Anime Review: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope is part of  Crunchyroll‘s Spring 2012 simulcast lineup, and I love it. With anime, I have a weakness for musicians, romance, period pieces, and slice of life, and Kids on the Slope includes it all. So far, five episodes have aired, and I’ve watched each at least twice.

The anime is set in Kyushu during the early 1960s. Kaoru, the main character, has just moved there to live with his uncle’s family. He’s book smart and an excellent classical pianist, but he’s also an introvert and has moved so often that he’s resigned to being the outsider. He anticipates once again being marginalized in his new school, but instead meets Sentaro and Ritsuko. Through them, he discovers friendship and an unexpected passion for jazz.

Music is indeed front and center in this anime. Each episode is named after and features a particular jazz standard. The music, by the way, is produced by the amazing Yoko Kanno, who put the bebop in Cowboy Bebop and was composer for Escaflowne, my favorite anime of all time. In addition to an awesome soundtrack, the jam sessions are animated beautifully. Between me and my husband, we play six musical instruments, and it makes us cringe when the animation doesn’t match how an instrument’s played. The best I’ve seen before this was Nodame Cantible, but its instrumental animation had a CG look that clashed with the series’ overall style. With Kids on the Slope, hand placement, fingering, drum strokes, instruments – everything is accurate and blends  stylistically with the rest of the anime, making it a delight to watch.

Another thing I really appreciate is Kaoru’s transformation from classical to jazz pianist. Like him, I was also classically trained on piano, but when I hit high school, I joined the school jazz band. Same instrument, completely different ballgame. Watching his struggles reminds me of my own difficulties with improvisation and jazz chords, even though Kaoru picks it up much faster than I ever did.

In terms of romance, the main cast consists of two boys and one girl, which pretty much screams love triangle. As of Episode 4, circumstances develop such that the love triangle starts looking more like a love pentagon. While there are many funny bits (Sentaro’s efforts to ask Yurika out are laugh out loud funny), Kids on the Slope steers more in the direction of teen angst than comedy. Both boys come from troubled households which means they also bring a significant amount of baggage into any and all of their relationships.

I’m not sure what the rating for this series is, but I’d peg it as 13 and up. Sentaro’s afterschool brawls are the extent of its violence, and there’s no nudity thus far. However, the boys’ complicated family circumstances and a graphic death scene push it into the realm of non-kiddie fare. Actually, despite the youth of the main characters, I’d guess the target audience is adult females given the series’ particular pacing and introspection. It certainly got me hooked. Still, I’d invite anyone in the 13 and over crowd to give Kids on the Slope a try, if only to check out its awesome instrumental sequences.

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