Anime Spotlight #3: Kids on the Slope

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Name: Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)

Year: 2012

Episodes: 12

Studio: Collaboration between MAPPA (Space Brothers, The Unlimited) and Tezuka Productions (Astro Boy, Black Jack)

Writer: Yuki Kodama (original manga)

There is only one reason you need to watch Kids on the Slope: BROMANCE!

Because how could you not like this?

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Or this?

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OR THIS?

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*Ahem* Not that I’m fangirling or anything.

A slice-of-life story set in the 1960s, Kids on the Slope follows high school freshman Nishimi Kaoru who has just moved to Kyushu. His father is in the navy so Kaoru frequently moves and his constant bouncing around from relative to relative may be the source of his prickly, loner attitude. He’d be content to live quietly, but he gets entangled with Kawabuchi Sentaro, the school “thug” who doesn’t care for school. Though he’s initially against a frienship with the rough Sen and only uses him to get close to Mukae Ritsuko, his crush and Sen’s childhood friend, the two become fast friends through their love for jazz music.

Kids on the Slope drummed up quite a bit of interest before it aired since it reunited director Shinichiro Watanabe with composer Yoko Kanno. The two are best known for their work on the slick, space adventure Cowboy Bebop, a classic among most Western anime fans, so naturally people were eager to see what the duo churn out next. I’m not a big fan of Bebop, but its opening TANK! is one of my favorite anime openings of all time, so with these two helming an anime where music is prominently featured, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Or so I thought.

(Turn off annotations to enjoy without being spoiled)

There isn’t as much focus on music as I thought there would be, which sort of sucks when you have someone as great as Yoko Kanno composing. On the upside, whenever music is featured, it’s never out of place and is used to tie together characters or convey feelings that just can’t be done with words. There are a few great performances, with Sen and Kaoru’s performance at school being the most memorable (posted above), but after the first several episodes, the music becomes almost non-existent in favor of dramatics.

Left to right: Ritsuko, Sen, Kaoru, Yurika
Left to right: Ritsuko, Sen, Kaoru, Yurika

The romance takes center stage for most of the show, and while I couldn’t muster too much interest in the secondary romance because it involved characters I didn’t really care about, I enjoyed the slow and steady build-up of the main love line. However, the latter remains unresolved by the show’s conclusion, making you wonder why we spent so much time on it in the first place if it never ended up going anywhere.

Despite its shortcomings, Kids on the Slope manages to be watchable due to Kaoru and Sen’s friendship. These two are the heart and soul of this show and if I didn’t love their dynamic so much, I probably would have dropped it. Their relationship isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before (Kaoru’s the more sensible, level-headed one while Sen’s the loud, outrageous one), but there’s something great about watching two outcasts looking for a place to belong. Whether they’re jamming out or fighting, you never doubt that these are two guys who need each other and will support the other, no matter the situation.

 I wouldn’t call Kids on the Slope breezy or light-hearted as the characters face important issues outside of the realm of romance that can’t be easily resolved. Both Sen and Kaoru grapple with family problems and Junichi, a college student that Sen and Ritsuko grew up with, has a few demons to fight. Still, the show maintains a uplifting vibe that manages to capture the spirit of youth, making it good for at least one watch.

7.5/10

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