Travelogue Kino’s Journey Isn’t Like Ordinary Anime

I love anime. Sorry, wait, I misspoke. I hate anime. Anime is Japanese animated television about jerks with hearts of gold saving the world, tripping into the breasts of their unfathomably tolerant and smitten (and/or meaninglessly violent) female friends, and in which the same six characters – barely even archetypes, just characters – appear in every single show, whether it’s set in a medieval fantasy land or outer space or modern day Tokyo, and whether the character’s occupation is ninja, cyberpunk police officer or the actual devil.

What I like is animation. What I like is genre fiction. And so there’s a certain amount of anime – the least anime of anime – that I love. Kino’s Journey is the top of that list. It’s the anime I’d most recommend to people who don’t watch or like or care about anime.

Kino’s Journey is about the protagonist travelling across a mystical world and spending three days in each of the countries she encounters in order to learn about their unique customs. Her only travelling companion, and the only other recurring character, is her Motorrad, a talking motorcycle she calls Hermes.

There are elements of science fiction to the story, but “mystical” is the best word to describe the world. Kino’s Journey is allegorical. There is drama, and some action, but it’s as much a philosophical journey as a physical one.

In the first episode, The Land Of Visible Pain, Kino and Hermes visit a country which appears at first to be populated solely by machines. After some exploration, they discover that there are other people, but that each one is living alone, having isolated themselves from one another due to the mental exhaustion and pain of being able to hear each other’s thoughts.

It’s a common twist on a common science fiction idea, and later episodes are far bolder, but it’s a strong start and a statement of intent. The key to it is that Kino doesn’t try to save the country, or to convince them to change the mistake they’re making; she simply learns about how they live and then drives on. The ending is wordlessly heartbreaking.

And heartbreak is frequent. Kino’s Journey is always gentle and human, but it’s also about brutality, loneliness, and episodes frequently end in tragedy. There is kindness and compassion, but at the very least each episode ends with the melancholy of Kino saying goodbye and continuing on her journey.

In this way, the closest game equivalent is 80 Days. And also like 80 Days, the show has a refreshing attitude towards gender. Kino’s Journey is based on a series of Japanese novels which refer to Kino using genderless pronouns, a thing Japanese can do comfortably and English can’t, whereas through voice acting the anime depicts Kino as a young woman. Yet her gender is still irrelevant, as it is to the women she meets on her travels whether they be leaders, inventors, or murderers.

I’m holding back. I want to dish about all the different countries Kino visits, the density of ideas and what makes them interesting, but that would be spoiling. I want to splurge the story of episode four, or episode 13, or my favourite, episode two, and explain what makes them beautiful. Kino is a beautiful TV show; lyrical and wise and heartfelt and crushing. I want to rave about how cool Kino is; a strong, silent-type who is resolute, calmly independent, who wakes up before dawn each morning to clean her guns and practice her quickdraw, and who drives a talking motorcycle.

But you should just watch it.

51 Comments

Top comments

  1. Eight Rooks says:

    Too many people to pick one to reply to, so; Graham is quite right to say anime these days is largely rubbish. It's nothing inherent to the medium, no, but through a combination of treating its personnel like slaves and shamelessly pandering to the lowest common denominator the industry has ended up an absolute shadow of its highest point, littered with copycat series after copycat series, none of them with any worth whatsoever, every problematic aspect brushed under the rug because oh, Japan and shut up, they do things differently over there and with no end in sight. There's hardly a single show airing right now that's in any way genuinely good (Owarimonogatari is finished, I think), and there hasn't been more than one or two great shows per season - if that - for years and years.

    Blood Blockade Battlefront was pretty good at times, but still trading on a tissue-thin premise and a well-worn pattern. I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying was excellent, but that still hinges on a love of anime cliches to appreciate it. The Monogatari shows are good, sometimes brilliant, but powered by deeply problematic fanservice for the hardest of the hardcore (#trueanimefans and such). Gatchaman Crowds before that - seriously, I'm browsing Crunchyroll right now, it's one or two per batch and that's stretching it. The rest is generic, manipulative drivel - sure, every medium is mostly crap to good stuff, but sorry, it's not the same ratio every time. It's just not.

