Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kids On The Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon)

Jazz. I admit I don't know a lot about jazz. I do know that I like it on occasion. Mostly the older instrumental stuff. Although I admit that I am growing more comfortable with the genre. Sure, there's the blues, but I'm talking about jazz. While blues can be considered jazz or some jazz might be considered blues there's also jazz doesn't fit the blues category. It can be tough to describe, but you'll know it when you hear it. It's pure jazz. 

Watanabe Shinichiro has proven before how essential music can be to a visual medium like anime, but if anyone ever needs another reminder then please consult his 2012 masterpiece Kids on the Slope

Of course, Shinichiro's first flirtations with a jazz-infused anime came in the form of Cowboy Bebop. To date, it's an anime that few can rival in terms of story or soundtrack and the soundtrack is thanks in large part Kanno Yoko, the very same genius responsible many of the greatest anime soundtracks. 

So it shouldn't be any surprise that Kanno Yoko is in charge of the compositions on Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope's episodes are named after jazz songs so at the very least you'll be exposed to twelve songs you might not have heard before or you might be able to hear in a different way. 

Of course, the most impactful song for me was the excellent rendition of Art Blakey's Moanin'. It's one of those songs that you'll get introduced to first and hear last and each time it will hit you in a different way. 

I could go on and on about the tunes and how good they are, but one thing that did strike me a bit odd is how the opening and ending themes weren't all that jazzy and didn't really fit the vibe of the rest of the soundtrack. It's a small complaint, I suppose, but it's one worth making because the rest of the music in the show really is excellent. I'm not sure I really understand the reason for the contrast. 

Now for the story itself. My first thoughts bring me to an anime I watched in 2013 entitled White Album 2. While I believe Kids on the Slope to be infinitely superior, I do believe that the basic story has more in common with White Album 2 than Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. So essentially this particular anime is unlike anything else in Mr. Watanabe's repertoire, but it is consequently similar to a lot of other anime out there if only from a summarization standpoint. 

If anyone else had been behind this anime I would have believed that this anime would be another ho-hum anime designed to pull at those heartstrings. Of course, I don't mind ho-hum anime, but I'm always on the lookout for great ones. Kids on the Slope is a great one. Not an all-time great, but definitely a great one. 

The story primarily follows three friends as they make their way through high school. Of course, there friendship got off to a rocky start with one of the lead characters almost beats the snot out of the other, but that's just the joys of being young, I suppose.  

The year is 1966. Nishimi Kaoru is the quiet bookish type with a background in classical piano music. He is ready to begin yet another school year in yet another school. After moving multiple times he has become rather introverted and doesn't seem the type to play such free-flowing music as jazz.

It isn't until he meets the school's thug Kawabuchi Sentaro that one of the more odd jamming duos form. Sentaro isn't really the thug he appears to be, but he is indeed a good deal more wild than Kaoru. He also plays the drums in a way that would make Art Blakey proud.

Kaoru, curious about jazz, decides to pursue a friendship with Sentaro and the two of them begin to jam frequently with Kaoru becoming a better jazz pianist with each session.

However, their fellow friend Mukae Ritsuko might just unintentionally derail their friendship with her presence as Kaoru begins to fall into the Big "L" with her. However, he isn't sure if she and Sentaro have a thing. This impossible love triangle becomes an even more impossible love pentagon when saxophonist Brother Jun and lady in distress Fukahori Yurika enter the picture.

That's a lot of drama for a bit of jazz.

I was afraid this anime would become something terribly predictable. Or worse, boring. Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, broken hearts, and then somehow everyone lives happily ever after. Or maybe someone ends up getting royally screwed while everyone else ends up happy.

I've seen them all and can normally guess fairly accurately.

Things didn't quite happen that way, though. Or, rather thing did happen that way, but the journey was a lot more realistic and restrained and the ending wasn't a perfect and neat package meant to please everyone or make everyone hate it. It wasn't a forced thing. This anime came across as quite natural and it moved at a quick pace without being too quick and the ending was a worthy conclusion without being too conclusive. Shinichiro has done that type of ending before with Cowboy Bebop and it works for him in Kids on the Slope, too.

Quite frankly, the ending leaves the audience wanting more while being satisfied with what they have. That's probably the most difficult kind of conclusion that can be executed in any genre or in any medium.

Things never got over dramatic with the exception of maybe one or two train scenes and the anime never quite lost focus of the music, either. It was always there even when the story got more focused on the lovey dovey stuff. Although I admit the musical approach to the story was when the story was at its best, but the dramatic stuff wasn't shabby, either. It's just that, without the music, I'm not sure Kids on the Slope would have been quite so well received since the story is a bit on the normal side.

Anyway, this about concludes my take on this anime. I certainly enjoyed it and I think plenty of other will, too. It is a modern day great anime. It could have been a bit better, but for what it was it is miles above its competitors and worthy of the talents that helped create it. Definitely recommended. Especially for the wintertime.

P.S. - Here's a cool compare and contrast between the anime settings and the real-life settings that inspired them:

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