Kids on the Slope (坂道のアポロン Sakamichi no Apollon, lit. “Apollo of the Slope”) is a 2012 12-episode slice-of-life anime directed by Shinchiro Watanabe and based on the mange by Yuki Kodama. The soundtrack was created by Yoko Kanno.
Kids on the Slope takes place in the 1960’s and follows a young high school student and classical pianist named Kaoru Nishimi who recently moved to Kyushu to live with his uncle. He tries to keep to himself, but has a run-in with the class ruffian, Sentaro Kawabuchi. Through class rep Ritsuko Mukae, he learns that there is more to Sentaro than he initially assumed, finding out Sentaro is a jazz drummer. Though their personalities and musical styles initially conflict, they begin to build a bond which changes both of them for the better.
Kids on the Slope has several angles of appeal, which relate to the aspects of the show itself. At its core, it is a coming of age story about these kids, their friendships, and romances. Outwardly, it’s a show about jazz and how jazz makes you feel. Finally, it’s about people living in post-occupation Japan and the influences of the West on Japan’s music, culture, religion, and daily lives.
The show’s most obvious strength is its animation and soundtrack, and how those two interact. It has some gorgeous fluid animation of characters playing their instruments, which go along fantastically with its soundtrack. Yoko Kanno is a fantastic musician and she pulled out all the stops for this show. You can feel the professional chemistry between Watanabe and Kanno in some of the performance scenes. The show isn’t an action anime, but when it wants to have a beautiful scene or awesome animation, it does so with abandon. Even if nothing else appeals to you about this show, I would recommend the soundtrack.
Along with the soundtrack comes a real love for Jazz. It’s clear that there is a real love of the genre in both the story and direction. Kaoru discovering a love of Jazz made me discover a love of Jazz.
The theming of the show is a bit harder to explain. Coming from a Western perspective, it is interesting to see the influences of Christianity, Jazz, and American soldiers on the lives of these kids. The story doesn’t come out purely for or against these influences, basking in the beauty of Jazz, but also showing the ugly side of Americans visiting Japan. It takes the bad with the good and shows us some really human moments.
The thing that turned this show from good to great, though, is the relationships. Kids on the Slope doesn’t restrain its characters for the benefit of the narrative. These kids feel like people more than almost any show I’ve seen. They make mistakes, they fight, and the romances and friendships feel real. That isn’t to say it’s all good or all bad. It’s all complicated, and that is what makes this show memorable. It leaves you with a sort of thoughtful somberness that ends with a smile.
Kids on the Slope is reasonably slow. It has some frustrating moments, and isn’t necessarily happy, especially in romance. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, this is not the show to go to. There are a couple of lines in English in the Japanese dub which are clearly by non-native English speakers. It’s always an odd kind of distraction to hear that.
It’s also got some classic romance tropes that might bother some, like love triangles and communication issues. These are honestly handled as well as one could hope, but if those are no-go’s for you, then skip it, I guess.
It’s kind of impossible to talk about a Watanabe show without comparing it to his other works. I wouldn’t compare this show to the likes of Cowboy Bebop if it hadn’t been done by the some director and composer, but here we are. Kids is fundamentally different than pretty much any of Watanabe’s other shows. This is a double-edged sword, though, since some people may go in expecting something similar to Samurai Champloo or Cowboy Bebop, and that is not what they’re going to get. I’ll refrain from ranking Watanabe’s work, in hopes of avoiding arguments in the comments, but this is a fantastic and unique entry in his catalog.
Weeb level: 1/10. This show is about Japan, but isn’t very weeby at all. It does take place in high school in Japan, so a bit of knowledge there might help.
Fanservice: 2.5/10. Most memorable fanservice moments involve Sentaro. This series can totally be read as a gay romance, but don’t get your hopes up for anything besides some cute popsicle moments.
Quality: 9/10. This show is unique not just for a Watanabe show, but for an anime in general. It feels like an overlooked gem, considering how little I hear it brought up.
Where to Watch: Kids on the Slope is currently available to stream on Hulu, Crunchyroll.