    So yeah, anime is dead, in much the same way the Hong Kong film industry is dead - sure, there's something there still and occasionally it gasps out a half-decent effort that reminds you of its glory days or that's even a genuinely good piece of storytelling. But for the most part it's a dying animal with its life flashing before its eyes, pleading with you to stick around. People just stick around because they haven't grown out of being shamelessly pandered to yet or they hope against hope something's going to reverse the slide - hey, I'm guilty of both. But there are quite often very, very good reasons why people say "Christ, I hate anime", whether or not they're joking or exaggerating, and ignoring that to say "Oh but have you watched...?" does nobody any favours.
  1. heretic says:

    And watch I will, thanks for this review! Had not heard about this before but certainly sounds good.

  2. darkath says:

    Thanks, I didn’t know about this. I’ll definitely check this out. Does anyone have recommendations for legal ways to watch this ?

    A thing about gender in manga/anime : often in anime, a character is left with their gender unknown by the author, on purpose, usually as a device to shroud them in mystery, confuse the reader etc. Such as Kurapika in HunterXHunter to name a well known example.

    Also about voice acting, often a a female Seiyuu will be the voice of a male character, especially for younger ones. The other way around (male VA for female char) can exist too but is somewhat less common. The main factor being taken into account is if the voice fits the character, rather than any other unnecessary considerations. So if the authors of Kino intended the character’s gender to be unknown, it is still unknown in the anime adaptation. The voice actor’s gender is irrelevant.

    Finally there are for sure some sexist anime/manga, but as a whole i would say there is a much healthier balance between strong female and male characters than in western comics/animation.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      IIRC (used to own it, sold my DVDs, wish I hadn’t) there is a specific, pivotal episode in the anime in which it is revealed Kino is actually a girl. It would be almost be a spoiler, but Graham is quite right to say the show treats it as mostly “Oh, sure, yeah, that’s a thing”.

      Finally there are for sure some sexist anime/manga, but as a whole i would say there is a much healthier balance between strong female and male characters than in western comics/animation.

      I think you’re either overly optimistic, naive or both. Hopefully it’s just the first one. I’d struggle to name, say, twenty female characters in the entirety of Japanese animation I consider really, really well written. Possibly even ten. And that’s counting the things I love – I think Cowboy Bebop is honestly brilliant, astonishing, even, and holds up incredibly well more than fifteen years on… but much as I like her I wouldn’t call Faye Valentine a strong female character. She’s a man with tits with a few cliched mannerisms thrown in who just happens to have a crush on the hero. Nothing about her backstory, however interesting it is, necessitates her being a lady.

      • darkath says:

        Your logic here is highly questionable.
        “Nothing about her backstory, however interesting it is, necessitates her being a lady.” you can say that about any character that isn’t overly sexualized. I don’t see how that’s relevant.

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        Graham Smith says:

        Yeah, there is an episode that confirms she’s a girl in the anime. That episode is /crushing/.

        We own it on DVD, but it’s hard to get these days. We imported it from the US five or six years ago but I think it’s crazy expensive now.

        • ender1200 says:

          I understood this episode quite differently though. The way I see it the girl gave up her old identity including her gender when she decided to start identifying as Kino.
          In the rest of the show kino simply don’t seem to care or ascribe to any gender, reacting the same way when refer to as a boy as when referred to as a girl.

  3. hemmer says:

    One of the classics for those of us who don’t hate anime. :P
    It’s like hating books or movies or indeed games, it’s a form of expression, and like all of those often used for crap and/or mediocrity. It’s indeed very much like the video games industry, in that they often repeat what they know people will eat up.

    I should consider reading the original kino novels though. I made that leap with Spice & Wolf and haven’t regretted a second, despite the wobbly translation at the start of the series.

    Mushishi is another anime in the same vein, if anyone’s interested into venturung further into the unnkown (or very well-known, depending on your anime habits and/or very persistent friends).

    I love Kino no tabi, but it’s thankfully not a singular pearl. There’s a world of gems of animation and storytelling out there, explore it Graham! Explore it and entertain us with your tales of frustration!

