Anime Spotlight: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope is an anime series based on a manga by Yuki Kodama. The anime was produced by MAPPA and Tezuka Productions, and was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe. The series also features music composed by Yoko Kanno.

Sentai Filmworks holds the North American license for Kids on the Slope, and the company released the series on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on May 7, 2013.

Kids on the Slope begins in the summer of 1966. Kaoru Nishimi, a first-year high school student, is a brainy young man who moves to his uncle’s house in Kyushu during his first year of high school. Kaoru has moved from place to place since he was a child, so he has become an introverted person. Kaoru is also a classically-trained pianist.

During his first day of school, he meets Sentaro Kawabuchi, one his classmates who is mistaken by his peers for being a thug. Sentaro may be tall and strong, but he also has a big heart. Sentaro loves jazz music, and is also a musician; he prefers to play the drums.

Ritsuko Mukae is Kaoru and Sentaro’s classmate, and she has been friends with Sentaro since childhood. Her family owns a record shop called Mukae Records, and the basement of the shop has a practice studio. Ritsuko brings Kaoru and Sentaro together in the practice room, hoping to get them to play together. Sentaro says that Kaoru doesn’t understand jazz and can’t play it right.  Kaoru learns which jazz piece Sentaro is trying to play on the piano, and he purchases the record in order to learn it. From here, Kaoru begins learning about jazz music and how to perform it, as well as what it means to have friends.

Complications arise when Kaoru falls in love with Ritsuko and he confesses his feelings for her. She tells him she has feelings for someone else, and Kaoru deduces that she loves Sentaro. Sentaro, meanwhile, meets a girl named Yurika who he falls in love with. Over the course of the 12 episodes, the drama and heartaches of teenage life are woven together with jazz music to create a compelling coming-of-age drama story.

One of the standout features of Kids on the Slope is its musical score. The music was composed by Yoko Kanno, and the pieces sound top-notch. Jazz standards are heard, such as “Moanin’” in the first episode. There are also improvisational pieces that are used in the soundtrack to reflect the mood of the character at the time they’re playing the music. It should also be noted that the title for every episode of Kids on the Slope comes from the  title of a jazz song.

I also thought the writing worked perfectly for the drama that this series is conveying. As the series progressed, I found myself invested in the characters and their stories. I have to give credit to the writers for not necessarily giving the characters “happily ever after” endings, especially in regards to the various relationships that appear in the story.

I did have one disappointment in the writing, and that came right at the end of the series during the section that takes place eight years after the characters graduate from high school. We learn what happened to Kaoru and Sentaro, but not what happened to Ritsuko. While Ritsuko does appear in this final section, she just shows up in order for the writers to say that all three of the main characters are represented. Before graduating, Ritsuko mentions that she’s thinking about becoming a teacher. Did she end up pursuing this career? Unfortunately, we never learn, and as a viewer, I did feel a little cheated because of it.

The animation used for the series really brings the drama of the story to life. The writing, animation, and music come together to create an anime series that viewers want to continue following until the very end.

After I finished watching Kids on the Slope, I thought it was one of the best series that I’ve personally seen come out of Japan over the past couple of years. I’m proud to say that I own this series on Blu-ray in my anime home video collection.

If you enjoy drama that includes a focus on relationships and music, then I think you’ll enjoy Kids on the Slope.

2 comments

  1. John Samuel · January 4, 2014

    Good review, and good point about Ritsuko. Kids on the Slope was one of the two best series that I saw in 2013 (the other was Anohana).

  2. milesvibritannia · January 9, 2014

    I actually watched Kids on the Slope as it was airing and it was a really worthwhile watch. There was a lot of development and it was a really moving story. My main gripe was with the last episode though. It’s not exactly what happened that bothered me as opposed to how it happened, the ending just felt really sudden and much of the development and buildup felt unresolved so I was really disappointed by the conclusion. Aside from that though, it was a great watch and I really enjoyed it even if I’m not satisfied with the ending. I want to try the manga just to see if the way it presents the ending is different.

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