Every now and then, something strange and great comes out of Japan’s collective cartoon hole. Not to repeat my whine from the Master Keaton review, but the tendency towards derivation (accompanied by Sturgeon’s Law) means that there’s very little anime to care about. Each show is someone’s favorite, but not all opinions can be taken seriously1. So it’s refreshing to see a show of substance, not just one of great personal interest2.
Kino’s Journey is one of the more strange and utterly fascinating shows. Kino is a traveler, moving from country to country on some nameless continent, staying for three days, then moving on. Accompanied by Hermes, a mottorad (kind of a sentient motorcycle), Kino gets a taste of each nation’s customs and conflicts before moving on.
Kino’s Journey is an anthology, each episode a short story. Most episodes are constructed to be complete in and of themselves, not developing Kino’s character so much as creating the world for each parable-like story to unfold. Countries visited aren’t thinly veiled analogs for real nations (the show seems to take place in a darker version of Miyazaki’s idealized Europe). Rather, they stand for ideas and concepts. Not to be taken seriously as real places, these countries are iconic — emblems of human frailty, weakness and fear.
Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura (Lain), Kino has an interesting tonal balance. Without any of Lain‘s unrelenting grimness, the show is unflinching — as easy with humor as it is with the grotesque. (This is the first time I’ve watched someone skin a rabbit in a cartoon.) Unfortunately, Kino has a deeply annoying visual style. Large, distracting scanlines make it look like it was played back wrong by my DVD player. The visual conceit adds nothing to the show, just frustration.
Still, Kino is one of the better animes of recent memory. Chances are taken in both the storytelling and character. Never does Kino succumb to whiny introspection or teenage depravity (or, for that matter, the odd lack thereof). Kino’s Journey goes for the jugular, but the show is quiet and observant too.
2Like, say, Master Keaton or eX-Driver. I like these shows, but they aren’t the sort of thing I would bring to just anyone. They embody less quality than they do a simple conformity with my own interests.