A girl and a Motorrad go on a journey. This is not a start of a joke but of Kino no Tabi – a philosophical adventure series about politics, deaths, human stupidity, female Brocks and satire.
Kino no Tabi is an episodic anime with very little continuity between its stories. Every episode contains either one or two tales from different countries the main character Kino and her side-kick Motorrad Hermes travel to. Every country presents a unique story and points out a different issue. This format in general has its strengths and weaknesses. One of its biggest strengths is that it can cover a lot of ground and convey a lot of messages which wouldn’t have been possible to do in a coherent story. However, this is also its big weakness, as it simply doesn’t leave enough time to properly explore its settings, often only barely scratching the surface of the problems and ending them with simple and unsatisfying conclusions.
That said, not every story is like this, and some do indeed blossom under these limited circumstances. The ones that do are almost always the most simple, and probably the most ridiculous as well. You see, Kino no Tabi has two sides to itself. A serious side, and a satiric side. Whilst I’ve found the serious side often quite lacking and hindered by not having enough time to make its seriousness really get across, the satiric side is most often quite well done, pointing out serious issues in a totally ridiculous manner and making fun of them. The way it manages to turn very serious ideas into loads of comedy is a huge plus for the series overall.
However, if the entire series was based around satire and irony, it would probably lose its flare rather quickly, which is why it needs to balance it out. One thing that really helps with this is a quite decent atmosphere building, supported with quite good settings. The country landscapes range from futuristic cities to ancient battle arenas, which give every episode a breath of fresh air. The anime makes good use of its locations and always manages to provide a quite mysterious, almost a bit unsettling atmosphere under which I strived to know more. It’s a bit of a shame that this goes to waste more often than not by wanting to find the quickest way out possible so that our two main characters can move along somewhere else.
Our main duo, huh? Well, they’re certainly something. Hermes, Kino’s Motorrad, can roughly be described as a comic relief character. He essentially does nothing besides trying to be funny in moments that need to be filled with some sort of dialogue. His jokes consist of stiff one-liners and self-aware implications and neither of the two really hit the spot at any point in the series. Moreover, Hermes’s jokes get predictable over time, and once you’ll realize that he completely disappears during every single serious scene, you’ll start taking his presence as filler. He’s a character that didn’t bring anything to the show outside of few questions Kino couldn’t ask herself on her own, and if that isn’t a demise of a bad Motorrad, then I don’t know what is.
Kino herself is only slightly more interesting. The way I interpret Kino’s purpose as a protagonist is that she’s a way for the viewer to think about things on their own. She doesn’t care about anything, nor she portrays more than 2-3 emotions throughout the whole run of the anime. Except for a few personal episodes, she doesn’t seem like a person at all. Even her reflections at the end of every episode don’t catch anything of what she really thinks, even with Hermes trying his hardest to get something out of her. Now that I think about it, it’s not that easy to make good jokes when you’re working with someone like Kino. Sorry, Hermes, I hope you make it big as a stand-up comic.
Now, it may seem that I think Kino not being that deep of a character is a bad thing, which actually isn’t true at all. The fact of the matter is, the format of Kino no Tabi and the way it presents things and wants you to think about them makes the personality of the protagonist quite irrelevant. It may have been a bit drastic to make Kino as uninspiring as she is, but there’s a justification for that. The creators don’t want her to experience the story, they want you to do so.
Which, truth be told, is a decision that doesn’t really intrigue me personally. I’m not the type of person who likes to “challenge their minds”. I’m a simple person, looking for simple entertainment. Kino is maybe simple in its episodic stories, but not in terms of artistic execution. Some episodes feel like they talk about much much more than I can grasp, and some things are completely beyond my level of understanding, which I realized after our fellow club-member thizlas started pointing out things he noticed in the series.
Because of this fact alone, I cannot say I enjoyed watching Kino very much. It’s a series that certainly has interesting ideas and concepts, but it gives up on everything in the hope of bringing a message or pointing out an issue. Because of its episodic format, every setup it comes up with ends up being mind-numbingly undeveloped, often making me think what is the point in presenting complex settings when it doesn’t make any use of them.
Moreover, its animation is subpar at the very best. One could argue that it stays on quite a consistent level throughout its run, but I would argue back that it’s not that hard to draw consistently when half of your characters are squares, rectangles and all sorts of polygons with curves only here and there. It is not a disaster to look at, but it certainly leaves a lot to be desired. The same could be said about the show’s attempts at looking as old-school as possible. Because of this, the show has a very dry and dreary color palette, as well as horizontal lines across the screen reminding me of the one time I was cleaning my grandpa’s PC on a many many years old monitor. Shoutout to my grandpa by the way, he’s a good man.
The story, the characters, the animation, the voice-acting all together forge a rather uninspiring experience I often got a bit bored by. This is just me however, and as I said somewhere in the mess above, I’m not a type of person who enjoys these types of anime. And even with that, I can still say that Kino has a lot of strong moments, episodes and an overall quite decent atmosphere. So, if you don’t mind slower shows and have the ability to keep your mind open, don’t be afraid to give Kino a try.
Because make no mistake, I don’t think Kino no Tabi is a bad anime.
It’s just not an anime for me.