Name: Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi No Apollon)
Genre: Romance, Historical, School, Josei
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
Producer: Masao Maruyama
Script: Yuuko Kakihara
Music Composer: Yoko Kanno
This show is streaming on Crunchyroll
What does jazz have to do with anything? At first, nothing. Kaoru, a gifted classical pianist, is living with his relatives and joining a new school. He’s been moving around for most of his life, and because of it has no interest in making friends with anybody. After all, he’d just have to leave them again. However, after a chance encounter with Sentarou, a headstrong drummer, and Ritsuko, the daughter of a local music shop owner, Kaoru is drawn into jazz, and his encounters with the people there change him forever.
As melodramatic as that sounds, that is the most basic description of this anime that I can give. There’s school competitions, love quadrangles, family squabbles, all of which play out in Kids on the Slope. The name is no mistake – they go to school on a dreaded hill that they must climb every day. They meet at the top of the hill, almost by accident. Sentarou is a bit of a delinquent and a loner, only really interacting with Ritsuko, his childhood friend. Kaoru would have left him well enough alone if he hadn’t had a passing interest in Ritsuko, and curiosity would drive him to the underground practice room (awesome speakeasy themes going on there!) where Ritsuko’s dad, a family friend, and Sentarou play their hearts out. And what do they play? Jazz.
This is really what brings Kaoru out of his shell. He’s intimidated by their playing, so different from his own classical music, and feels challenged enough to grab a record and try it for himself, practicing until he’s note-perfect. And so he joins the little underground band, and so things begin to change.
I’m both surprised and pleased that Kids on the Slope managed a decently complex plot (relationship-wise, at least) and resolved most of it in 12 episodes. I’ve seen simpler ones that could barely get over and done with in 26! Kaoru is in love with Ritsuko, while she is in love with Sentarou, while he falls for Yurika, and Yurika has the hots for Junichi. It seems like there’s no way for this to end happily, right? Wrong! Yurika is no wilting flower and lets her feelings be known, and while that leaves Sentarou in the dust, the way that this couple managed to get together was one of the most touching and romantic I’ve seen. There were no flowers, there were no melodramatics…it was simplicity in it’s purest form, and it worked.
However, that brought about a whole lot of issues characters had about their families. Sentarou is alone, even with a bajillion siblings to take care of, and that rejection hits him where it hurts. He’s not as carefree as he lets on, and this is where it starts to show. Against a background of jazz competition and tension over Ritsuko, Sentarou becomes the main player and a tragic figure in his own right.
This is where I start having issues with the show. I have no problems with the music, I have no problems with the characters, I have no problems with the plot…except when it starts winding down to the ending. Religion never really played a part in this show, though Sentarou and Ritsuko were shown to be Christian early on, and it was made to seem like it would play a bigger part. However, it’s not until the ending that we get how it plays into Sentarou’s life, and then not very satisfactorily. The same can be said for how Ristuko and Kaoru’s relationship works out. Things are really left hanging, with lots of unanswered questions. I can deal with those – often I’m far more approving than others seem to be – but here it just doesn’t work.
However, I can’t deny that for all that, I really was moved by the ending. Something about seeing them as joyful as when they were teens just brought me to tears. I have no issue about it…just about how things were left hanging in that time gap. It really is a great show, and definitely works on the strength of the characters’ relationships. They don’t feel fake or forced, and work out in a way that really does feel fairly natural and real, something that’s desperately needed in a saturation anime that is utterly teen fantasy.