Posted on 9/07/13 01:50 PM
Universal and timeless, Kino's Journey is so extraordinary, so unique, that I'm hesitant to judge it alongside other anime. It's often confused for a moralistic exercise, but this is false. Rarely does any form of moral contemplation represent the focal point in any situation. The point of each episode is to raise an unanswerable philosophical question. What is work? How do you choose between two lives? What is the meaning of the journey? How do we define magic?
People have criticized Kino's Journey for its rudimentary animation, but what it lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for by being visually provocative. Pretty anime are a dime a dozen, but few utilize their images in such a way that add depth to the themes and story. A few of note: In episode 9, "Land of Books", Kino encounters a tank ceaselessly in motion: a metaphor for the eternalness of the Story. In episode 2, "A Tale of Feeding off Others", the aftermath of a brutal crime is ironically blanketed by a veil of snowy white purity.
The show also makes use of text to emphasize theme. Reprising a technique that he used in his other masterpiece, "Serial Experiments Lain", director Ryutaro Nakamura seamlessly blends screens of text into the animation. In episode 1, "Land of Visible Pain", portions of Kino's dialogue are repeated by way of text to establish her unwavering identity as a traveler. These written passages appear periodically throughout the show, at least one instance per episode, but never so often that they disrupt the flow of the story. For an anime whose thematic and symbolic focus exudes a literary feel, the written passages add a definite richness.
The script is a finely tuned piece of work, in both English and Japanese. So much anime is bogged down by portentous dialogue. The dialogue in Kino's Journey projects a focus and straightforwardness so rarely found in the medium. As to whether or not you should watch this dubbed or subbed, that's entirely up to you. I enjoyed both, but the dub is quite an accomplishment. English-speaking Kino has a tougher edge than Japanese-speaking Kino, but both actresses successfully capture her intelligence and stoicism. Neither voice is distinctly male or female, and sounds neither young nor old. Kino is a girl, yes, but she's not an in-your-face, butt-kicking femme fatal that's become so tiresome these days. The essence of her character is in her determination to remain a traveler without placing importance on gender or age. She's a great heroine that I wish more people knew about.
A genre-defying, satirical, achingly beautiful account of the human condition, challenging and bitterly honest...I love it so much I find it hard to write about. I hate grandiose claims, but Kino's Journey is a great artistic achievement, animated or otherwise.