Women’s animation is something that seems to be something totally lacking in the west. In Japan however there are series aimed at women known as “Josei” and this is one of them.
Kids on the Slope is a period romantic drama that was first broadcast in 2012. It deals with several themes including childhood, love and religion, but the overriding strand that connects it all is music. To be exact it is a form of music which hugely divides people: jazz. However, if you’re not into jazz, do not worry, as the other elements work together to make a fine series and in the end you might end up with some new musical favourites.
One other reason for covering this series is the people behind it. It was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed another series covered in a previous column, Cowboy Bebop (No. 16). That series was also known for its jazz and blues themed music, and he works with the same composer, Yoko Kanno, on this series too. Watanabe also deserves to be mentioned because his newest project, a sci-fi parody called Space Dandy, is tipped to be the big anime hit for the forthcoming season.
Set in 1966, Kids on the Slope begins with high school student Kaoru Nishimi moving town and starting at a new school which is located on a steep hill (hence the title). He is very introverted and his main hobby is playing classical music on the piano. At school however he meets Sentaro Kawabuchi, who is seen as the school’s big trouble-maker simply because he is so big and strong. But there is much more to him than this as Kaoru soon discovers. Sentaro is a lover of jazz and plays the drums. Soon Kaoru embraces jazz too and they end up playing together.
Along with Sentaro, Kaoru also becomes friends with classmate Ritsuko Mukae. Her father Tsutomu runs a record shop and sometimes plays double bass with the two boys. Kaoru begins to fall in love with Ritsuko, but she is in love Sentaro and like him they are both devoted Catholics. The story follows Kaoru complex relationships with his friends, his love-life, and his changing taste in music. This last one develops when he meets Sentaro’s idol, trumpet playing Junichi Katsuragi and thus a four-piece jazz band starts to develop.
The music is a big draw. Several elements of the series begin to teach you about the world of jazz. All of the episode titles are jazz songs – “Moanin’” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and “Someday My Prince Will Come” by Bill Evans being examples. The music played is good too, such as John Coltrane’s version of “My Favourite Things”.
Not only this, but the writing and plotting are both impeccable. The characters are given real depth and the viewer does feel for them. Part of you wants Kaoru to win over Ritsuko, but then again you feel that Sentaro already connects with her on a spiritual level. Also, Sentaro is an interesting conflicting character. On the one hand he is hard, tough and takes no nonsense. On the other, he is deeply religious, loves children, and on the whole is actually a friendly and kind guy.
While the series may be aimed at women, it can be enjoyed by men as well. Some sections may cause offence however. For example there is one scene in a bar and a drunken American man beings using racist language to insult the jazz music that is being played. Other than this however there is not much in terms of content that may put people off. Kids on the Slope is a warm show that may result in both your anime and musical horizons broadening.
Kids on the Slope is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by MVM Films.