    • Titus Groen says:

      Mushishi is exactly what this article reminded me of!

    • tehfish says:

      Definitely agree on the whole anime as a medium thing, indeed like books/movies/games and so on there’s always a huge range from utterly dire to really good.

      Personally, when i was a teenager i got introduced to anime via the two probably most well known animes of evangelion and akira, which put me off anime entirely for the next 10 years ;)

      Anyways, i’m now a bit of an anime nerd and have watched a fair bit in the past few years. if i were to suggest some to people who don’t generally watch anime but want something a bit different, i’d suggest these:

      -Anything by Studio Ghibli. incidentally these also have the best english dubbing i’ve ever heard in anime, a rare treat.(just be wary of grave of the fireflies, it’s good but an incredibly depressing story)
      – Spice and Wolf. as already mentioned by others. Quite how they managed to make very detailed trading/economics so interesting i’ll never know.
      – Planetes. Space anime has a bit of a reputation for seriously wonky/broken physics/reality. This one is the opposite, very realistic anime based on ‘space janitors’ who go around trying to clear up the dangerous debris of space travel orbiting the earth.
      – Last Exile. Steampunky anime focussing on two vanship pilots (a bit like the landspeeders in star wars) A curious mix of advanced (antigravity) and old technology (muskets and cannon) plus a lot of old style chivalric warfare rules. The aerial battles between the massive battleship sized airships are a sight to behold :)

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      Graham Smith says:

      I’ve watched a fair amount of Mushi-shi, and I like, but I also found it slow a lot of the time. It’s ponderous in a way that Kino’s Journey isn’t.

      I’ll write more about anime in the weeks ahead, I think. I’ve watched dozens, and found a great many that I’ve liked, but I also feel like I’ve /run out/ of anime now. 90% of the shows we try have the same stock characters, the same boob-trip in the first episode, the same interpersonal drama no matter the setting.

      • jael182 says:

        Did you see “Now and Then, Here and There”?
        I highly recommend this one.

        Here a small list os recommendations:
        -Gankutsuou
        -Fantastic Children
        -Paranoia Agent!
        -Noein
        -Fate/Zero

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          Graham Smith says:

          We liked Paranoia Agent and Noein, though the latter became a slog towards the end. Will check out the others – ta!

      • Widthwood says:

        Presumably you watched all of the typically recommended ones, so…

        Dennō Coil – maybe lost it’s novelty since it sort of close to actually happening now, but still great overall.

        Abenobashi Mahō Shōtengai – this one is more debatable. Enjoyment will rely heavily on ability to ignore typical anime tropes and fanservice, but this is a gem from too many standpoints to ignore. Also – has game related episodes!

  4. GWOP says:

    Sounds wonderful. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    Bluerps says:

    This sounds really good!

    This is not the only Anime that is interesting and without the usual stereotypes like this, but unfortunately I haven’t really watched Anime in many years, so I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff I might recommend. The few things I did watch, I watched more because I like Mechas too much than because they were really good shows (though Code Geass is not bad, if I remember correctly – a story about a man who has the power to give a single order that has to be obeyed to any person and who treats people like chess pieces. Also, the baddies are called Britannia and there are giant mechs everywhere.)

    What does come to mind is Mushishi, which is a quiet show set in 18th century Japan, and is about a man who wanders the land to help people to deal with strange creatures called Mushi. These cause trouble in a lot of different ways – however, they are not violent monsters, but more like ephemeral spirits. For example, one episode is about a woman who one day has Mushi living in her eyes. This first cures her blindness, then she gains increasingly sharp vision, then she can see increasingly far and in the end she can even see the past and future, if I remember correctly.

    What also comes to mind is Monster, which is a long story about a surgeon who tries to find and stop the kid whose life he once saved and who has now become a murderer. Apart from the story, I remember the tremendous attention to detail in its setting. It’s set in central Europe and I remember that one scene had a German bus stop that looked exactly like the one I waited at every day.

    Also nice is Spice and Wolf, which is about a trader in the fantasy middle ages who meets a pagan wolf goddess who accompanies him. The show spends a lot of time with the trading aspect – I remember a scene in which he explains to her why he doesn’t trade his goods for money in a specific village, but instead chooses to take wheat, or another which is about how coins minted in different countries have different, fluctuating worth, and how to exploit that.

