The world is not beautiful, therefore it is; introducing Kino’s Journey

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I quite like subversive fairy-tales; the suggestion that there is something ugly and unknown shifting beneath a veneer of superficial beauty. This is precisely why I so admired Princess Tutu, because lurking behind that familiar style of magical girl characterization was insecurity and doubt; supposed heroes and villains stalked by emotions betraying their cliche destinies. Kino’s Journey is much the same in the sense that its own depiction of beauty is often offset by a harsh reality. Supposing that one extreme of feeling cannot be defined without the polar opposite, Kino simply muses that “the world is not beautiful, therefore it is”.

3D-Fansubs recently released 2007’s “Kino no Tabi Movie 2”, also known as “Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- The Land of Sickness -For You-“. I still remember how I felt when I first discovered Kino’s Journey. Shocked? I had no idea of what to expect, I’d never even heard of it before, I simply got hold of the DVD and pressed play. Since then, I’ve always loved the show, it’s the quintessential unknown, underrated gem; serious, subversive and philosophical. The original TV series (13 episodes) appeared during 2003, but apparently, no-one noticed it. This is your chance to make that right.

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First off, the new movie is animated by SHAFT; everyone loves them, right? After all, they’ve produced recent favorites like Hidamari Sketch, Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and even Ef: A Tale of Memories. As expected, they’ve actually done a pretty fine job, most notably, the previously androgynous Kino is starting to look and sound inexplicably female; now she’s suddenly paternal and caring, but still distant enough to avoid breaking her 3 day rule.

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You see, the twist of Kino’s Journey is that she’s a globe-trotting traveler who spends no more than three days in any one country, and her only companion is Hermes, her talking motorcycle. Kino may look like a frail young lady, but her seemingly weak appearance belies a great talent for pistol shooting and a rather ambiguous morality; basically, she’s capable of, and does commit, murder at the drop of a hat, but only tends to act when forced into a corner. Through out her various adventures, she travels from country to country, tasting various cultures and technologies, looking at everything from an objective point of view, much like a scientist observing an elaborate social test. She refuses to pass judgment on anyone, or feel either elation or horror, despite almost constantly facing strange circumstances.

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As you may have guessed, Kino’s Journey was an episodic TV anime, and this second movie is no different. It’s completely self-contained and runs a measly 26 minutes, essentially, it’s just another installment to add to an already impressive inventory of bizarre adventures, with the ever-chirpy Hermes in-tow. You can easily watch it without having seen the original TV series. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of the show is directed by a certain Ryutaro Nakamura, who’s most famous previous work is the similarly discordant and thoughtful Serial Experiments Lain (and as of writing, he’s also directing one of my current favorites and arguably the best series of the fall 2007 season, Ghost Hound).

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The basic plot of the “movie” goes something like this. We begin, as ever, with Kino and Hermes entering a new country; this time, it’s the worryingly named “Country of Illness”; a technologically advanced settlement purposely separated from the outside world due to the various illnesses and diseases affecting its peoples. To what depths is the country willing to sink to in order to find a cure? Are a few healthy lives worth sacrificing if it could mean salvation for hundreds more? Hell, what gives mankind the right to give or take life, even if it’s in the name of scientific advancement?

Kino herself refuses to ask these questions and considering her quiet apathy, we have no moral compass to blindly follow. There is no emotional music with its virtual “cry here” pointers seen in so much anime; you are expected to think, and feel, for yourself.

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It’s interesting how the sickness is largely represented by a helpless, cute young girl, the likes of which we’re used to seeing in moe anime like Kanon and sola. We’re being pushed to feel pity for her, yet her precious existence is only possible with the sacrifice of countless others. Our endearment to her innocence and beauty, much like the superflat movement, is intentionally subverted by the corpses propping up her health. Again, Kino reminds us that the world is not beautiful, therefore it is.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

20 thoughts on “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is; introducing Kino’s Journey”

  1. Damn, you just beat me to it with this one! ;) I watched this last night with high expectations – the other movie was little more than a bonus episode (as with this, sadly) but I wasn’t disappointed. You’re absolutely dead-on with the lack of moralising and Kino’s neutral stance – the movie presents both sides of the argument and leaves it up to the viewer to judge. With the tantalisingly short running-time aside, this was a timely reminder of why I’ve always loved following Kino and Hermes on their journey. We need a second season!

    I didn’t know it was handled by SHAFT though – I’ve come to really respect their output in recent months and the CG used here really suited the sci-fi overtones.

  2. Oh! The movie has been finally released? Nice, I’ll have to watch this.

    I hated Kino at first because of its style but after a while I totally loved it, and how it portrays different cultures, etc. It’s in my top 10 favorite shows. I can’t find the novels anywhere though. I thought they were localized?

