Posted on August 22, 2012 AT 01:26pm
The mere utterance of Shinichiro Watanabe in the anime world will send hundreds of thousands of otaku to their nearest TV set or computer to watch his next work. The Quentin Tarantino of animation Watanabe is a man with a trademark style and a patented branding of badassery. When word got out that Watanabe was to reunite with his Cowboy Bebop cohort Yoko Kanno in a new series the sound of buzzing transformed itself into a roar of anticipation. This past spring the show made its premiere in Japan and on Crunchyroll: Kids on the Slope.
**WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Taking place in the mid-1960s Kids on the Slope follows three friends as their bond grows through their love of jazz, along with the hardships of their pasts finding similar groundings. New student Kaoru comes across two classmates named Sentaro and Ritsuko, whom have been friends since childhood. After being saved by Sentaro Kaoru is invited by Ritsuko to check out her father’s record shop, where he discovers the magic of jazz.
Kaoru, a trained classical pianist, is encouraged by the drumming Sentaro to jam with him, where the duo starts creating John Coltrane-like sounds with Art Blakey’s vibe. Soon discovering their outcast-like pasts the two of them become the closest of friends, while at the same time Kaoru’s love for Ritsuko begins to blossom. As the series progresses next faces appear, such as the talented trumpeter Junichi, rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast Seiji, and the rich daughter Yurika; all of whom play a big role in the anime.
Soon it becomes apparent that multiple love triangles are at play in Kids on the Slope. Kaoru likes Ritsuko, Ritsuko likes Sentaro, Sentaro likes Yurika, and Yurika likes Junichi. Only the latter finds their true romantic happiness, with the main three friends’ hearts being played around like an out-of-tune viola. Some of the outcomes can be predictable at times, but the series’ end result will leave you surprised in the long run.
It’s weird, to say the least, to see Watanabe taking helm at a slice-of-life anime series. It’d be like Tarantino adapting a Haruki Murakami novel, or Michael Bay making a movie without explosions. It doesn’t have the sort of bad-ass vibe that we’ve seen in the likes of Bebop or Samurai Champloo; at the same time an attention to style is what Watanabe does best, and there’s plenty to be seen here. A different sort of cool will be found in Kids on the Slope.
To match that cool is Kanno’s score. We all knew she could do jazz (as it what that aspect that made Cowboy Bebop what it was), but never has she accomplished something like this. Hearing her renditions of “My Favorite Things,” “Moanin’,” and ”Lullabys of Birdland” not only pay homage to the people who made them famous, but also capture the pure essences and moods that Coltrane, Blakey, and Bill Evans had created back in the day. It’s hearing a soundtrack like this that makes me stand by my belief that Japanese jazz is currently the all-around best in the world. (Fans of SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS will no doubt agree with this statement.)
That said the opening and ending theme songs seem a tad out of place in Kids on the Slope. I’m a big fan of YUKI, and the song “Sakamichi no Melody” does contain a couple of the elements of the anime’s premise. The same can be said about Motohiro Hata’s “Altair,” also a very good track. However as there is a focus on jazz in the anime it would’ve been wiser to keep to the core and style of that when it came to the opening and ending.
MAPPA’s animation style is crisp, heavily detailed, and wonderfully drawn out. The place where Kids on the Slope shines brightest is when Sentaro and Kaoru jam on their instruments, especially when they’re jamming out in the record store basement. The attention to the detail in which key is being pressed and what part of the drum or cymbal is slammed is a beautiful sight, something that Kyoto Animation should pay attention to if they want to do a music-based anime right.
While Kids on the Slope does have the sort of storyline we usually see in these slice-of-life dramedies, the voice actors behind the characters help to bring something unique to the table. Ryōhei Kimura’s Kaoru and Yoshimasa Hosoya’s Sentaro are both filled with youthful exuberance, while keeping to the core of the characters’ troubled backstories. Yuuka Nanri’s Ritsuko is always good in the cheerful department, and also knows when to bring the sadness out when she needs to come to terms with the feelings of both Kaoru and Sentaro.
Those looking for more of Watanabe’s trademark brand may be disappointed with Kids on the Slope. At the same time people who are looking for something entirely different in the anime genre need to look no further. Its story may not be entirely original, but its characters, music, and all-around vibe will leave you smiling. These Kids are more than all right, they’re a reminder of why I started loving anime in the first place.
Seiyuu (voice actors/actresses): 9.5/10
Final Grade: 9.5/10
Kids on the Slope can be streamed on Crunchyroll, and will be available on DVD from Sentai Filmworks in 2013.
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