    • razaron says:

      Mushishi is quite similar to this in feel/genres. If someone likes Kino I’d recommend Mushishi and vice versa.
      Another anime that would be popular with non-anime watchers is Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s a space opera with glorious star spanning war. Imagine Babylon 5 crossed with Europa Universalis, CK2 and space Prussians. Shit’s cash.

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        Bluerps says:

        Also, though this can only be appreciated by people who speak German, it’s sub-title is “Heldensagen vom Kosmosinsel”. I love broken German in anime. :D

  6. Geewhizbatman says:

    Ahhh! Are we doing this? We’re doing this. As already stated anime is just a medium. It isn’t inherently good or bad. American animation has had a similar road and our track record of decent to schlock is rough. Anime as a medium has had more time to grow though and I think the place it has ended up in recent years (not to say there aren’t still some really interesting, if dated, work to be found) is quite a great mix of story and visual appeal.

    Anyway, so glad to hear someone else had the experience of Kino’s Journey changing how they thought of anime. For me it was Serial Experiments Lain that made me experience the beauty of animation pressed up nicely with well done fiction. Before that it was all Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Naruto which I appreciated as visual chewing gum on television but couldn’t understand the idea of it being beloved and watching any one episode more than once.

    I really hope that more people, thanks to the closing of distance with the internet, will allow themselves to explore and support these niche but rich anime. Like video games there will always be 30 face shooters for every Pathologic, but if people share the beauty of the different–then the creators of such content will know that their voice is just as meaningful.

    I support the recommendation of Mushishi, it is also excellent and follows Kino’s journey’s format of smaller stories strung together. Other anime that I’d point out if you like the sort of work that plays with expectation of story telling and genre are:

    Puella Magi Madoka Magica (It’s play on the magical girl thing is part of the draw, don’t be scared!)
    From The New World
    Ergo Proxy
    Gunslinger Girl

    Thanks for doing a branch out with this piece and am going to enjoy all the recommendations in the comments! If Kino’s Journey is the starting point then I won’t be as scared to try them as I normally am with the internet’s anime recommendations xD GooOOOoooOooo pretty things with smarts!

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      I second ergo proxy if anyone feels curious, it probably has the most realist cgi feeling in anime (remember the shotgun?). It also avoids a lot of explaino with a quiz show before the ending.
      Puella magi madoka, I couldn’t keep it up. Like a gazillion anime it follows evangelion’s path of deconstruction except it doesn’t feature long going depression. Just watch eva’s movies. OR! A rome and juliet take on evangelion called kemonozume. OR! Play life is strange. OR…there’s a small anime called Alien9, it won’t blow your mind but it’s one of my favpurites brcause of how cold it is. It features an annoying kid but the viewer is just about the only thing on her side, could’ve been either great or bleh if devrloped further I’ll never know.

      • zxcasdqwecat says:

        Proofreading will be my new year’s resolution.

        • Geewhizbatman says:

          Hah I understand. It both is and the proofreading that belongs to it sneak past me all the time.

          As for Puella ya, it gets darker the longer it goes and is one of those rough pieces that I think functions best as a whole. Including the mini sequel that came after the main series. Which of course is always a valid argument for it being a hard sell. It’s playing on the always happy Magical Girl genre of anime perhaps creeps in a little too much, but I found it to have a very dark undertone even as it pushed at the edges of a happy ending.

          And I will definitely take a look at those other suggestions! I haven’t had that “magical” anime experience in awhile, even though I’ve poked around at recent stuff. I’ve watched the few dubbed episodes of Parasyte The Maxim and it has a nice premise, and some really well done The Thing style alien animation craziness, but I haven’t found it to always deliver character wise but otherwise it has all been enjoyable but nothing stuck with me. So, having some other options will be nice.

