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kotsbr3dKids on the Slope (aka Sakamichi no Apollon) is a Hanabee title that I’ve already bought a keeper copy of [1]. It is, quite frankly, a wonderful character piece that achieves real depth in portraying the lives of the main characters.

The jazz that is at the centre of Kids on the Slope is young, fresh, and really helps to ground this series.

The Setup

The story begins in a high school in Sasebo in Kyushu in 1966. Kaoru Nishimi moves to attend  the school on his own. Although part of a wealthy family, his father is absent and his mother isn’t really in the picture.

Once in Sasebo he meets some of the locals, and begins to connect through music, and… I’ll stop there I think.

I really don’t want to talk too much about the plot elements in Kids on the Slope: if at all possible this is a show that the viewer should come to fresh.

There’s enough information in the lovely opening by Yuki to get you going anyway.

The Cast

Kids on the Slope is an anime with a reasonably small, beautifully realised cast of characters who feel like real people.

In terms of characterisation, anime can often be one-dimensional: this is the cute girl, this is the ojou, this is the tough guy, and this is his odd couple partner the brainy guy.

Kids on the Slope goes beyond that, and it is one of the relatively few anime where the character templates are just foundations on which entire houses are built.

The Depth

This leads to an anime that instead of being a coming of age anime, or a jazz anime, or a high school romance, or a political [2] anime, it manages to be all of those things each in its proper turn.

Real life is complex [3], and what demands the attention of people will vary as the seasons turn. Kids on the Slope captured this depth, this complexity, whilst linking it through a common thread of jazz shared by the two main characters.

This common thread binds an unlikely friendship together, and sustains the show for the twelve episodes it runs for.

Like Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom there are often jumps of weeks or months between (or within) episodes. However, unlike Hakuoki, the depth of Kids on the Slope ensured that it never felt disjointed or incomplete.

This is the true strength of Kids on the Slope, and it is worth watching for this alone.

The Problematic

Kids on the Slope is adapted from a Josei manga targeted at young women, and as such contains several standard romance tropes. This includes a trope that I’ve found to be problematic in the past, and about which I’ve said more here (implied spoiler).

That said, Kids on the Slope does call out some of the negative aspects of this trope, and it does have significant ramifications as the young protagonists learn to deal with it. Overall I was cautiously pleased with the handling of this particular trope [4].

The Look

The design and look of Kids on the Slope is fabulous, and really grounds the series in the 1960s. It may not have the visual gymnastics of a Studio SHAFT title, but there is a real attention to detail that makes this series a visual treat.

Special mention should be made of the animation of the performances as these were very closely storyboarded from filming the musicians. They look fabulous.

The Sound

There was a deliberate choice in Kids on the Slope to pick young musicians as the musical stand-ins for the lead characters.

This sometimes produces a roughness to the sound that isn’t what I was expecting from an anime with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack.

However the roughness brings an enthusiasm, a youthful feel that brings the music to life and often centres the anime in a realistic way. It may not be a soundtrack that I would listen to in isolation, but it is definitely the right soundtrack in context for Kids on the Slope.

The Extras

In addition to the textless opening and closing, there is a three part “Making Of” special that features interviews with the director Shinichiro Watanabe, Yoko Kanno, and the two key musicians.

This is definitely worth looking at after you’ve finished watching the series.

The Verdict

Kids on the Slope is a great piece of character driven anime storytelling, and is quite possibly an instant classic. As mentioned above I’ve already bought my own copy.

Overall? Thoroughly recommended.

[1] The review copies will be auctioned for cancer research at Continuum, see site disclaimer for more information.

[2] The 1960s were a reasonably turbulent era in Japanese political history with college protests, as well as protests against U.S. bases and nuclear carriers. I’m not sure I’ve seen a treatment of this period in anime before to be honest.

[3] To quote a friend’s live journal: it has real and imaginary parts.

[4] Apologies for being cryptic, but I really am trying to keep this review spoiler free.