AKA: Kino’s Journey (2003), Kino no Tabi, Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World
Genre: Adventure/Philosophical Drama/Experimental
Year Released: 2003
Distributor: ADV Films/Sentai Filmworks
Running Time: TV Series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: Kino’s Journey: Life Goes On, Kino’s Journey: Country of Illness -For You-, Kino’s Journey (2017 remake)
For Fans Of: Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Mushishi, Aria: The Animation
-The Japanese language track was used, but I’ve seen the first episode dubbed in the past.
-The 2017 re-released box set was used, but I’ve seen the original ADV box set with my first experience of watching Kino’s Journey. I do give the revamped ADV imprint props for adding translator’s notes when it came to a name pun with a secondary character in Japanese unlike the original release during ADV’s pre-Sentai Filmworks years.
-Kino’s gender assigned at birth will be revealed in this review. Normally, it would be a spoiler given the androgynous look of the character, but it’s become obvious given the anime community talking about it. [2022 edit: Kino will be addressed with both she/they pronouns given how both are used when talking about this character]
-This review is about the original 2003 TV series instead of the recent remake. Sorry, newbies.
-Kino’s Journey is based on a light novel series by Keiichi Sigsawa and Kouhaku Kuroboshi that’s been running since the year 2000.
-The original TV series was directed by the late Ryutaro Nakamura who’s best known for his work with Serial Experiments Lain and Ghost Hound.
-Kino’s original VA Ai Maeda and her sister Aki Maeda were both in Battle Royale.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: The Coliseum two-part arc has a subtitle of “Avengers” in the title? Wouldn’t it be funny if some Avengers fought in a coliseum over a decade after this anime aired? Oh, wait. That happens with Thor and Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok. Imagine that.
Warning: This anime review is another example of me unleashing my inner otaku hipster. I’m taking on an anime series I’ve known about for a long time. Back in my teenage years, I would occasionally read the now-defunct Newtype USA magazine which was about anime. Every issue contained a DVD that contained the first episode of an upcoming anime and one time I bought an issue that contained the initial episode of Kino’s Journey. I eventually saw the whole thing when the original box set came out. Months ago, I found out that they remade this anime and some people didn’t know that it was based on an older series. Where were you when Kino’s Journey first came out? No, this review will be about the original series, so don’t expect my thoughts about the new version. I will recommend Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews for his thoughts on the 2017 remake in contrast to the original 2003 series. Major props to him for knowing and watching the original back in the day.
Now that I got my otaku hipster moment out of the way, I think I’ll actually do some reviewing for once. Nothing personal, everyone.
Kino’s Journey is an anime series that is exactly what it implies in the title. There’s the traveler named Kino and their trusty motorrad (talking motorcycle) named Hermes. They both visit all the different countries in this world. Kino does have a rule for each visit. They stay three days and two nights in each place partially because they don’t want to overstay their welcome and become a citizen of wherever they visit among other major reasons that won’t be revealed lest I spoil a big part of her backstory. They learn about the cultures and traditions of each nation they visit while also trying to survive. I mean, they’re armed to the teeth with guns (known as Persuaders in this universe), tons of knives, and their wits should they ever have to fight in danger. Kino and Hermes keep on visiting this vast world while observing what people are like.
This was a nice blast from the past re-watching Kino’s Journey when it was re-released on DVD. I liked the production of this anime. The visuals are above average with CGI used very rarely, yet it is all integrated with the 2D animation. The animation itself is fluid enough to carry itself through such as the action scenes. There are some creative visuals like dream sequences, abstract thoughts that become visualized, or some unique filters from a character’s past such as an old-school film effect, some hazy images, or some surrealist artwork. The character designs are simple, but they never resort to moe-blobs or angular shonen character designs. Okay, there are a few times where Kino looks like a tomboyish version of Lain Iwakura, the title character from Serial Experiments Lain, but it was only a few times. With Ryutaro Nakamura in the director’s chair, one can definitely expect to have some unique aspects in presenting this vast world that Kino visits.
