The extremely poker-faced, extremely androgynous Kino and her childlike talking motorcycle Hermes are travelers who spend exactly three days in each city they come to. The cities all have some improbable, ironic mystery to them, which Kino exposes by being impassive at someone until he says something perceptive. There is obviously some backstory, but probably no plot. (Well, in the anime; in the novel we get all Kino’s and Hermes’s backstory in the first chapter, but it sounds like the anime’s using a different one.)
I don’t get much out of this. The show’s theme, frequently elaborated upon by Kino, is “The world is not beautiful; therefore it is” – you’re supposed to find beauty in imperfections and transience of the world. The pitch could probably have just said “wabi-sabi” and left it at that.
Except that if Kino finds much of what she sees beautiful, she doesn’t show it. She’s kind of a smug little bastard, and while I personally like seeing a female anime character like that (there’s no shortage of male ones), I don’t think that kind of protagonist is appropriate to this kind of story. Kino seems to totally lack the requisite sense of wonder; she’s a cynic who doesn’t have much respect for the people she talks to, and is willing to at least entertain the possibility that they’re all just crazy. Which they mostly are, because the nature of the ironic twists required by each chapter makes it necessary. Kino carries guns, which have names, and in the novel, the two people for whom she seems to feel the most empathy are a mass murderer, and person who wants to embroil a whole city (though an over-the-top corrupt one) in rioting for revenge on a single individual.
If I’d found this five years ago, I probably would have loved it, but I’ve seen other examples of this genre before, the genre being loosely defined as “carefree person discovers strange things and people, wonders at them, and moves on.” Kino’s Journey doesn’t compare to, say, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, or Sexy Voice and Robo. I’m not really interested in going any further.
One thing that did amuse me, and will affect no other human being in like manner – Kino’s voice sounds kind of like Haruhi’s from Ouran High School Host Club, and Hermes’s sounds exactly like Kaoru’s. (They’re not the same actors, I looked it up.) Only in this way can they consummate their love!… go away. You people will never understand.