Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 3/31: Review two "atypical" anime series: Kemonozume (full of japan-ised french "new wave" moments & explosive surrealism) and Kino no Tabi (full of elegy & parable) (from Konstantinos in the comments)

Kino's Journey

Animation Kino no Tabi, or Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World is in the tradition of the highly episodic “caravan” series, stories in which a character or team of characters turn up in a new locale every week and create change, either in their environment or themselves. Usually the goal is either adventure (Doctor Who, Wagon Train), home (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Voyager, Ulysses 31, Red Dwarf) or as is the case in this, spiritual enlightenment.

Kino’s a teenage girl who travels a techno-fantasy world riding Hermes, a talking motorcycle, experiencing and learning about the customs of each of the countries she visits, spending at most three days and two nights tere because she assumes that this will be quite enough time to learn almost everything you’d need to know about a place. It’s an animated travelogue of sorts but instead of offering interesting trivia and cultural observation ala Ewan McGregor, it’s more concerned with investigating parable.

The anime series, of which I’ve managed to see a few episodes, is adapted from manga and I suspect betrays the original’s wordiness. Each of the stories pinions around a scene in which Kino sits before a representative from a given culture who reveals their customs to her; she doesn’t do much “investigating” exactly because travellers between these countries are such a rarity, they’re only too happy to offer some exposition to them as a way of making them understand.

In other words, it’s a show which, though unconcerned with plot and character in the strictest sense is still very much about storytelling. Where it not for the sudden burst of violence (there’s a rather bloody stand-off in one episode), this would be ideal for children, who as I did when listening to Michael Horden read Kipling’s Just So Stories on Jackanory, can really tap into the allegorical elements noticing for example, how religion can impact on our daily lives, directly or indirectly.

Kids too would probably overlook the fact that to an extent it’s also really rather boring. Though I can understand that the storytellers are attempting to offer a series which is meditative yet satirical, and there are some quite emotive moments too, Kino’s a bit of a blank presence and her dialogue with Hermes, full of repetition and aphorism lacks the element of the absurd that makes the likes of David Lynch or Beckett so compelling (admittedly that's a rather unfair comparison but it'll do).

On the other hand, the animation is superb. Though often quite static, the landscapes are invitingly picturesque, especially in the opening episode when Kino drives through a deserted city looming Inception-like overhead. The third episode features four stories in completely different locales, one inspired by Venice, a gondola drifting through narrow flooded streets.  It's certainly ambitious and I would imagine, also because of the sheer number of character designs required, a labour of love.

Checking for other opinions, Kino’s Journey does seem to be an acquired taste. Plenty of people welcome this experimental reliance on atmosphere, especially anime connoisseurs who can see its points of difference, one even suggesting that it “stands out as an incredible testament to the power of the medium” which is the kind of praise usually saved in the west for PiXAR. Nevertheless Kemonozume sounds like much more kind of thing. Do you know where I can find it?

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