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 1: Idle Adventurer, 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 he encounters and survives on his wits with the help of Hermes and his 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 first DVD serving only to give an overview of the entire premise. Hopefully, more will be learned as the series progresses and I wanted to know more after watching the episodes twice. Like a number of wanderlust shows of the past, Kino gets to see the world through the eyes of the cultures he encounters, making no judgments, only trying to figure out his own place in the world. Here's a breakdown of the four episodes on the DVD:
Episode One: Land Of Visible Pain:
Kino comes across an interesting fact, the land is constantly in flux so that even a new map is wrong about locations. This foreshadows the events of the first country he comes across, a place where the people invented a miracle drug to give them telepathy. The down side was that they all caused one another so much pain that they were forced to live apart. In short, the drug designed to keep people from hurting others pushed them apart for all time.
Episode Two: A Tale Of Feeding Off Others:
Kino comes across a group of three men who seem stuck in the snow. He helps them get free only to find that things aren't always as they appear and that the laws of the survival of the fittest sometimes require a little bit of assistance.
Episode Three: Land Of Prophecies:
Kino comes to a land where it is predicted the world will end the very next day. Kino is far more practical than that and willingly takes all the free ammunition and supplies they offer him. When the end of the world doesn't come about, the people of the community find their belief systems strained and their leadership in need of replacement.
Episode Four: Land Of Adults:
Kino is discovered to be of an age between child and adult, the time when all seems possible but the desire as to direction unclear. Kino visits a country where a coming of age ceremony involves a medical procedure. If the children are found to be fit and healthy, as well as able to fit in, they live long, happy lives but if they are not, they find out the reasoning behind the idea that a nation is only as good as the way it treats the less fortunate. Kino appeared much older in physical age this time but that was due to the subject matter.
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 around himself 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 his path but most of time, the threats were minor. 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 really weren't extensive but since there were four episodes included, along with an anamorphic transfer, I really can't fuss too loudly. 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: This was definitely one of the stranger anime series I've seen recently. I liked how the concepts explored here didn't appear to be set in stone, giving the episodes a fluid quality that is often lacking in more conventional releases. I'm not sure if the show will be able to keep surprising me in the future but I can say this much, Kino's Journey looks to be a fun ride into the unknown.