          Oh though reminded me of No Game No Life. Which is incredibly strange, sometimes in an off putting way, but again I thought played on some tropes in an intelligent way. It has all the usual hyper sexuality stuff which I just gloss over these days (and at least it is just animated hyper sexuality, rather than what I find to be much creepier when the world tries to make real people into such cartoons) but often tries to play with the audience’s own expectations of that as a result. So that was one at least that I thought was fun–but still had more pander to its awesome idea ratio xD

    • Fiatil says:

      Thank you for mentioning From The New World! I’m finishing it up myself, and it’s the first thing I thought of that fit into this category. The Yaoi/Yuri stuff is pretty anime, but it works and makes sense in the context of the story being told.

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      Graham Smith says:

      I liked Puella Magi Madoka Magica! That was good. Didn’t get on with Ergo Proxy.

  7. santouryuu says:

    i had just recently put this in my To-Watch list,and it certainly looks great.there’s also a movie,if anyone is interested.
    also,as someone who watches a ton of anime and doesn’t hate them,the description you gave at the beginning seems true for,at most,about only 20% of anime shows.sounds to me you’re confusing anime with jrpg’s.
    not to say there aren’t shows which fit your description,shows which are dumb and stupid,but there are a lot of awesome stuff as well.some recommendations i’d give are Mushishi(i hear very similar to this),serial experiments lain,neon genesis evangelion,samurai champloo/cowboy bebop,Psycho-Pass etc.there’s more,and i’m not even starting on the slice-of-life,non-fantasy ones.
    in the end,i think you just haven’t watched the good stuff if you hate anime,but feel free to disregard my comment as i’m undoubtedly someone who really likes anime,and therefore am a bit biased.
    but honestly,i’m just curious.what shows have people watched that made them “hate” anime?

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      I like animes but they are extremely formulaic and trendy (I had no idea how much evangelion was ripped off before watching it). Blame small budgets.
      Also the target audience is either teenagers or otakus. The adults things, if you take porn out, are few and far between them. Anyone would look down on the medium if for every cowboy bebop there are 10 shit shows hammering on recency.
      Also anime art style under small budgets deserves its own articles of issues under but yeah bottom line it’s all going to look similar and self absorbed.

      • santouryuu says:

        Please tell me one medium which doesn’t have stuff which is formulaic and trendy.and again,you can’t dismiss an entire medium because of the majority style/trend.
        and yeah,most anime is targeted towards teens but not all.and most games/comics/western animation are also directed towards teens,so why single out anime?
        also,making generalising statements like most anime are formualic,cringy,fan-servicing with no real characters is really not different than saying all games are power fantasies which dumb you down,objectify women and make you violent.
        if you berate specific shows,then at least one can infer what problems you have with the medium.but since neither Graham nor you do that,i can only assume you haven’t watched much anime

  8. bohzak says:

    Kino’s Journey is one of my favourite anime series. For those interested, I also recommend Haibane Renmei, which has a similar colour palette and a great story.

  9. ephesus64 says:

    I guess I’ll needlessly repeat recommendations for Mushishi and Haibane Renmei for atmosphere, Monster for reasons of pure narrative strength, and that’s about it. Kudos, all. Oh, and that’s the first 26 episode season of Mushishi, not the second run which was a bit disappointing comparatively. Don’t watch all those and then expect to find more that will strike your heart the same way though, you’ll end up disappointed.

    I wonder if Mushishi and Kino’s Travels could be compared to what games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter could have been? Dear Esther comes to mind too when I think of media that has narrative punch despite having little traditional narrative structure.

    Oh, and the series Planetes. A bit like a standard office drama in space, but I thought that one was pretty good.

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    CdrJameson says:

    Almost all English pronouns are gender neutral, and you can always use ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’ to avoid being backed into a gender-specific corner.

    A gender neutral voiceover is trickier, even in Japanese.

  11. JimmyG says:

    I was thinking the description sounded just like Invisible Cities, and then I noticed the … subtitle (?) next to “RPS Feature.” Right on.

  12. mukuste says:

    “It’s the anime I’d most recommend to people who don’t watch or like or care about anime.”

    I don’t understand how Spirited Away hasn’t come up here yet as an obvious choice for something that towers atop the genre while being immensely enjoyable for people who’ve never seen an anime before, and avoids most of the annoying anime tropes.

