Kids On The Slope: Finding Jazz and A Place To Belong

Following Space Dandy, here is another Shinichiro Watanabe fresh from the presses. Doesn’t mean it’s any less special then the other series, because Watanabe always brings something unique to the table. I found myself relating to Kids On The Slope quite a bit. You guys know that I’m a trumpet player, right? I’ve played it since fifth grade but that’s besides the point here. Kids on The Slope has a Jazz Music atmosphere. I spent a lot of my time in Junior High, High School, and University playing in school big bands, so that’s not exactly the same music. Instead, this series made me go back to when I went to Jazz Camp for a week during high school. A weekly place of fun where I learned about chord structures, learned jazz history, had some ear training, and played in some small band groups. Man those were fun times.

So you may have noticed that I used the English title Kids On The Slope, instead of it’s given Japanese title Sakamichi no Aporon. You may have noticed that I also generally prefer to use English titles on most anime series. It’s definitely a personal preference. I may have studied some Japanese in High School, but that doesn’t mean that I feel personally qualified to use them or remember how to say these names properly. I know that I can get away with this by copying and pasting, but that isn’t authentic to me. I’ve forgotten a lot of my Japanese lessons from (insert inaudible noises here) years ago and if I can’t pronounce it at the level I want to, I’m not going to use it. That’s just the way it rolls around here. I wish I had enough time to have some lessons to learn Japanese again, but I still find myself lacking time even when I am unemployed. I like being busy, what can I say?

Anyway, I probably should talk about the anime now shouldn’t I? That’s the point of this post, right? Fine. I guess I’ve been lollygagging enough….

So, Kids On The Slope reminds me of what Rakugo Shinju would be like if it Rakugo focused on Highschool students AND used Jazz music instead of Rakugo. Even it’s pacing is like Rakugo’s. It’s very fast with a lot of time skips that somehow feel natural. But to focus on this more, the year is 1966. The male Rich, Straight A Student Kaoru Nishimi transfered over to a school in Sasebo. (He’s also a Classical Piano Player.) Since he’s moved from one place to another for most his life, he always keeps his head down and works on his studies. That changes when he meets the kind, female class representative, Ritsuko, and the misunderstood thug, Sentaro. Sentaro and Kaoru found each other first with Kaoru noticing the other is a tapping jazz drum beats. Interested, Kaoru finds himself intrigued by the feeling of jazz at Ritsuko’s dad’s record shop, and takes a record home with him to start learning the feel. So begins Sentaro and Kaoru’s adventures in Jazz.

Now Jazz is the vehicle used to move the story to move forward, not the focus of the show itself. Kaoru is apparently a great classical pianist, but he learns how to play small group jazz incredibly fast. Classical is linear and straight forward, jazz is very loose and requires learning a lot of chords for improvisation, so not sure if the transition between is that easy. Whatever, not the point. The main drama of the show is between the three core members. Kaoru likes Ritsuko, but she likes Sentaro. Then Sentaro falls in love with someone else that just wants to be friends with him. It’s mellow drama, but very believable mellow drama. Especially since each character is more alike then one would think.

Sentaro and Kaoru are outsiders. Kaoru is rich, but doesn’t feel like he belongs in his family or anywhere because he keeps moving from place to place. His straight forward and precise nature comes from trying to find something to hang onto. Sentaro is an outsider in a much different way. He’s half foreigner, so he is automatically ostracized by Japanese society. It’s not his fault, but he decided to take this and make it his identity from that point on. Playing it clean and loose with society. The two are opposites and yet they aren’t. The weakest member of the trio is Ritsuko who is a normal high school student, but she does have more depth to her then the show gives her credit for. Everybody is compelling in their own way in finding a place that they think they belong in.

