Kino’s Journey is oddly ephemeral, like a dream where things make a strange kind of intangible sense, where whatever happens seems to elude true logic once awake. Or it’s like a mythology, a series of fairy tales where each story seems like a lesson the learner knows they must grasp, because the meanings can be felt, but not seen clearly. Each incomprehensible, beautiful country Kino and the sentient motorcycle Hermes visit is yet another piece of what seems to be a puzzle, but is not, is only what it appears, what it says it is; a journey.
And this is the wondrous thing about Kino’s Journey. You will only frustrate yourself if you try to anticipate where it is leading, only confuse yourself if you continue to expect it to follow the same narrative structure as other series. Kino’s Journey is something unique. In each episode, with each country that Kino encounters and each story that is revealed, it becomes increasingly clear that neither Kino nor the series itself has a destination, and that that is the whole point; when you’re focused on where you’re going, you forget to look at where you are.
Challenging the viewer’s expectations in this way is risky – breaking away from convention always is – but it would be almost criminal (in my humble opinion) for anyone to watch this series and feel dissatisfied with it. You can take it at face value, yes, and still derive a measure of enjoyment from it. However to really get something out of it, you need to first understand this fundamental principal – it is not the destination that is important, but the journey. Once you get this, once you stop fighting it, you’ll start to see what the show is really trying to say, and start asking it the right questions. It’s then that you’ll begin to come up with the really meaningful answers, and more importantly, they’ll be yours, because Kino’s Journey is not the kind of show that believes there are any answers it can supply you with that are more valuable than the ones you come up with for yourself, and that too is the point.
The message might be less successful were Kino the type of character to deliberately get involved, to judge without call or cause, to come across as consciously heroic or vigilante. Kino is none of these things however, and instead acts as impartial witness to the beauty and follies of the world, accepting it without preconception or prejudice. It is this attitude that makes it possible to understand more clearly what the show is trying to achieve. Taken as a parable, this is arguably one of the deepest, most thought-provoking series on the shelves at the moment: it is almost Buddhist in its philosophies and aims. It might sound ridiculous to say it, but if you were to learn anything at all about living life from watching this series, it wouldn’t necessarily be a considered a bad thing.
With a script by Sadayuki Murai (Cowboy Bebop, Gad Guard, Boogiepop Phantom) based on the original novels by Keiichi Shigasawa, a beautiful, descriptive soundtrack by Ryo Sakai and the Japanese vocal talents of Ai Maeda (Battle Royale, Azumi 2), all packaged in a very nicely designed box, Kino’s Journey is also not only a series from which you can derive meaning, it is also lovely to behold, a beautiful world indeed. And in taking a page from Kino’s tale, in learning that perhaps the place of the traveller in the world is to accept that life just has a way of happening and love it regardless, you will make the journey of watching this series more than worth your while.