I was also into the musical side of this anime. The BGM consists of some ambient and experimental acoustic pieces like some of Texhnolyze’s calmer moments. There’s a great usage of traditional and world instruments thrown in that never feels gaudy or overproduced. I have to give props to the theme songs used. The opening theme “All the Way” by Mikuni Shimokawa (also known for her musical talent in Grenadier and Fairy Tail) was a great folk/pop song with subtle electronic elements that is very pleasant to listen to. The ending theme “The Beautiful World” by Kino’s voice actress Ai Maeda is certainly a beautiful song with the lyrics really fitting with Kino’s character in how they see the world itself. I do admit that the ending theme sounds like something from Haibane Renmei, but that’s definitely not a bad thing in my book given how much I really enjoyed the music in that astounding anime series. Major props to Ryo Sakai for providing the musical elements of this series.
Kino’s Journey is certainly an intelligent series. Anyone wanting to see the next “cute girls doing cute things” anime, shonen fighting anime, or something with mega mainstream appeal like Attack on Titan should look elsewhere even though they should give this a go at least once. There’s so much creative world-building going on like how certain countries operate or have different types of technology. Kino is certainly a wise character beyond their years, but I also like how she makes mistakes at times and isn’t a Mary Sue even when they are at her most competent. Hermes did have some dry comic relief with his habit of creatively mutilating adages while Kino always corrects him. Both have enough chemistry to make this series work even though they aren’t wacky or over-the-top characters like several other anime series. I thought it was fascinating how they cover some rough topics like religion, robotics, wars, the cycle of vengeance, censorship (in an episode that parallels Fahrenheit 451, no less!), and genocide depending on the episode. This is certainly a thinking person’s series right over here.
With all the positive qualities about Kino’s Journey, they couldn’t mask all the negatives though. There are multiple instances of broken English used in the titles or subtitles which I found to be distracting. During the episode with the prophecies, the subtle read (I’m not making this up): “We NO the future” which I found to be laughable. The fact that most of the episodes with the exception of one-two part story consisting of Kino visiting whatever country came off as repetitive at times and some episodes were more interesting than others. The animation while good has these strange TV line codecs in the visuals which I never understood why. There’s also the argument of Kino being a bland character and I can’t argue against some of those points. They are stoic and serious most of the time but can be lacking in the personality department. It’s a shame because there are things to like about them, but Kino didn’t show as much personality with the exception of her childhood backstory scenes and the last episode where they do emote much more. I also found the backstory with Kino’s Master to be very lackluster as it barely provided more context for her character or motivations. There’s also the ending which I know will turn off some viewers and not just because of what happens to the last country Kino visits.
Kino’s Journey is a fine example of some quality anime made in the early 00s. There’s intelligent writing, creative world-building, and even some good fight scenes in a few episodes for those that like some action. The music is top-notch and quite underrated if I say so myself. Some episodes I actually found to be better watching as an adult (the episode with the books being a big one for me given my fiction exploits and previous reviews of movies that almost got banned). I will admit that the cerebral writing isn’t for everyone and the ending can be incomplete for the casual viewer. While Kino’s Journey isn’t some flashy or mainstream-pandering anime, I still recommend it for anyone that’s interested in seeing something different.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like watching cerebral stories.
Add 1 point if you’re a fan of Ryutaro Nakamura’s work.
Subtract 2-3 points if you can’t stand philosophical subjects.
-Above-average animation quality
-Intelligent storytelling and philosophy
-Kino can be a bland character
-The ending can feel incomplete
-Lacking certain elements in Kino’s backstory
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: The original release of Kino’s Journey was rated 15+ prior to using a TV-PG VL rating later on. That 15+ rating with ADV’s old system was more apt. There may not be a lot of swearing and there’s barely anything sexual involved, the subject matter is definitely for older audiences. The violence can get bloody with various fight scenes and some wars with the latter involving the deaths of women and children in the Land of Peace episode. Some of the subjects tackled can be morbid such as suicide (some of them are shown on-screen), genocide, war, human trafficking, patricide, and even cannibalism. Yes, the last one happens and it’s very creepy with the fridge horror because it’s what you don’t see that makes the episode with that subject frightening in that episode.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The DVD Cover is from Sentai Filmworks. Kino’s Journey and all related names and terms are property of ASCII Media Works.