Reviews: Kids on The Slope

Michelle gives a stellar review to Kids on the Slope.

"Ummm yeah. Things just got
really uncomfortable. We're in
public, ya know?!!!"
Every once in a while, I’ll watch an anime series that catches me completely off guard and that completely envelops me. Kids on the Slope is one such show—it’s subtle, engaging, emotional, and one of the best shows I have seen in recent memory. It reunites director Shinichirō Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) and composer Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus, The Vision of Escaflowne) for the third time—it’s a winning combo and they manage to achieve an anime “hat trick” with this latest outing.

Kids on the Slope is a coming-of-age style character drama focusing on the exploits of a group of teenagers brought together by circumstance and, oddly enough, jazz music. Kaoru Nishimi is an introverted boy who finds himself playing piano in a small jazz band with a giant boisterous drummer named Sentarō Kawabuchi. On the side lines is timid and beautiful Ritsuko Mukae, the unofficial mascot for the group and the target of Kaoru’s unrequited love. The romance subplot is handled wonderfully and never completely overtakes the overreaching plot arc of the anime. Now, there is a whole lot of the “I hope Senpai will notice me!” trope going on, but it never seems contrived or annoying.

It’s well known that Watanabe is a huge fan of jazz and hip-hop music and he has incorporated it into many of his series in one way or another. The jazz element has a very strong presence in Kids on the Slope, both musically and thematically. Japan as a whole is a somewhat repressed society, where conformity is encouraged and reinforced. Jazz music is all about making your own way and improvising your music and beats—it’s loose, messy and to the musician playing it, personal and intimate. It’s a perfect metaphor of all the changes that the characters go through while trying to figure out who they want to become as adults.

"This is a pencil. Yes, a pencil."
Anyone who is a fan of jazz music will be in heaven listening to the soundtrack to the show. Yoko Kanno perfectly mixes a more modern sound with older style jazz music and switches between the two effortlessly. Kanno is an accomplished keyboardist in real-life as well and the piano compositions featured are especially lovely and catchy. Honestly, I have never heard a bad score from her, even on shows where the story and direction were lacking. They did do some light rotoscoping to animate the characters playing their respective instruments and it looks smooth and realistic. You can actually see them hitting the correct chords and fingerings—it adds that extra layer of polish to the entire atmosphere. In fact, while the animation looks digital, it still maintains the idea and softness of traditional cell animation. They did an excellent job with the overall design and colors. It’s pretty and understated which fits with the mood perfectly.

If there is something that Watanabe does incredibly well, it’s character development. In every series he has directed, he has relatable and realistically written characters that people actually care about. Even in something as out there as Cowboy Bebop—a show about bounty hunters in space—each person was completely believable. It’s the same with Kids on the Slope, I truly cared about what was going to happen to everyone and that in turn made me feel invested in the series. Anime sometimes has a problem with being too overdramatic which can take the viewer out of the series emotionally. It’s rare to see an anime series with subtle writing, but that is most likely why all of Watanabe’s work is so universally loved. The man plays with heartstrings like none other.

Kids on the Slope is a must-see for any anime fan but especially fans of Shinichirō Watanabe’s body of work. It’s also a shorter series, clocking in at only eleven episodes, so you won’t even have to invest a whole lot of time to watch an incredible series. This comes highly recommended.

-Michelle Kisner