The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Kids on the Slope

Title: Kids on the Slope aka Sakamichi no Apollon
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: MAPPA & Tezuka Productions
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 12 Apr 2012 – 28 Jun 2012

Synopsis: It’s the summer of 1966. Nishimi Kaoru, who is an introvert and honor roll student, is a new freshman at his high school in Kyushu. Forced to move around all the time as a child, he has never experienced a real friendship. His life begins to change when he meets Kawabuchi Sentarou, a notorious miscreant at his school. This meeting would end up being the first time he forms a true friendship, as well as his discovery of the intrigue of jazz.

The Highlights
Vision: Director Watanabe Shinichiro has a clear idea for this project and nails it.
Male friendship: One of the rare series to actually explore a genuine male friendship.
Jazz: Actually is a music show as the jazz is central to the most meaningful moments throughout the show.
Pacing: Brisk but is a real problem toward the end, which is much too rushed.

There have been enough anime about music and friendship at this point to say that on paper, Kids on the Slope is not exactly doing anything revolutionary. Despite this it somehow manages to be a much more refreshing experience than almost any of its contemporaries. This is not because it does something completely out of the ordinary or groundbreaking in the genre. Rather, what Kids on the Slope has that so many other anime of its kind lack is vision. Director Watanabe Shinichiro has a clear and concise goal in mind in adapting this josei manga by Kodama Yuki: communicating a love for jazz music.

Do not get me wrong, Kids on the Slope is not solely about jazz music. It is about the characters behind the music and how jazz serves as a catalyst for an amazing experience of friendship. Furthermore, conveying a passion for jazz does not mean tossing random pieces of jazz on screen in the hopes the audience appreciates it. It is a story about genuine inspiration and devotion to something deeply loved. By communicating an ardor for jazz through its characters, Kids on the Slope is an effectual piece of art.

Like other forms of expression, music is often about capturing a feeling or idea. If there is one thing about each scene of the characters playing jazz throughout the show that stands out, it is how the jazz music captures the characters’ frame of mind. The jamming sessions are often the most meaningful scenes and communicate the most not only for the characters, but for the audience as well. This is accentuated by the care and detail in the visual work of the scenes. Each frame of animation in which the characters played music is unique and extremely fluid. Practically nothing compares in this respect.

If there is one other aspect in particular I appreciate about Kids on the Slope, it is that the defining relationship of the show is a simple male friendship. Considering how important such a relationship in real life can be to so many people in this world, I find it almost sad that it is almost a bit of an aberration in modern anime. You would almost be more likely to come across a show focused on a homosexual relationship than one about a normal male friendship. Moreover, for once the major attention is not spent on romance, though there is some around, and the most defining relationship can be something else. Details like these are what I appreciate about this show and make it even more special.

Unfortunately though, this anime is not perfect. The pacing throughout is noticeably brisk, and probably would not even be worth mentioning if were not for the fact that the ending is much too rushed. The characters do not receive a proper farewell, and too many loose ends are left open in the story. It is too bad the Noitamina television block almost never gives more than one season’s worth of episodes to its shows, because in the case of Kids of the Slope, more episodes are needed. Converting an entire nine volumes of manga into a twelve episode show would have been a tough ask for anybody, and if were not for the expert hands of Watanabe in the director’s chair, this could have been a disaster.

To say the production decisions that contributed to the failings of the ending are disappointing would be an understatement. Regardless, the journey is often much more captivating than the eventual destination. I truly feel Watanabe delivers the heart and soul of everything he wanted to in this work, and until the very end it is very entertaining.  In my mind it is a flawed classic, one that could not achieve perfection due to the unfortunate limitations of the industry decisions around it.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Reckoner

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