“If you are staying three days, your stay will coincide with the end of the world. Will that be alright with you?”
—Episode III, “Land of Prophecies”
Kino travels through a world similar to Earth, riding Hermes, a “motorrad,” or sentient, talkative motorcycle. Kino’s rule is to spend no more than three days in any particular country. As a consequence, there is no long-term narrative arc in Kino’s Journey. Instead, it’s a collection of short stories. The longest tale takes two episodes; the rest vary in length from a few minutes to a full episode. Some of the stories are amusing. Some are horrific. Some are apparently meant as parables, though the point is not always clear. The common note to all the stories is irony. The first episode, for instance, is similar to the “Altruizine” episode in Lem’s The Cyberiad. Scientists in one country find a way to telepathically connect the citizens to their neighbors; however, it turns out to be something other than the great boon they had anticipated.
Generally Kino is welcomed in most of the countries he (or she; Kino’s sex is left ambiguous for the first few episodes) visits, but he is nevertheless heavily armed and can defend himself quite efficiently when the need arises. Occasionally it does. (I wonder who would win in a duel, Kino or Noir‘s Kirika? I’d give Kirika the edge — killing is what she was raised to do, after all — but it would be a closely-fought battle.) Still, the focus of Kino’s Journey is on ideas, not guns and knives.
Kino’s Journey is based on books by Keiichi Shigsawa, which might be worth reading if they are ever translated into English. It was directed by Ryutaro Nakamura, who also directed Serial Experiments Lain. Like Lain and Ghost in the Shell, it belongs on the short shelf of anime that is primarily of intellectual appeal. The show Kino’s Journey most reminds me of, though, is The Twilight Zone. Kino’s Journey is perhaps the least of these — the stories are too short to become truly complex, and Kino’s three-day rule precludes developing any relationships that could deepen Kino’s character — but it is still well worth watching by those who like their entertainment thoughtful.
A few of the episodes might be suitable for youngsters, but others are definitely not. Overall, it’s probably best for viewers high school age and older.