Review for Kino's Journey - Complete Series
It was ten years and two months ago that ADV UK died. That abrupt end to what was then one of the UK’s pre-eminent anime distributors brought with it the kind of studio sale that is necessary, when you have a warehouse to clear out by the end of the week. Fans descended on the corpse of ADV like a wake of vultures, triggering some justifiably fruity responses when some fans had the temerity to complain about the service, to some overburdened, overworked, and soon to be unemployed representative. I didn’t complain, but I was one of the vultures, and in the frenzy of buying (hoping that an item remained in stock long enough to get from basket to checkout), I snagged Madlax, Najica Blitz Tactics, Yugo the Negotiator, Excel Saga, Cromartie High School, and Kino’s Journey. After all this time, I am still most pleased with Kino’s Journey, a show that is transcendental compared to the others.
That means that Kino’s Journey has been out of print in the UK for ten years and two months. That’s ten years too long, and it’s only now, with Anime Limited rescuing some old ADV licenses and giving them a re-release, that this much acclaimed series has returned to UK shores. In the meantime, there has even been a Kino’s Journey remake/sequel, which currently languishes in my Crunchyroll queue. From what I’ve read and heard about it, I may be better off sticking with the original.
Kino is a young adventurer who is travelling the world on a motorrad named Hermes, to all intents and purposes a talking motorcycle. It's a strange world that Kino travels, set in some unspecified future, full of wonders and mystery. It's not for the timid, and naturally Kino is armed for self-defence. Kino has one rule, to never stay in any one place for more than three days, to keep on moving so as to keep learning something new, and to never settle down.
Thirteen episodes are presented across three discs from All the Anime.
1. Land Of Visible Pain
Following a map is never easy in a world that constantly changes. A cliff's edge appears where a road should have been, but Kino isn't discouraged for long, as serendipity works in strange ways. The road leads to an odd deserted city. Everything is automated, from the customs booth to the restaurants and hotels, and Kino doesn't want for anything. Exploring an abandoned city could get to be a little dull, but the second night in, Kino learns where the people went. They went home. All of them are stuck inside their houses, never venturing out, never interacting, and fearful of everyone else.
2. A Tale Of Feeding Off Others
The depth of winter has arrived, deep snow lies everywhere, and Kino is hunting rabbit. Hunger isn't the problem for Kino, helping others is. A truck has been stranded in the deep snow, and three men have been gradually starving to death in the cold. It was sheer luck that Kino ran into them, and has been nursing them back to health ever since. The men are grateful for the help, and speak fondly of returning home in time for a festival as soon as the thaw comes. But they are rather reticent about what their truck was transporting.
3. Land Of Prophecies
Kino visits a seaside town where prophecy is central to everyone's belief. It wouldn't be such a major thing, were it not for the prophecy that indicated the world was going to end in two days. For Kino it is a stroke of luck, as the fatalistic residents are happy to offer accommodation and supplies gratis. As Kino continues to explore the area, it becomes apparent that all the neighbouring areas have been affected by the prophecy in different ways.
4. Land Of Adults
Once upon a time, a little girl lived in a land where all the adults were happy, hardworking citizens, and they expected all their children to grow up the same way. She wasn't the happiest of children, as the other children picked on her and teased her. One day, a visitor came to her town, a man named Kino who loved to travel, to see new things, and enjoy new experiences. She duly invited him to stay at her family's guesthouse, but she found this adult outsider fascinating. He told her fascinating stories of the outside world. She also helped Kino salvage and resurrect a battered motorrad. Then the little girl told Kino about the tradition of her country, that when children reached 12 years of age, they would go to the hospital and have that part of their brain that made them children cut out, and henceforth they would be responsible adults ever after. She also told him that her 12th birthday was in just 2 days.
5. Three Men Along The Rails
A forest isn't a friendly place for a traveller, as it is easy to lose one's bearings. Fortunately, Kino finds a set of rusted rails leading out. The railway leads on an interesting journey. The first person Kino meets heading in the opposite direction is busy cleaning and polishing the tracks, has been doing so for fifty years in anticipation of the railway being rejuvenated. The second, a few miles down the line, has been dismantling the railway on the orders of his employers. The third man is hard at work laying the tracks down again. All three have strange tales to tell, and all expect a story in return.
