This first Kino's Journey special serves as exposition to the main series, kind of, and does nothing else. And even the exposition that it does accomplish is not only unwarranted but unnecessary. It was also disappointing considering I was expecting the special to show exactly how Kino became so impressive at combat. So let's discuss those two aspects of the series. Its unwarrantedness, and its unsatisfying narrative. For this review, I will assume you watched the main series, as both of those subjects require knowledge of certain episodes in the series. Also, this review might get a little spoilery. I will not explicitly spoil the special, but I will be talking about things that it does not do, things it fails to do. For a non-spoiler review, I do not recommend this as it does not add anything to the main series, nor does it accomplish or do anything remarkable.
Did Kino's Journey need a prequel?
Episode 4 of the main series already took us back to when Kino decided, or was forced to, become a traveler. Sure, this episode is really short, but it does everything it needs to for us to understand Kino's motives. Are we left asking anything else about her past? If the answer is no, then there's no need for this prequel. If the answer is yes, then we ask ourselves the following question.
Did this prequel explain what we wanted to have explained?
The only gap between episode 4 and the rest of the series that is noticeable is how she became so good at fighting. How does she go from this completely naïve little girl to a cold, apathetic killer? This prequel does not answer those inquiries. The synopsis here answers that just as much as the special itself.
Given that this prequel serves no purpose outside of the synopsis, is it worth watching as a stand-alone special?
The story is horrendous stand alone. There is no story. The art again conflicts with the atmosphere of the special. The sound is okay. The characters are well written, but not more so than the main series. The only thing it has going for itself is that it's really short. If it was at least some Karate Kid kind of episode where it showed a lot of training and struggling as well as a gradual hardening of character, it would be worth watching, because then it would exactly answer our two questions above. But just the simple fact that it does neither, as well as being lackluster in itself is enough to warrant a skip.