  13. Eight Rooks says:

    Too many people to pick one to reply to, so; Graham is quite right to say anime these days is largely rubbish. It’s nothing inherent to the medium, no, but through a combination of treating its personnel like slaves and shamelessly pandering to the lowest common denominator the industry has ended up an absolute shadow of its highest point, littered with copycat series after copycat series, none of them with any worth whatsoever, every problematic aspect brushed under the rug because oh, Japan and shut up, they do things differently over there and with no end in sight. There’s hardly a single show airing right now that’s in any way genuinely good (Owarimonogatari is finished, I think), and there hasn’t been more than one or two great shows per season – if that – for years and years.

    Blood Blockade Battlefront was pretty good at times, but still trading on a tissue-thin premise and a well-worn pattern. I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying was excellent, but that still hinges on a love of anime cliches to appreciate it. The Monogatari shows are good, sometimes brilliant, but powered by deeply problematic fanservice for the hardest of the hardcore (#trueanimefans and such). Gatchaman Crowds before that – seriously, I’m browsing Crunchyroll right now, it’s one or two per batch and that’s stretching it. The rest is generic, manipulative drivel – sure, every medium is mostly crap to good stuff, but sorry, it’s not the same ratio every time. It’s just not.

    So yeah, anime is dead, in much the same way the Hong Kong film industry is dead – sure, there’s something there still and occasionally it gasps out a half-decent effort that reminds you of its glory days or that’s even a genuinely good piece of storytelling. But for the most part it’s a dying animal with its life flashing before its eyes, pleading with you to stick around. People just stick around because they haven’t grown out of being shamelessly pandered to yet or they hope against hope something’s going to reverse the slide – hey, I’m guilty of both. But there are quite often very, very good reasons why people say “Christ, I hate anime”, whether or not they’re joking or exaggerating, and ignoring that to say “Oh but have you watched…?” does nobody any favours.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      EDIT: Oh, and on I Can’t Understand… – while it’s a marvel that show manages to pack so much into a single short-form episode, when you think that one stupid gag show manages what is arguably more mature, intelligent and heartfelt storytelling in three minutes at a time than like ninety-five percent of the entire medium for the past ten years at least (and that’s really, really not hyperbole)… that should be taken as a terrifying warning sign your industry’s pretty much had it. Not as “Oh, isn’t it awesome? Man, only three minutes a week!”.

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      Bluerps says:

      Oh wow, I did not know that. I haven’t really followed anime for some time (since 2007, maybe?).

    • SlimShanks says:

      I find it really hard to accept that “anime is dead” when Space Dandy, Psycho Pass, From the New World, and Knights of Sidonia all came out in the last two years. Hardly typical fare. Oh right, also the the Fate (Fate Stay Night, Fate Zero etc.) series and the remake of Evangelion are ongoing.

      • darkath says:

        In the current season Dimension W looks promising (if you liked Darker than Black i believe it’s the same author) as an action/light sci-fi anime

        And Boku dake inai machi seems to have an interesting plot as a drama/psychological anime.

        From the past year my highlights are :
        Noragami and sequel Noragami Aragoto (supernatural/action with really cool characters)
        Death Parade (psychological)
        One Punch Man (satire of action anime and superheroes in general)
        Knights of Sidonia (sci-fi in space)
        Aldnoah Zero (mecha sci-fi)

        None of them are copy-pasta anime, and they all have original characters, setting and plot.

    • fishyboy says:

      this is silly, there have always been plenty of shitty anime alongside the gems. no one talks about them anymore because they’re not new enough to be relevant and something that is neither good nor relevant will quickly go by the way-side.

      also going on crunchyroll and not watching jojo’s bizarre adventure? tsk tsk

    • Endomorph12 says:

      I’m sorry, but saying ‘one or two great anime per season’ is proof that the medium is dead is, uh, pretty ridiculous. That’s a great anime coming out every few months, with the rest varying from ‘pretty good’, to ‘decent,’ to ‘flawed but interesting,’ all the way down to ‘garbage.’

