Movie: Anime is often called cartoons for kids by the unknowing masses but it's tough to really blame them for their ignorance. Growing up with Saturday morning kiddy cartoons has left a lot of people unprepared to look beyond that singular experience with animation, even though I could list off a dozen adult animation series, be it Dilbert, The Flintstones, or even shows like Futurama, that would be more readily directed at mature audiences than the fare so many snobs think of when they hear the term "anime". I've watched a lot of series that were admittedly directed at younger audiences too but the bottom line is that as long as our cerebral cortex is being stimulated, does it matter if something is animated or live action? One of the newest releases on the market, also one of the more obscure titles I've seen in quite some time, Kino's Journey 2: Emerging Lanes, impressed me on several levels, leaving me wanting to see more, a lot more, than the four episodes the DVD contained.
The show is set in another place and time, much like our own but after some sort of catastrophe. Kino is a traveler, a person on a sort of quest to see more of the world in a time and place where traveling is far less common than it is today. The world is divided into a bunch of city-states that are spread out a long way from one another. Kino rides a talking motorcycle, Hermes, and is somehow connected to a person called, The Master. Kino has seemingly left a secure position with this person and fears settling down more than anything else. Kino tries to make sense of the various cultures she encounters and survives on her wits with the help of Hermes and her collection of handguns (the primary one being a revolver-a manly man's gun).
The series leaves much to be explored and learned, with the second DVD serving to expand the concept started in Volume 1. Like that volume, I enjoyed the replay value this DVD had to offer. Like a number of wanderlust shows of the past, Kino gets to see the world through the eyes of the cultures she encounters, making no judgments, only trying to figure out her own place in the world. Here's a breakdown of the three episodes on the DVD:
Episode Five: Three Men Along The Rails:
Kino comes across a series of men who are working on a railroad line, separated by several miles from one another. Each is following their limited view of the world, toiling at an endless task with little meaning. This contrasts to Kino's life of open-ended traveling and the metaphors are fairly obvious as to what the writer was trying to say. The sub-story here was about a land where machines do all the real work but humans find some measure of comfort following a meaningless routine in double-checking their computations. There was another story where the emphasis was on the tyranny of the will of the majority that I wish had been expanded.
Episode Six: Coliseum, Part 1:
Kino arrives at a country where she is forced to participate in a series of deadly games to earn her freedom. As the duels progress, she calls on every bit of the skill she has developed in her travels, with a goal of not killing her opponents if at all possible. If she wins, she'll get her freedom, citizenship, and the ability to enact a single law that the entire country must follow.
Episode Seven: Coliseum, Part 2:
Kino gets to meet the maniacal leader of the country and learn more about his background that has led to his despotic ways. Kino's motives become clear as the show progresses and the ending was something that was expected, but cute nonetheless. The nuances of the characters kept this from becoming a boring send up of the many fighting anime shows, and I hope others in the industry will learn from it.
The series was by no means light and cheerful, a contradiction in terms to many, if not most, series currently in demand by fans. The episodes seemed a lot deeper than most shows I've come across lately and the more I watched them, either in Japanese or English, the more I got out of them. If you ever watched the Serial Experiments Lain series, you'll know the style of writing employed. I can't say that the anime style itself impressed me at first, it was dark and muted with a lot of grain, but as I watched the show, it grew on me more than I would have thought it would.
The themes explored here included a plethora of different matters. Everything from privacy to relativistic morals and beyond came up in one form or fashion. Kino is more of an observer than someone who actively changes the situations but there was no prohibition from doing so. Kino seemed ready to blend in or otherwise take action in order to survive the threats that crossed her path but didn't shy away from taking an active role either. I'm going to rate this one as Highly Recommended based on the depth of material but it certainly wasn't for everyone.
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The colors were muted and not the ultra colorful style most anime is known for. There was grain and minor video noise but it seemed intentionally added into the picture for the purpose of poetic license. It made a nice change of pace from the more traditional styles I'm used to but the over scanned look will not be for everyone.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese soundtrack or a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround English track. Both tracks had their own merits and I really liked listening to each, with slight nods to the original track for a lyrical quality. The subtitles were slightly different than the English language track but they were close enough in terms of what was said to think the same staff did them.
Extras: The extras here were the usual clean opening and closing sequence, some production sketches, trailers, and a paper insert with a little bit of print on it.
Final Thoughts: I normally hate giving a high rating to series that only have three episodes but I was intrigued by this one and hope to see a lot more in the future. Maybe better extras will be added later on or maybe I'll have to satisfy myself that the replay value was solid enough to justify the value quotient I've come to expect but given the shows here, I think it was still justified at this point. Check out Volume 1 first but prepare to get this one too since there was a lot to like.