Japanese Title: Sakamichi no Apollon
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 12 episodes
- Music animations and the music itself.
- The main trio.
- Plenty of heart.
- Some stiff writing.
- Awkward interactions dampen drama.
- MS Paint shading.
So, Kids on the Slope has kids in it, music, a love chain to the moon, and even a school. But where’s the skiing on the Slope they promised me? You cannot promise skiing and then deny it from me later. What do you mean this isn’t a sports anime?! Rubbish! 0 out of 10. Why was this a requested review? See you next time. (Recommend an anime for review here.)
But no, seriously, Kids on the Slope is a music anime set in Japan’s 1960s when relations were still a little iffy with the US. It centres on three high school students as they grow in love and life – the aforementioned slope is a street near school. We have Kaoru, the jaded honour student, Sentaro, with his devil-may-care attitude willing to do anything and then complain about how the thing he decided to do sucks (then why did you do it, Dumbo?!), and Ritsuko, daughter of the music shop owner where the boys play jazz together.
Like other coming-of-age stories, Kids on the Slope aims to explore the transition from teenager to adult through ordinary struggles that seem insurmountable to the teen mind. Kaoru needs to stop being such a mop, Sentaro had better learn some responsibility, and soon or later Ritsuko will realise a crush doesn’t define one’s life. The central conflict stems from a never-ending love chain – Kaoru likes Ritsuko, but she likes Sentaro, who in turn likes this other girl, who likes yet another guy! Music takes less space than I thought. When I saw how much effort went into animating the music, key press for key press, beat for beat, I thought it would be about them hitting it big on the music scene. It’s the hobby that brings them together and any friction in the relationships creates dissonance in the music. Characters are the focus – no complaint from me.
The writers poured heart and soul into these characters, making me feel for them. But when it comes to handling the awkwardness of teenage years, I cringed. Not in the good way. The first episode alone had almost too much to handle. Sentaro’s near obsession with Kaoru in their first hour of meeting aims for endearing, but the over friendliness comes across as creepy in a trying-too-hard-to-be-quirky way. The characters aren’t familiar enough with each other to act like this yet. On the flip side, the way the rest of the school glares at Kaoru, a guy they’ve just met this morning, and act like he’s scum isn’t believable. (Apparently his family has money…?) The mannerisms are too extreme at both ends. It’s certainly no The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in character dynamics.
Capturing teenage awkwardness is a difficult task, especially for adults long past those years. Hell, even writing it as a teenager would have challenges, for teenagers rarely notice their own awkwardness. That guy posing with a katana in his Facebook profile? Yeah, have him write a coming-of-age story and he’ll make every character praise the protagonist for how groovy his katana is.
Great teen fiction won’t be noticeably awkward when viewed by teenagers because they will think that awkwardness is normal behaviour. Handsome guy stalking plain Jane protagonist at her house? “How romantic,” sighs the teen. “Where’s that restraining order?” says the adult, unlocking the gun safe. Kids on the Slope doesn’t have the right sort of awkward. The heavy moments lose tension when the teens act not like teens, but what adults imagine of teens during their first kiss or some trauma. Think of your parents trying to get in on the latest “me-me” with their “fellow kids.” Less is more, as always.
That rant aside, Kids on the Slope is a good anime. The love tempest makes an engaging tale and taps into some oft-overlooked aspects of Japan, such as the minority Christian religion and American relations. While these don’t take a lot of screen time, they add that little extra fullness to the characters’ lives. They feel like characters plucked from reality (barring above problems). It’s strange to say a series is still good without its heavy moments; however, ‘the journey, not the destination matters’ has never been more applicable.
I could see the train wrecks in their lives coming, could see when reality would shatter their dreams, and had to watch without being able to warn them, for experiencing these hardships is what makes one come of age. They make us adults.
Art – High
Kids on the Slope demonstrates its excellent animation within minutes as Sentaro brawls with three guys on a whim, and later when playing music. Every note of music has the exact animation to match. There’s no faking it. Unfortunately, the shading technique looks straight out of an amateur’s Deviant Art profile, with a blurry mess that flattens the art.
Sound – High
I could listen to the jazz for hours – a relaxing experience. While the dub is fine, the Japanese works better in every way. The script could do with dialogue smoothing.
Story – High
A love chain set to the backdrop of jazz in a 1960s Japan high school. It has plenty of heart despite the unnatural interactions when drama hits its peaks.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Try it. Unless you hate high school dramas, Kids on the Slope delivers engagement throughout its twelve episodes.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)