6. Coliseum - Part I
Kino has heard of a wondrous country, the pinnacle of civilisation, and is eager to visit. The reality is far more depressing, a tiered society where the second-class citizens live as slaves in the underworld, hoping to compete in gladiatorial combat for a chance to be first class citizens, living in a rundown decadent metropolis. By simply entering the city, Kino is automatically entered into the games, and refusing would mean a lifetime of servitude or worse.
7. Coliseum - Part II
The four who have made it to the final round, including Kino have received an audience with the king. The king wants to entertain his guests, and has a play put on for them that tells his life story. One of the guests finds it dull, the other finds it stressful, and then the king offers to give one of the two females a shortcut to citizenship, by offering to marry her, although it doesn't matter to him which one. But one of the perks of winning the contest is the chance to change one of the laws of the kingdom, and Kino has an alteration to make to the justice code.
8. Land Of Wizards
Nimya lives in an agricultural country where everything revolves around crop yields and cultivation. It isn't a good place to be an inventor, and her dreams of flight are constantly ridiculed and belittled. She forges on regardless, investing her legacy in ever more fanciful inventions, while her fiancé just wants her to settle down and be a 'normal' wife. She has an invention though that might just work. All she needs is to have a statue moved. But the townsfolk have finally had enough of her eccentricities, and the mayor is moved to destroy her hard work. Then they get their first visitor in five years.
9. Land Of Books
The Land of Books is legendary, a place where all the world's books are collected, and Kino wants to visit. The rules are strict though, as only those who bring a book can borrow one. On their way to the country, Kino and Hermes meet an escapee from the bibliocracy. They are amazed to hear that in a country of books, writing is illegal. Worse, when they get there, they find a pitifully small collection of books to borrow. Apparently people are allowed to read only critic-authorised books.
10. A Tale Of Mechanical Dolls
Hermes' speedometer has stopped working, and the motorrad is beginning to feel the mileage. He's looking forward to a service, and fortunately the next stop on their itinerary is a country technologically advanced enough to offer some repairs. It's just that Kino can't seem to find it. While searching, they bump into an old woman in a forest. She invites them back to her masters' house. She says that she is an android created to serve as a maid, and that her family would be happy to host Kino and Hermes.
11. Her Journey
Peacefully floating down a river on a raft, Kino has the time to reflect and try and understand what the journey has meant. The first rule of travelling in these harsh times is to stay alive, and it's advice that Kino has shared with whoever has asked. But surviving means being harsh oneself, and Kino's skill with guns means that that advice may not have been interpreted as hoped. Later, when Hermes begins running out of fuel, they look for help from an old man living as a hermit.
12. A Peaceful Land
Veldelval is the peaceful land in question, a place that Kino just has to see. And true enough, everyone is happy and cheerful, and the thoroughfares are filled with decommissioned weapons as monuments to a violent past turned distant memory. Kino is invited to see how the country solved its perennial problem, a 200-year war with a neighbouring country.
13. A Kind Land
There is a country with a bad reputation among travellers, a place utterly inhospitable to visitors. Kino's curiosity is piqued, but the warm welcome is unexpected and pleasantly surprising. A little girl named Sakura invites Kino to stay at the family guesthouse, and even offers a guided tour of the land. Everyone is warm and welcoming, Kino wants for nothing, and is even invited to attend a wedding. But when Kino decides to change the habit of a lifetime, and stay for more than three days, the welcome suddenly turns cold.
Let’s talk scanlines. The unique visual aesthetic of the original Kino’s Journey was that it gave the impression you were watching it on a CRT TV, with visible scanlines part of the animation. I had the original ADV single volumes, NTSC-PAL standards conversions for the UK which had a tendency to soften the image, and the scanlines were still visible. ADV re-released Kino’s Journey in 2017, and Anime Limited’s release is based off those discs and to my eyes, it’s as if the scanlines have been de-emphasised, apparently to give it a more ‘normal’ anime look. Large areas of colour now look uniform, and the scanlines are really only obvious around fine detail and the edges of colour. I compared an episode on the old disc and the new disc back to back, and the difference is appreciable.