      Just last year, we had plenty of excellent shows. Shirobako, One Punch Man, Akatsuki no Yona… it’s easy to write off the medium when you look at the few things you like as exceptions, with the things you don’t like as irredeemable garbage. That’s not how things work. There’s broadness *and* depth there. There are shows that I’d never call great, but that I enjoy and feel have merit, and shows that are competent at what they set out to do and don’t have many aspirations beyond that. Those shows aren’t ‘bland garbage’ just because they don’t excel.

      I do agree that the industry is in need of reform, but it’s hardly dead, and it’s hardly a garbage factory. Most anime is decent to bad, some anime is truly awful, some of it is pretty good, and some of it is fantastic. The same is true of any industry, including games – and video games need an industry reform as badly as anime does.

    • Munin says:

      Yeah, but I’d make many of the same comments about stock characters and genre tropes about basically all the mainstream stuff from our side of the world. As several people have mentioned most of the stuff that is being produced across the world is schlock. One of the reasons I think that the schlock in anime stands out to many people is that it is to them foreign and unusual schlock, the tropes and stock characters differ from the ones in the western mainstream action and romance movies. That makes it initially interesting for some (egads totally new and funky stuff I’d with different characters than I am used to!) who then get disenchanted as the novelty wears off and it turns out that for the most part it is just as hidebound as the stuff over here or you have some people who bounce straight off because they just can’t get on with the different tropes and themes (and the reasons for that can be many and varied).

      The basic point though is that on both sides of the world you still have good material being produced amongst all the low effort pap.

      Now, I have to say that I stopped watching anime at more or less the same time I basically stopped watching TV altogether about 10 years ago so there might have been a total collapse in creativity but a few clips I’ve seen online, for example from the show Ping Pong make me doubt that.

      The other thing I’ve kept doing is reading manga and again there you have a huge diversity of works once you start digging a little deeper. Certainly much more than there is in the US comics industry since it isn’t dominated by two monoliths in the same way. The US comics industry has slightly started pulling the finger out of its arse though thankfully. Also, people should read some of the good French language BDs out there…

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    particlese says:

    Dumping someone into a foreign culture is one of my favorite sci-fi (and sometimes real life) topics, so thanks for the tip!

    As far as other anime goes, I do remember liking Crest of the Stars’s take on the culture shock thing, but it’s been years since I last saw it. I’m left with the impression that it was mostly boring space politics and boring space strategy, but with some fun culture stuff, an invented and oft-used language, cool 2D/3D space battles, and a cool land battle near the end.

    This “Kino’s Journey” sounds much more deeply and repeatedly about the culture stuff, though. Yippee! *heartbreak thingy* ¬_¬ *classily heartbreaky music* ;_;

  15. SlimShanks says:

    It’s really strange to see a writer on RPS be closed-minded. I’m glad you sort of are rectifying that. Surely, everyone here is too mature for massive blanket statements covering entire forms of media.

  16. rapchee says:

    i share the love/hate feeling towards anime, so i’m really glad to see i’m far from alone – people i know irl tend to be full-on anime-otakus or anime-haters.
    i’m struggling to write something interesting so i’ll just list some of my recommendations:
    Satoshi Kon works: Paprika (sci-fi movie about dream manipulation), Paranoia Agent (series about … the paranoia agent, somewhat disturbing), Perfect Blue (thriller movie) – i just noticed i like the ones starting with “P”, oh wait no, Tokyo Godfathers was a quite nice christmassy movie actually
    Mamoru Oshii: Ghost in the Shell 1 (classic) 2 (slow sci-fi) and Sky Crawlers (slow paced aerial war movie). He’s also created an alternative history in the Kerberos Saga and there are movies and an anime (Jin-Roh) that are interesting
    Hayao Miyazaki is probably my favourite director, so yeah it’s hard to go wrong with a Ghibli production, Nausicaa is a really nice one

    and Welcome to the NHK

    • Josh W says:

      Satoshi Kon does embrace an odd attitude to feminine characters though, it’s like they still live within an incredibly creepy exploitative world dominated by the tropes of dehumanising adulation, and carve out a few spaces with shelter from it rather than defeat it.

      Paprika is a great example of this; the main character there simultaneously represents “an inspiring beautiful icon person with low personal boundaries”, with elements of being under threat from people who feel entitled to her because they see her that way.

