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Kino is a young girl, visiting different lands alongside her trusty talking motorcycle, learning various things... both about the lands, and about herself.

Kino is a teen on a talking motorcycle called Hermes in a picaresque set of new places-of-the-week, drawing on stories from Pilgrim's Progress to The Littlest Hobo. Kino's encounters are surreal fables, loaded with repetition and allegory. Encounters often involve experiments with utopia that have gone strangely awry, such as a society where telepathy has been enforced upon the populace to foster harmony, but instead causes the opposite effect. Other meetings are framed as fables, such as three men, each unaware of the others' existence-one polishing railway tracks, the other ripping them up, and a third laying new tracks down, in a satire of corporate waste. A state adopts total democracy, only to collapse into mob rule; another gets robots to do all the work, leaving its populace idle. A nation declares itself to be the repository of all the world's books, but then censors its publications so mercilessly that there is little in the library but technical manuals and children's books. Two rival countries sublimate their warring impulses into sporting matches instead of war, but sporting matches with deathly consequences.

Some storylines stretch across more than one episode, such as the "Coliseum" arc, in which Kino must escape a gladiatorial arena where citizens fight for the right to make laws. In any other anime this would be an excuse for prolonged combat, but while Kino does eventually start shooting, the plot remains thoughtful. In any other anime, this would also be pretentious, obfuscating nonsense, but Kino's symbolism has an ultimate purpose. Based on a series of novels by Keiichi Sigsawa, with art by Kuroboshi, originally serialized in Dengeki magazine, it is difficult to discuss the story of KJ without giving away one of its secrets: Kino is actually a girl. Although not a plot point of major importance, not referenced in many episodes, and less of an issue in non-gender-specific Japanese dialogue, this fact had a palpably damaging effect on the way the show could be sold abroad. On DVD in English, KJ has struggled to reach new audiences with carefully non-committal press releases and box blurbs.

The surprise is deadened somewhat by Kino's androgynous look, and by the fact that the voice is provided, like so many anime boys, by a female actress. She is traveling in imitation of Hermes' previous owner, the original Kino, a male traveler who stopped briefly in her homeland. Like the many utopias through which she passes, it was a flawed paradise, a country where children receive a neural modification before puberty that turns them into contented, compliant adults. Our Kino takes up the questing mantle of the original after he dies protecting her from her parents, who want her to undergo the same operation.

Screened on late-night television in Japan, KJ seems designed to provoke thought and debate, its surreal encounters often scripted by Perfect Blue's Murai, its sparse direction often by Serial Experiments Lain's Nakamura. The pale colors are so painterly that the screen frequently gains canvas textures, the images so superfluous at times it's practically radio rather than animation. Its wandering protagonist is an everyman for the teenage audience, a living symbol of their own search for meaning and belonging in an inner world whose rules are eternally shifting. Many, if not most, anime are about the trauma of growing up and finding one's place, but KJ breaks new ground in its use of magic realism to convey the idea. That's not to say it does not have its inspirations, but it seems rooted in the "soft" SF of the New Wave, such as J.G. Ballard, or the poetic allegories of Ray Bradbury, rather than the "hard" SF that informs so many other anime storylines. The result is beautiful and remarkably restful after the frantic attention grabbing of some contemporary shows with their excess of flash and bounce, but it's more like meditation than entertainment.

A short prequel disc, Kino's Journey-Totteoki no Hanashi, was issued with a booklet in Japan in 2003, which included a "visual version of the novel" entitled To no Kuni-Freelance, and trailers for the then-upcoming series. The 2005 movie, Kino's Journey-Life Goes On (Kino no Tabi-Nanika o Suru Tame ni) is a prequel which shows the protagonist, wracked with guilt about the death of the real Kino, being trained by her teacher. After being directed to seek out Kino's mother, she sets off on her journey, framing the rest of the season of KJ as an homage to From the Apennines to the Andes-"3000 leagues in search of someone else's mother."
Series Credits
Person Name Episode Count
Sadayuki Murai
1
Ryutaro Nakamura
1
Ryo Sakai
1
Shigeyuki Suga
1

To edit the cast, go to an episode page.

Original US Poster Art

General Information Edit
Name Kino's Journey
Name: キノの旅
Romaji: Kino no Tabi
Publisher ADV
Start Year 2003
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Aliases The Beautiful World
Kino no Tabi
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