  3. Hmm. Nice superflat comparison. I’m unconvinced about SHAFT, but that’s probably because I haven’t seen enough of their stuff.

    This sounds like a good example of speculative fiction being used to, well, speculate. (Tautologies are inescapable today.)

  4. I feel like I waited forever for this latest installment which, while satisfying, felt woefully short. Once I noticed that it was more an episode than a movie it was fairly easy to fall into the typical Kino rhythm. Here’s hoping that more Kino comes around. I bought the original series, I wonder if this and the other movie/ova will ever see a dvd release state side.

  5. Based on the previous “movie”, I guess I was kind of expecting this to be fairly short. Even still, it would be great to get a feature length episode since the universe and style is totally set-up (much like Cowboy Bebop) to explore anything and everything. I suppose the problem, as always, would be funding.

    Also, I doubt these extra installments will ever be released outside of Japan. Kino’s Journey has always been one of the unknown great anime (right up there with things like Texhnolyze) and I doubt it sold too well for ADV.

    @Koji Oe: Tokyopop released the first novel but “issues with the licensor” have indefinitely delayed the rest. What a shame :(

  6. It is true that Kino was not ADVs most popular title, although the fact that they re-released it as a thin pack suggests that someone bought it. Several of my friends got into Kino after seeing it at anime club. ADV just needs to let people know how good it really is.

  7. Bateszi, I’m assuming you’ve also seen the episode 0 as well? “Tower Country”. This one is one of my favorite Kino eps– top 5 or so.

    I’m eager to check out the new “movie”. Bummer about the run length– but one of the things I enjoyed so much about Kino is that, much like Mushi-shi, it’s able to pack a full story into such a short time. When I finish one, I never feel short changed. I always have something to think about, and a lot more change often happens in those 22 minutes than in 5 or 6 eps in other shows.

    I also liked your comparison to Tutu. Kino does have that sense of being a distorted fairy tale. It doesn’t use the tropes of fairytales the way Tutu does, but perhaps its the way the stories are set up that makes it feel that way. Nice to see that you like both shows.

    …I ought to get this thin pack. I’m sure I’d like rewatching the show more than I think I would.

    I’ve also been thinking about piecing these 3 extra eps together to make a DVD– the run length would be about 75 minutes for the 3 of them. Then I can put in the da’ shelf and it’ll look real purdie there. :)

  8. P.S. Re: the new lay out (much of which I like)– you can no longer systematically go through your reviews show by show. I searched for Mushishi and found the last few entries, but, for example, I was thinking about browsing through the titles you’ve reviewed, to see if you had perhaps liked other shows I wasn’t thinking of, but this is no longer an option. This is a bummer, as those older entries basically get lost, since no one knows they’re there, unless they’re looking for a specific title.

    Essentially, there’s no index anymore, which is a shame. The “history” of the site is sort of unfindable, and it’s hard to use it as a reference anymore– and I like reading your opinions on shows I haven’t checked out yet, or to find new ones.

    Just a thought.

  9. eek! i didn’t know the Sickness Country movie had been released! and now i must hop off to download it. I’ve been a fan of Kino no Tabi for a while; and now i’m excited. time to go grab that :D

    Thanks for plenty of screencaps. also for the little tidbit about Ryutaro Nakamura directing Ghost Hound — i was on the edge about picking GH up before, but i’m gonna have to take the dive now.

  10. @Steve berry

    I had a quick search around for the “Tower Country”, but it doesn’t seem like I’ve seen it. I read a synopsis though, and it sounds like precisely the kind of weird yet fascinating concept I love.

    I’ve only seen Kino’s Journey once all the way through, but my favourite episode is probably “A Tale of Feeding Off Others -I Want to Live-” along with the rather emotional “Land of Adults -Natural Right-“. It feels like a series I could revisit at any moment though, and I’ll definitely look to catch the Tower Country, at least. It says a lot when I’m writing all this from memories over three years old, certain episodes – just 22 short minutes in my life – made such an impression on me that I’m still pondering them today.

    Also, I understand your concerns RE: the new layout. However, I think there might be some crossed wires here: say, if you search for “mushishi”, the first page will display the 12 most recent entries, then if you click “Older entries”, you should be able to browse through the next 12. Also, you can quickly scan through my reviews by clicking the “Reviews” link at the top and then use the same method of clicking “Older entries”. However, I understand what you’re getting at concerning how my new system of navigation isn’t as specific as it was before. This time around I really wanted to simplify the whole process rather than send lists of categories spiraling down the menu.

    @Celeste

    Let me know what you think of the movie?