I also love how authentically 60’s this show feels. It’s not just because of the art of Yoko Kanno’s Jazz music (which is brilliant as usual), it’s the side characters providing their side plots. Ritsuko’s dad is a bass player that loves jazz and him dressing up for John Coltrane’s death is saying something. (John Coltrane worked himself to death creating the most brilliant things ever, not drugs. Listen to Giant Steps, it’s amazing). Sentaro’s senpai Junichi is a fantastic trumpet player that gets involved with protests in Tokyo over college tuition. Weird how cyclical life is, right? The group’s only jazz club meeting on a U.S. military base had a horrible racists in it which isn’t that shocking for the 60’s or now honestly. And finally for this example, one of the trio’s classmates loves the Beatles and creates his own band based on their and other pop 60’s music. It’s all there and I love it.

And all of that atmosphere leaks into the visuals and music of the show. Yoko Kanno provides a very jazzy soundtrack for the show, which is very fitting. Do I need to even say more? It’s Yoko Kanno, she’s amazing. Then the visuals are generally pretty solid. I don’t think that the animation gets amazing besides when Jazz songs play. Even then, there is a lot distance shots and CG pianos that are immediately noticeable. Still more done then some very recent piano anime out there? (What is it with Piano players and angst?) To save the visual aspect, I really like this show’s more realistic character designs and backgrounds for of atmosphere. Kid’s on a Slope takes place in the 60’s and you can easily feel that just by the visuals. Everything else accompanies this aspect very well.

Kids On The Slope is a very melodramatic show, but it’s melodramatic in a very realistic way. At least for an anime. Kaoru and Sentaro are awkward people that only know how to communicate through music. There were plenty of moments when the two just didn’t know how to communicate and run away without talking about why they did it. You know what? I’ve had plenty of friendships and relationships like that. I love my dad and he’s a good dad, but he and I aren’t exactly the best at communication with each other. The music is what brought me into this show, but I really like the characters and their drama a lot. It’s just 100% solid like you would expect from a Watanabe production.

Thank you for reading, everyone. If you interested in donating or want me to focus on a discussion or anime topic, please donate below and I will get to it as soon as I can.

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  1. I had no idea you played the trumpet Scott! That’s pretty cool 🙂 Additionally, I would never had thought to compare this show to Rakugo at all. When I first watched it Rakugo, the show, did not exist yet but now that you’ve made the comparison I don’t disagree. I wouldn’t say that this show is as good, but given that it is shorter, for what it is, Kids on the Slope is a good show. The melodrama does drag things down just a touch, so for me it isn’t among my favorite Watanabe work, but the soundtrack is fantastic!

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed this one and I enjoyed reading as well 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I mostly play trumpet in community band and at church sometimes.

      And yeah, that’s what my knowledge is like when watching it so late in my anime watching career. Comparing some things to other things that came after it.

      Thank you so much for reading! :).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Nice! Now that you mention it again, I do think I’ve heard you say something about it a few times but I just didn’t recall.

        I tend to link shows and compare as well, but it all depends on when I see stuff. I just thought this particular comparison was pretty spot-on.

        No problem 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think there has ever been a better coming of age anime. It is also one of the very best music-themed anime. I loved Ritsuko! She was presented as a realistic high school girl, the kind I might have fallen for, not some large breasted beauty.

    Sentaro and Kaoru are both very flawed and I love them for it. In fact, Kaoru turns into a real a**hole for a bit near the end. Enough to ruin the show for a few people. A fantastic show about imperfect people.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is one of my favourite serials. Like you said, it’s so authentic tot he 60s, plus there are so many motifs and allegories in this series to match the Jazz and even Blues music that it was so fantastic. Wonderful review, Scott. I’m tempted to re-watch this again.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. nah, you got some of my favourites. Like how you talked about the different instruments that different people play and how everyone finds a way to communicate via music because that’s what they share. Finding common ground in a sea of differences, especially during a tumultuous period of history. Sentaro is a great example. He’s ostracised because of what he represents in who is as a person. Music helps him find friendship and companionship. The friends he had, he probably wouldn’t have made if not for music helping them speak to one another. That’s what I got from your review. It’s wonderful.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Possibly. I do like jazz music, and I’ve never seen that genre done as a legitimate plot point or backdrop in an anime. No, I’m not counting Cowboy Bebop’s soundtrack in this case. Hahaha!

        Liked by 1 person

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