The latest collaboration between Shinichiro Watanabe (director) and Yoko Kanno (composer), both of Cowboy Bebop fame. Kids on the Slope is a slice of life drama with comedic elements set in the 1960s.
The very first episode starts with the opening theme sung by Yuki, who performed for both Honey and Clover opening sequences. Moving onto the actual episode, the narrator; Kaoru Nishimi shares his contempt for his new school, new classmates, and new town. During class he meets Maruo (a classmate) who warns him about a possible delinquent who sits right behind them. Suddenly Kaoru starts to feel sick, but recuperates upon meeting the lovely Ritsuko Mukae. Ritsuko tells him that she is the class representative, and thus will show him around his new school. As they both go about, Kaoru is deliberately struck by a baseball. The responsible students begin to mock him, and this causes him to start nauseating again.
He asks Ritsuko where the roof is located and immediately heads over. On his way there, he meets the last major character introduced in this episode; Sentaro Kawabuchi, the most feared bully around the school. Kaoru and Sentaro confront some annoying seniors on the roof, because Kaoru seems to relieve himself of his nausea (which is brought on by stress) by isolating himself, but these hard-headed seniors are in their way since they hold the key to the roof. Sentaro fights them and wins, yet refuses to hand the key over to Kaoru. Back in the classroom later, Kaoru finds out that the delinquent who Maruo warned him about was actually Sentaro all along. Sentaro deliberately moves right behind Kaoru to “torment” him, and Kaoru reacts accordingly.
He snatches the key to the roof from Sentaro and rushes there, but a curious Sentaro tags along. While on the roof, they begin to bond. They both run and play on the roof as it rains above them. They even let go of their umbrellas and horse around until they’re soaked. Back in the classroom later, they’re confronted by Ritsuko who helps them change by providing them their gym uniform in the infirmary. At some point Kaoru blushes as Ritsuko compliments his looks, which then drives Sentaro to interrupt. Back in class, Kaoru realizes that he isn’t having a difficult time coping with stress anymore. The next morning, as Kaoru plays the piano we learn a bit about his upbringing.
Kaoru’s father is a sailor who travels constantly, but he taught Kaoru how to play the piano in his childhood. He plays the piano to forget about his father’s absence as well as the stressful situations. He currently lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin [??]. They are not very nice to him. At school Ritsuko invites him over to her place after school to which he misunderstands and considers it an “indecent” proposal. He accepts anyway since Ritsuko tells him that she lives in a record store, and he happens to be looking for classical records. Once there he meets Ritsuko’s father and becomes acquainted with him and the place. Ritsuko then leads him down a basement room that houses a bunch of instruments, and our favorite deviant, Sentaro happens to be down here playing a drum kit. Within minutes he demonstrates to Kaoru that he isn’t the only talented musician in tow, and that he is just as sophisticated and as brainy as him.
After that hot session, Ritsuko encourages Kaoru to play the piano. Kaoru is reluctant, and Sentaro defiant. Sentaro poses that only jazz is allowed in the studio, and that if she wants the piano, then he’ll play it for her. Thus, he begins play another jazz piece. Kaoru recognizes the tune and attempts to correct Sentaro by adding a few notes and keys. Hearing this upsets Sentaro because he knows the piece and claims Kaoru puts no “swing” into it. Ritsuko is astounded by their talent and proposes they play a session together, but both refuse. Their egos seem to have more “swing” than their will. Before leaving, Kaoru asks Ritsuko the name of the song “Sen” was playing on the piano, to which her father tells them both that the only song he can play on it is moaning by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Kaoru takes this record with him. Ritsuko’s father wonders about this since he thought Kaoru showed up only to buy classical records. Sentaro listens quietly behind them. The next day at school, Kaoru comes to appreciate the way Sentaro was playing the drums and even comes to admire his carefree attitude.
A few things to note about this episode is that despite the fact that Shinichiro Watanabe directs, this anime doesn’t seem to carry his usual fast-paced cuts and adrenaline-filled sequences. However, that is to be somewhat expected since, Kids on the Slope is adapted from a josei manga of the same name. Although, you can tell it’s his work when you notice the soundtrack composed by Yoko Kanno. It’s also good to note how music seems to play a central part of the plot and characters here. The music blends along perfectly with the time period and the setting. The strong use of jazz here also highlights a directorial trademark displayed by Watanabe before. He always uses music to drive his storytelling. That and the fact that it’s jazz… Cowboy Bebop anyone?
I also fancy the way this anime strikes me as familiar. I couldn’t help but feel a Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile-sense of look and atmosphere. In other words, it’s sense of time and place in its world is so intoxicating, that it easily overwhelms the viewer’s sensibilities. One can easily relate to the characters and the narrative is sweet and funny. However, there is one thing that must be pointed out. Kids on the Slope features a rather stereotypical situation for the main character; he feels lonely, he’s a lone wolf, he’s anti-social, but he’s slowly begins to come out of his closet– uh, I mean, shell. Sure, it’s stereotypical and we’ve seen it a zillion times, but Watanabe manages to dose this story with plenty of rich yet gentle visuals, and a very charming way of introducing the characters that I can somewhat overlook the episode’s weakness. I also must admit… Sentaro is one of the coolest Spike/Mugen-ish dudes in recent memories. Hey, Watanabe directed those two, and thus the comparisons were bound to happen.