    As for Ghost Hound, you know what you’re getting with Nakamura. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but given 3 or 4 episodes, I found I was completely hooked on the story. It’s really strange and unsettling, much like Lain, but a lot more grounded in realistic human personality than most of his other works. Suffice to say, I intend to post about it soon enough :)

  11. I watched “Country of Disease” this morning. I liked it– it was thought provoking, as almost all Kino eps are– but there were some odd moments of Directing that sort of hampered the experience for me. Most notable were 1) the sort of bland CGI for the panning of the city scapes, the views of the mortor cycle while moving, and the shots of the sheets towards the end of the eps, and 2) the odd inter-cutting of Hermes comic relief during the tense climactic encounter, which really undercut the drama of that moment for me.

    Still, perhaps I’m nitpicking. The ep was good. There was a lot to like about it. I just thought the interesting story was a bit hampered by some odd directorial choices.

    Re: layout– I saw that one can page through the older entries, and that one can look up a specific show by searching for it. What I was missing was being able simple scan through all the shows you’ve watched and reviewed– then clicking on one link, and having all the reviews for that show pop up. Did you use to have that feature? Mostly, it was nice to be able to browse, at a glance, through your reviews even when I didn’t have a specific show in mind.

    Still, this new lay out is nice– and feels much more focused on writing editorials and thought pieces, rather than simply being a library of reviews, which was never really what this site was anyways. :)

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Ghost Hound. I checked it out, but found it very slow, without much in the way of drama or real atmosphere, but then, I didn’t watch further than perhaps the 2nd ep– perhaps a second viewing is in order.

  12. Well that’s lame, the 00 sub isn’t on animesuki anymore. I can send it to you (bateszi or other interested parties) if you want.

    Neither 00 or the first movie were licensed in the us. For now only the TV series can sit on my shelf :(
    (although they did give you a mini kino’s journey license plate with the first disc!)

  13. @ Steve berry

    I definitely agree with your comment on the motor-cycle looking a bit weird when moving. I suppose it’s one of the quirks of relatively inexperienced CG, something about the physics seemed a bit off. Anyway, it’s not really nit-picking when it’s only 20-30 minutes long – you would hope they would get those things right. As for the sheets of “image”, I thought it was a fairly cool scene, especially when the characters start ripping through it and the images are partly reflected across their bodies; leads to some nice screen-capping potential :)

    Also, your comments on the layout have given me an idea. I was thinking of having a drop-down menu of all the anime I’ve reviewed, this way you can scroll up and down through my archive of past series without messing around with a massive list stretching down the side of the page.

    As for Ghost Hound. I love it, but it takes time. It wasn’t an immediate attraction, but with every episode, it gets better. Right now it’s probably the best anime I’m watching (well, that and Shigurui, but that’s definitely an acquired taste!). Since you love Kino, it’s worth giving it a second chance :)

    @ dengar

    Cheers for the offer, mate. I actually did exactly the same thing last night when I went to look for the episode 00 and couldn’t find it. Luckily, it’s hosted on BoxTorrents, so I’ve already picked it up.

    And damn, I wish I had a Kino’s Journey license plate. Any merchandise for this show is like gold dust (I especially adore the DVD cover art and general conceptual art, it’s so beautifully designed).

  14. “And damn, I wish I had a Kino’s Journey license plate.”
    Make me glad I bought the first box when I did. Still one of my favorite extras that I’ve gotten from buying anime DVDs.

    I’m happy for more Kino, but because I believe they’ve covered the idea of the few for many (albeit in an interesting twist with how “war” was solved) before, it didn’t feel as good as it could have been. I like what SHAFT tried to do with CG, though it didn’t seem to work too well overall.

    But even though I didn’t feel the movie was as good as some of the episodes of the TV show, I did like how they again show the inherent contradictory truth of Kino’s world, since the parallels are there to ours.

  15. Oh, I liked the scene with the sheets– with them tearing through them, and the videos displayed across their bodies, giving them these “false backgrounds”. That part I liked, as it has that very Kino-ish potential for metaphor. It was more the CGI during the sped up pan and scan from the top of a very tall “ceiling” that pulled me out of the drama.

    Still, yes, I’m nitpicking. I’ve got high expectations for Kino!! :P Truthfully, though, I haven’t been watching much anime recently, so I found it impressive that Kino actually got me to go and look something up for the first time in a couple of months.

  16. Mmm, I’ve long been a fan of Kino (and wish the second volume of the original stories would be released – as it supposed to several months ago). I thought this episode a little weak though. Not bad, but not as affecting as Kino at it’s best. Do check out episode 00 though. It’s only 15 minutes long but it is a memorable story. Check a very useful website called boxtorrents for Kino and you shall find what you seek ~

  17. Though I could argue Kino’s seems “paternal” due to her innate androgyny, I’ll admit I chose the wrong word and meant “maternal” (in fact, I was thought “paternal” covered both parent sexes, but I guess not) ;)

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