excessive fan service, abundance of gore, and high school dramedies make me wary (and weary) of many popular anime. Fortunately, a show comes out once in a while that reminds me why I continue to watch and love it. 

Kino's Journey (Kino no Tabi) subverts many of these cliches. At first glance, this isn't too apparent. Kino's animation is rather limited, its protagonist has a large doll eyed face, and its opening theme is an overly peppy J-pop song. Outside of these factors though, the show bears little resemblance to the likes of Naruto or Inuyasha. Based on the light novel by Keiichi Sigsawa, the series follows a young traveler who journeys to various countries astride a talking motorcycle named Hermes. Kino only spends three days and two nights in each country, before moving to the next.

Each of the different societies that Kino and Hermes visit have their own distinctive cultures and flaws. Many of these societies have tired to find ways to alleviate their troubles. However, they often fail to predict the long term consequences of their ideas (such a one country that created an invention that reads peoples' minds). Some of the countries are hospitable and kind; others are corrupt and are ruled with an iron fist. The various people Kino encounters all have differing motives. While their motives may not seem justified at first, they are all merely trying to survive.

Kino meets some friendly, but rather eccentric locals.

It's also interesting to compare and contrast the two main characters. Hermes is very childlike and naive. He constantly worries about his immediate needs and tends to live in the present. Because of his impulsiveness, Hermes is often used as a source of comic relief in tenser moments of the show. However, Hermes is also very curious and can be rather insightful about things he observes (even if does tend to mispronounce words or botch up famous quotes). Most importantly, Hermes gives Kino someone to talk to on her seemingly endless journey. Their friendship is represented by the fact that they need each other in order to travel. Hermes provides the speed, while Kino provides balance as she rides him.

Fun Fact: Hermes is a Brough Superior motorcycle, the same bike T.E. Lawrence of Arabia rode.

On the other hand, Kino keeps as calm as possible and tries to asses the situation before making any move. While Kino can appear distant at times and seem hard to relate with, she is actually a very kind person. Kino choses not to get involved in situations, unless she absolutely has to. Many times she is faced with difficult choices. She constantly must decide if she should intervene or not if the rights of others are being violated. Kino tries not to get overly attached to any place, as she is constantly on the move. She enjoys meeting people but is afraid of settling down, likely due to her past and own traumatic childhood.

Kino's gender is often discussed among the show's fans, as it is not revealed until the fourth episode. Kino is female, but looks fairly androgynous. Her hair is cut short. She wears baggy, practical clothes, and she often uses the Japanese masculine pronoun, boku, to refer to herself. (The Japanese language does not have grammatical gender, but the speech women and men use tend to differ) Kino is a nonconformist. She prefers not to attach any labels to herself or other people. (This was something she learned from the original Kino whom she named herself after.) Thus, Kino refuses to let gender or any other any other category define who she is. 

A younger Kino and Hermes.

Kino's Journey is ultimately about the contradicting aspects of human nature and how we must make the best we can out of seemingly bad situations. Kino is reluctant to use violence, but always carries firearms for protection because she knows that people are not angels. Each of us has the capacity to do incredible good or bad. But the bad has a purpose: true beauty can only really be appreciated if there is pain.

Kino the pacifist.

Although Kino's Journey moves at a slower rate than many anime series, it benefits the show rather than hampering it. Kino's tranquil pace allows time for the audience to digest what they have seen on screen, as they try to wrap their heads around its physiological undertones. (Much of what takes place on screen is left for the viewer to interpret on their own.) If you are looking for an action-oriented, explosive heavy anime, you better look elsewhere. Likewise, if you are craving a highly complex drama, with multiple characters, you won't find it here. However, Kino's Journey's minimalism works largely in its favor. The anime is straight to the point, it does not gloss over the ugliness of life, but it is not overly pessimistic either.

This show is a testament that a high budget and special effects wizardry are not necessary to make a compelling storyline and create distinctive characters. Substance over style always trumps style over substance. If all we see on screen is escapist comedy and brainless action, it amuses for a while, like candy, but it has no value beyond that. Kino's Journey is a show to be thoroughly digested and analyzed.  

"The world is not beautiful, therefore it is."

*About the English Dub: While ADV Film's dub is not the worst one out there, it is recommended that viewers stick to watching the original Japanese. (This shouldn't be too demanding, since the animation in this show can be rather static.) Kino's voice actress, Kelli Collins, sounds a bit old for the character and her voice is often monotonous. This isn't an issue in scenes where Kino is quietly contemplating things, but her performance can be a bit lacking at times. Cynthia Martinez as Hermes is another story. Her acting sounds overly raspy and 'cartoony'. Hermes is a comic relief bike, so one may think he lends to a funny sounding voice, but this one just comes of as irritating. All of the other background characters sound merely serviceable. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Natalie Belton is currently a college student majoring in Anthropology and Geography with a passionate interest in culture, film, and art. Outside of writing for CDR, she also maintain her own animation and movie blog, The Animatorium.  For any questions, Natalie may be reached at