This is the third post in our mini-series about the anime series currently being broadcast in Japan
Last week, I wrote about the incredibly odd high school love story, Mysterious Girlfriend X. If you were hoping for something with a bit more drama and a bit less drool, or if you really love jazz music, this week I’m writing about Kids on the Slope (坂道のアポロン).
Like Hyouka, I consider Kids on the Slope to be one of the season’s most promising shows, but for a slightly different reason: the distinguishing feature of this series is the jazz standards that help to tell the story, played in live sessions produced by none other than Yoko Kanno. Yes, that Yoko Kanno, the one who has brought us the incredibly memorable themes of Cowboy Bebop, The Vision of Escaflowne, Wolf’s Rain, Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and Genesis of Aquarion, among many others. If you haven’t heard Yoko Kanno’s work, I highly recommend it. In my humble opinion, she stands among the greatest anime composers of all time and is easily one of the most versatile.
But, well, if you just want to listen to Yoko Kanno’s music, there are plenty of CDs out there. For Kids on the Slope to be really promising, it has to have more than just good music. What really gives this series its edge is the way that beautiful music combines with good characterization and a deceptively simplem, if standard, romantic plot to create something even greater.
Kaoru Nishimi is a very smart boy from Tokyo who is also a skilled piano player, classically trained. When he moves to Kyushu during the summer of his freshman year of high school, he feels incredibly unsettled, even to the point of feeling nauseous. It doesn’t help that his father is away, leaving the boy to his often mean and selfish aunt. He ends up seated beside Sentaro Kawabuchi, a wild and burly student who has a reputation for being dangerous and picking fights just to blow off steam. He also makes friends with Ritsuko Mukae, who is an old friend of Sentaro’s and their class’ representative.
Kaoru falls for Ritsuko almost at first sight and in trying to get close to her, he also learns that there’s much more to Sentaro than what others see on the surface. In particular, he has a deep passion for jazz drumming. Kaoru gets his first taste of it when Ritsuko brings him to her father’s record store. In the basement, there’s a piano and drum set, where Sentaro is already drumming out some swing beats. There’s a particular piano intro to a jazz standard that Sentaro knows how to play but when Kaoru steps in to finish it for him, it’s blatantly obvious that even though he knows the notes, he has no feel for jazz.
The (over-)confident pianist takes it as a challenge and buys the record, spending hours getting the “swing” just right. Finally, in a session with Sentaro on drums, Ritsuko’s father on bass, and Junichi Katsuragi (or as Sentaro calls him, Brother Jun) on trumpet, Kaoru hits his stride and joins right in, impressing the others with the feeling he puts into the keys. From there, the friendship between Sentaro, Kaoru, and Ritsuko blossoms, and the whole story revolves around the relationships between and around them as they fall in love, get into fights, and express their sometimes complicated feelings with beautiful jazz music.
If you usually don’t like girls’ manga and anime very much, you probably won’t like Kids on the Slope either, unless the music totally sells it for you. The plot and characterization is well-executed but in my view pretty par for the course. A love triangle grows more and more sides as misunderstandings accumulate and characters are defined as much by their shining moments as they are by their sadness and anger. It’s heart-wrenching to watch at times but also has very sweet moments.
So there’s one more show you might want to pick up this season. This one is also in Crunchyroll’s simulcast lineup; you can catch new episodes on Thursdays at 9:30AM Pacific. If you’re at FanimeCon 2012 in San Jose this weekend, there’s a distinct but very small chance you might stumble into me somewhere in the throngs of NorCal anime fans. Next week, I’ll be wrapping up the mini series with one more excellent anime from the Spring 2012 season and then moving on to something completely different.