Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids on the Slope Review (Japanese)

I think the last time I saw this Director/Music combination was Cowboy Bebop..... Or it could be the recent Space Dandy..... Not sure which one it would be..... Oh well!

Kids on the Slope is a 12 episode Drama/Romance series based on the manga by Yuki Kodama and published by Shogakukan. The anime from studios MAPPA and Tezuka Productions is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.... Yes THAT Watanabe. The one who did Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and the recent Space Dandy. Kids on the Slope aired during the Spring 2012 season and is currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks (US), MVM Films (UK), and Hanabee (AUS). It’s also available for legal streaming in Japanese thanks to Crunchyroll and Hulu. The Anime Network also has the Japanese available for streaming and the English dub available for subscribers.

The beginning of summer, 1966; because of his father's job situation, freshman high school student Kaoru Nishimi moves by himself from Yokosuka to Sasebo in Kyushu to live with relatives. Until then, Kaoru was an honor roll student who tended to keep to himself, but meeting notorious "bad boy" Sentaro Kawabuchi starts to change him. Through his devil-may-care classmate, Kaoru learns how much fun it is to play jazz and finds the first person he can call a real friend.

The animation is... what’s the right word here... different, I guess. It’s rather hard to describe what kind of animation is being used here. TIt’s certainly heavy in the digital animation as far as I can tell, and compared to other series where there still seems to be a hint of your typical hand drawn animation. But it does take a while to get used to, and sometimes Kids on the Slope’s animation quality becomes a little odd. It’s rather fluid and beautiful in its own way, which is a nice change to see. And then there’s the music. Oh my goodness the music! I mentioned before that this was the Director/Music combination of Cowboy Bebop right? That means we have the ever so wonderful Yoko Kanno in charge of the music for this series! I’ve found, so far, that Kanno seems to shine when strong instrumentals and a jazz sound are involved in her work. I can imagine that she had so much fun working on Kids on the Slope because much of the show is jazz! With a lot of classic jazz tunes from the time period as well as some Beatles and Broadway mixed in, it really makes me want to listen to even more jazz music! Good thing I have a Pandora station set up!

This is a story about friendship. There is no question about that. You’re taking two guys who are complete opposites and bringing them together through the power of jazz. As corny and stereotypical as that sounds, this works really well for Kids on the Slope. It does trend into the corny/sappy area a little bit from time to time, but it’s not overly harmful to the show. Kids on the Slope does have one little problem, story wise, and that’s the amount of story lines that are just piled into 12 episodes. The Kaoru/Sentaro friendship is the main story, but there are, at least, three love stories, family problems, rival bands, and even some political scandal mixed in. There is just so much to take in, and occasionally you’ll feel a little bit of overload but that’s more of a pacing problem as, for the most part, the pacing of the series manages to intertwine everything in almost flawlessly.

If I had to peg who the story is about then the obvious answer would be Kaoru and Sentaro. However, there are three other characters Kids on the Slope tells its story about: Ritsuko, Yurika, and Brother Jun. While the series does well to keep the main friendship going, we get a few other moments of character depth and development. It does have a slight problem in some areas with how the development happens. Particularly the side story of Brother Jun. During the second half of the series, it is revealed that Jun got involved in a political movement. But we don’t even see this part of his story until we get flashbacks. Not even a hint of it. Although it seems like a cop-out of sorts here, it still manages to keep this well hidden making Jun’s struggles much more meaningful, in a sense. As for Ritsuko and Yurika, they are total opposites, like Kaoru and Sentaro, but they are both going through similar ordeals in the area of love. Ritsuko, in particular, is an interesting character to watch as she comes to terms with her feelings for both Kaoru and Sentaro. As for Kaoru and Sentaro, both have their flaws and they are really deep, yet relatable to everyone. Wether you’re a rich kid that doesn’t really see his parents and hasn’t really made any lasting friends because he moves a lot, or are a poor kid who doesn’t even feel like he belongs in the house he’s been living in. Some where along the line, you relate and sympathize with these characters and that’s something strong that Kids on the Slope manages to do.

The Japanese language track has strong performances all throughout the series and there actually isn’t one that I favorite. Ryohei Kimura and Yoshimasa Hosoya as Kaoru and Sentaro bounce back and forth off each other really well and they manage to bring the struggles each go through come alive. Yuuka Nanri as Ritsuko is a simple innocent role and it is done well here. Aya Endo and Junichi Suwabe as Yurika and Jun are a nice balance as well and they work off each other nicely, yet don’t overshadow the main characters. There are plenty of other amazing performances, but I would probably take up the rest of the day just talking about them!

By the end of the jazz session, Kids on the Slope isn’t quite the strongest of Watanabe’s works, however it is drastically different than what we have seen from him previously. It tells a good story about friendship and combines this with an amazing soundtrack courtesy of Yoko Kanno. It does have moments where the pacing turns into plot overload and the execution of some character moments could have been handled better, but it’s not a huge hindrance to the series. If you’re a fan of Watanabe or Kanno, or just of corny stories about friendship then give this one a try! There is something in this series for everyone to enjoy!

Next time, we return to my love of all things J. Michael Tatum! Until then, otaku on my friends!

Final Rating: 7/10 Jazz. It’s a powerful thing.

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