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Moody, but simplistic and repetitive
on 19 February 2010
This is a curious little anime series, a little bit different from the norm, but I'm not entirely sure it works. The complete series is only 13 episodes long, but rather than the usual extended storyline, Kino's Journey is made up of distinct standalone episodes, each of them seeing the traveller Kino with speaking motorrad Hermes arriving in a new country in an alternate world where the laws that govern society are very different from our own and from one another.
One thing that almost all the countries have in common is that they welcome travellers visiting their country - a fairly infrequent occurrence - and are keen to explain how their society works and show them around. Not in every case - occasionally, the country that Kino visits has been subjected to profound changes caused by experiments on consciousness or technology, that leaves them paranoid not just of outsiders, but of each other. These are interesting fables - a world where each person can read the others' minds, a world where mechanical dolls look and act exactly like humans - but, compressed into 20 minutes of fairly static scenes, they don't really explore the issues raised in any great depth and settle for simple moral solutions. It's an approach that resembles the original Star Trek series and their encounters with alien societies, with a similar reset button at the end to start things afresh next episode.
Each of those episodes is fairly flatly delivered in terms of ideas, animation and voice-acting (the English dub even more dry than the Japanese version), but there are one or two episodes that stand out. One more threatening world sees Kino have to face opponents in deadly battle tournaments before she can leave (a fairly conventional device nonetheless that brings to mind Pokemon and Dragonball Z), and surprisingly, an intriguing and violent background episode on Kino's origins. None of this really adds up to anything significant or really pushes the anime into any new areas, but Kino's Journey does have a definite mood and character of its own.
The complete 13 episodes of the series are contained on this 4 disc set. The quality of the widescreen transfer is fine, the image having a soft-feel, with a watercolour page texture. The English dub is Dolby Digital 5.1, the Japanese 2.0. The 2.0 seems curiously mixed, or perhaps it has been downmixed from 5.1, the loudness varying in places. English subs are faint yellow and not a dubtitle transcription of the English dub. Extras are minimal - clean open and closings, production sketches and trailers for other ADV series.