Otherwise Kino's Journey has a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer which is acceptable, with no signs of aliasing or compression artefacts, and even digital banding was conspicuously absent. A lot of it has to do with the style of the anime itself. It's certainly a unique piece, very impressionistic and minimalist. The character and world designs are simple but effective, and the show has a somewhat 2D feel that harks back to an earlier age of animation, eschewing the CG snazziness of modern productions. The palette is a gentle pastel one, which reinforces the story's ethereal and magical mood. Kino's Journey is a visual delight.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with the usual subtitles and signs tracks. Go with the English if you want the extra surround oomph, but the stereo is no small potatoes either, with audible separation and understated but effective sound design. The dialogue is clear in both versions, and there is nothing to fault about the dub. Except that I personally disliked the English dub voice of Hermes. I still adore the opening theme song for Kino’s Journey. It's wonderful.
One difference is in the subtitle font used, which is smaller than that on the old ADV UK discs. The song subs are small enough to be visibly pixellated.
The discs present their content with static menus, jacket pictures, and somewhat redundantly, a translated English credit reel after each episode (the credits are translated anyway on the episodes as per ADV practice back then).
Disc 1 has the textless credits, and trailers for the last two other properties under the ADV label in the US, Elfen Lied and Mezzo.
Disc 3 has the production sketches in a 6:11 slideshow. Note that the original single volumes had 16 minutes of production sketches split across all 4 discs. The single volumes also had inlays in the cases, including a 4 page inlay on the first volume with some extra content besides the artwork and episode listing.
Genre anthology shows are a staple of television. You take a half hour time slot, and use it to develop a new spooky sci-fi or fantasy story, throw in an almighty twist, and watch the fans tune in by their hordes. It's led to classic shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Tales of the Unexpected. Kino's Journey is the anime equivalent, with Kino visiting a new country in each episode, where a different idiosyncrasy of society is explored with a unique twist at the end. Kino's Journey offers wonderful varied stories that enthral and captivate. Its glimpses into strange worlds are gentle allegories of human nature, but the messages that the show has to offer never overwhelm the beautiful animation, the thoughtful characterisations and the imperative to just tell a decent story. The only complaint is that it is all over far too soon.
If you are looking for a frame of reference, Kino's Journey lies somewhere between Haibane Renmei and Mushi-shi. It's like Haibane Renmei in that it shares that magical, ethereal feel. It's gentle and unassuming, it offers you stories that you submerge yourself in, and worlds that draw you in and captivate you. It's like Mushi-shi in that it has an anthology format, with Kino and Hermes visiting a new country each week, finding a new adventure and meeting new characters. At least that was what I thought after watching the first episode. With the second episode it becomes clear that there is something else to Kino's Journey that makes it unique. It has a dark bleak core to it, a streak of pessimism that on the surface seems at odds with the fairy tale surroundings and the light airy feel to the stories. But then again, all fairy tales are dark and scary at the core, and the contrast with the happy-go-lucky peripatetic elements to the show actually makes the dramatic moments stand out in stark relief, and more effective for it.
Still, this was a missed opportunity for Anime Limited in bringing Kino’s Journey back to the UK. As well as the 13 episode series, there were also a couple of spin-off feature films, OVAs more like given their short half-hour runtimes, and they are even now yet to see an English territory release. As it is, what we have here is a simple re-release of the series in complete collection form. It’s long overdue most certainly, but there is nothing here if you already have the ADV singles from the original release; a little less actually. And I can’t shake the suspicion that ADV have fiddled with the video for this re-release. Having said all that, if you have never seen Kino’s Journey before, drop what you’re doing and place an order. It is more than worth the price All the Anime are asking for the series.
NOTE: Actually, having now taken screencaps from the discs, I’m half convinced that it’s my new flat panel TV processing the image to even out the ‘noise’, even though I’ve turned off as much image-processing as I can. For some reason, it didn’t apply the same noise reduction to the NTSC-PAL image that it does to the NTSC image. Either way, try and find an old widescreen CRT set to watch it on to get as close as possible to the creator’s original intent.