      To avoid spoilers you can see it in the opening sequence really – and before you view that (if you haven’t already), that’s not the only way to see it, the film is also a really joyful embrace of imagination and the potential of pictures, but it certainly doesn’t give her a simple or constant victory over the way female characters are treated in anime.

      Maybe that makes sense as something to point out in japanese culture? I still trip over it the same way I trip over particularly brutal depictions of racism in 1970s american films.

      • Josh W says:

        Oh, in terms of the film itself it’s got a bit of woozy psychological horror, so it’s not all happyness, but in terms of the main character’s place in things, those poles hold up relatively well.

  17. Wowbagger says:

    Can I watch this via an online service or will I have to buy a dvd? (shock horror!)the only streaming place I could find from a casual Google was called hulu and US only.

    • Nixitur says:

      Yeah, I had to make the same discovery. I’ve looked at Crunchyroll and it has literally not a single anime series that I find at all interesting. Super disappointing.

  18. neoncat says:

    Animes! I hope RPS will continue to expand coverage of all the things I love. (Classic, not modern anime, btw…)

    That said, I got super-annoyed by the second episode of Kino’s journey and quit watching. If a series is going to try to have sophisticated philosophical conversations, it had better not trip all over itself in the process. The bike was rather annoying as well. ^_^

    Anyways… here’s some good stuff:
    link to myanimelist.net

    Seirei no Moribito is the bestest.
    GITS has the bestest pacing / plot structure.
    Bebop is the prettiestest.
    Dennou Coil is the bestest most emotional thing ever.

    Mushishi is the bestest story-telling.
    Clannad / After Story has the bestest character development, and the worstest last 10 minutes ever.
    Planetes is great but the end is soooo messy.
    Natsume’s Book of Friends is the most pleasantest.
    Aria is the cheerfulest.

  19. bill says:

    Good lord, you may actually have found an anime that I can stomach… I thought such things were impossible.

    Totally agree with your general thoughts on Anime. It might be “technically” a medium, but in reality 98% of it is the same 3 things repeated again and again in more desperate settings.

    Older anime is less likely to be horrendous, because those tropes hadn’t fully taken hold at that point.

  20. Endomorph12 says:

    Why not watch shows aimed at women?

    Legitimate question. Anime is very locked on to its target audiences. Unlike western TV, where something like Breaking Bad might be aimed at adult men but is totally open to being enjoyed by women and teenagers, anime is almost always made with just one demographic in mind. There’s shonen, aimed at young men, shoujo, aimed at young women, seinen, aimed at adult men, and josei, aimed at adult women. Generally shonen and shoujo are the most common things for anime to be, because adults are generally expected to be reading manga, since it’s quicker and easier to consume.

    It sounds like you’re mostly watching anime aimed at young men (and adult nerds) going by the references to the boob trip gag. So why not watch some anime aimed at women? You obviously wouldn’t find that gag there.

    Some good anime aimed at women include Vision of Escaflowne, Akatsuki no Yona, Kimi no Todoke, and Chihayafuru.

  21. adpdl says:

    Nice review, Kino no Tabi is one of my personal favorites. A few suggestions, some old, some recent:
    Kemono no Souja Erin
    Eve no Jikan
    Usagi Drop
    Katanagatari
    Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou
    Ushouten Kazoku
    xxxHolic
    Now and Then, Here and There
    Berserk
    Yokohama Shopping Trip
    Black Lagoon
    Cross Game
    Casshern Sins
    Girl und Panzer
    The Twelve Kingdoms
    Full Metal Alchemist (the first series, NOT brotherhood which I didn’t watch)
    Chihayafuru
    Hataraki Man
    Shinsekai Yori
    Spice and Wolf

    In my opinion the anime industry is not dead, there are always been more crap than masterpieces whatever the medium.

  22. michael.neirinckx says:

    I just want to say thank you Graham for the write up and this recommendation. I have watched the first 2 episodes of Kino’s Journey and I absolutely love it. There’s shades of Italo Calvino, Jack London, that distinctly Japanese touch, it’s all here, and I’ve only seen 2 episodes so far. Cheers.