Kids on the Slope is a simply wonderful, sublime piece of work. Unfortunately, its an anime, which will inevitably limit its potential audience, as most people think cartoons are for kids or that anime is all giant robots/ultra-violent nonsense. Kids on the Slope is proof of just how wrong such preconceptions are. This 12-part series is a joy from start to finish and deserves a wider audience than it is ever likely to get. Set in mid-1960’s Japan, it’s a coming of age story of a small group of teenage kids at school, following them through the final years of their schooling together, with a back-drop of the coolest jazz music.
Really an ensemble piece, the initial lead character is Kaoru Nishimi, who in the summer of 1966, moves to stay with relatives in Kyushu. A withdrawn and lonely figure, Kaoru is awkward at his new school but accidentally befriends bad boy Sentaro Kawabuchi, another odd-one-out figure at the school. The two share an interest in music -Kaoru plays piano and Sentaro plays drums- and Sentaro introduces Kaoru (a lover of classical music), to his love of Jazz, and the two begin to jam together in the basement of a music shop. Through Jazz, Kaoru discovers a new life, new friendships, new confidence. It changes him forever.
Over the course of the twelve episodes their friendship becomes that of kindred spirits. Kaoru grows out of his shy, withdrawn character and falls in love with Ritsuko, daughter of the music-shop owner, but this relationship is awkward, full of the growing pains of adolescence. Sentaro himself has a sensitivity and dark secret that he hides with his roguish, bad-boy reputation. As the episodes play out we encounter other wonderful characters as we meet Sentaro’s circle of family and friends, and memorable characters at their school, as the events of the turbulent ‘sixties pass by around them, all suffused with that wonderful jazz-music backdrop. Characters fall in and out of love, friendships grow and fracture. Its all a wonderful story well-told with care and joy for youth, life, love and music. It’s funny, its sad. Its damn nigh flawless. Over the course of the series weeks pass into months, months into years, and the ending is just… well, suffice to say it is enough to send you rushing back to episode one, to soak up the whole thing all over again. Its that good.
So no, its perhaps not what you would expect of a cartoon or anime. It is, frankly, one of the most remarkable series I have ever seen, whether animated or live-action. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame (Bebop, if, somehow you have never heard of it, is the best anime series of all time, in my opinion, and, yikes, coming to Blu-ray here in the UK next week!), this series reunites Watanabe with composer Yoko Kanno (of, yes, Cowboy Bebop fame- really the pedigree of this series is remarkable). The artistry in creating characters that you fall in love with, to tell a story that you get so emotionally invested in… well, its a wizardry of sorts, plain and simple, and storytelling equal to anything done by the Pixar crowd. The fact that it will pass largely unnoticed by the majority of people simply because it is, well, an anime, is the unkindest thing of all. It deserves a wider audience. I will just point out that this is the only anime that my wife has ever watched, the greatest proof of all at just how universal the appeal and quality of this series is.