Kids on the Slope
"Sometimes life is like Jazz, and goes in an unexpected direction."
Kids on the Slope (坂道のアポロン Sakamichi no Aporon?, lit. "Apollo on the Slope") is an anime based on the manga with the same name. It is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe at MAPPA and Tezuka Productions with music provided by acclaimed composer Yoko Kanno. Fans of Macross Plus and Cowboy Bebop should definitely recognize those two of those names. With how astounding those two anime series were, that should already be reason enough to check this one out.
The plot of the series follows Kaoru after he moves to Sasebo in 1966 and into family which doesn't really care about him after his father's job takes him to a location that isn't fit to raise a child. School isn't much better, at first, but he soon finds new friends, Sentaro and Ritsuko, through common passions for music. Through their struggles, they form a friendship so deep that it changes all of them forever.
Kids on the Slope only has three main characters - the three students - but the lineup of supporting characters makes it feel much larger. It's not just a bunch of other students, though. Unlike most student anime, this series takes place largely out of the school and into the basement of a record shop where the group practises their music. This allows the introduction of many older characters, who feel more connected to the main three than any random group of kids could.
This friendship story feels so real, that it almost seems like these characters were based off real people. All their actions and reactions made me feel for them, in every high and low. Most stories reserve a single scene for emotional impact, but this series just keeps them coming. There were several moments that made me overjoyed with excitement, then had me wiping away tears of sadness just a few minutes later. It takes a special quality of storytelling and characters to make this possible. I'm glad this isn't the norm, though, or hidden jewels such as this series would probably be even harder to find.
Of all the characters in this anime, I found myself drawn to Kaoru the most, and in ways I never expected. So many of his actions and way of thinking mirrored my own when I was that age. Only if I found friends as he did, I wouldn't remember my school years as the time I was surrounded by snobby bullies who only wanted to make the lives of everyone around them as miserable as possible just because their parents didn't give them the new car they wanted. Maybe it would have been different if I had some sort of musical talent.
But what of the music? The 50s and 60s jazz music that predominantly fills most of the series are a mix of very famous songs and a few rare gems. A few famous rock songs from that era are also mixed in, too. This certainly feels refreshing since other series are normally filled with new songs specifically made for the series. Sure, that means less new music for your library of anime songs, but maybe you'll pick up some oldies instead. The introduction and ending songs are still originals, though, and definitely worthy of inclusion into your mp3 collection.
Although, it isn't just the music and characters that make Kids on the Slope feel special. The animation quality is absolutely amazing! The level of detail on the characters, especially when playing their instruments, and in fighting scenes, is so high that it looks like a cell-shaded live-action drama. Even their actions of playing the instruments are accurate to the point where it actually looks like they are playing the music. After seeing so many other series where the actual playing is hidden, or it just shows the characters inaccurately strumming a guitar or smashing random piano keys, this felt extraordinary. Talk about an impressive level of detail.
While I'm sure that Shinichiro Watanabe's artistic style and attention to detail made is anime so fantastic, but it probably wouldn't be nearly this good if not for Yuki Kodama and her original manga. Sure, it would be possible to make a good story based off another mediocre one, but it certainly appears that most of what makes this series special comes from the original work. I'm not a fan of manga, but this definitely makes me want to check out the original story.
As much as I love this anime, Kids on the Slope is still not for everyone. Those looking for high-octane excitement, or those unable to sit through an entire episode of character building, will probably find little enjoyment out of this series. Also, this series isn't appropriate for children since many of the subplots are very mature, plus the characters talk about things than many in the newer generations just won't understand without a history lesson. If you don't fit into those categories, you will probably love this series, especially if you love a great character-rich story, and jazz music.
Since this anime is a few years old already, you might have already watched this series. If you have, what did you think about it? What was your favourite scene? Let us know in the comments below, just be kind and mark your spoilers.
*SPOILER BELOW*My favourite scene was definitely when they started playing in front of the school after the technical problems stopped the rockers in their tracks. It really showed how strong their friendship really was.