Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope anime series cover art
Kids on the Slope

Overview

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon / 坂道のアポロン) is a jazz-based drama series set in Japan in the latter half of the 1960s. And when I started watching this series, I didn’t know any of that. I went in completely blind, so if you’re reading this before watching it for yourself, you’re already going to have a different experience than I did.

The point when it became apparent that this anime was about music is late into the first episode. Up until then there’s some pretty normal high school-centered slice of life stuff going on, and then we’re taken into the basement under a record shop and the true nature of the series is revealed.

The fact that this basement is attached to a record shop, or even that Sentarou is down there playing the drums, isn’t what made it click for me that this is what the series was about, though. Instead, it was the attention to detail and quality of animation which was displayed during Sentarou’s initial performance.

Sentarou Kawabuchi playing the drums from the anime series Kids on the Slope
Sentarou Kawabuchi playing the drums

I’m a huge fan of series that can subvert my expectations and take the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting. But there’s something even more impressive about series that can seamlessly achieve this same level of subversion within the very first episode.

School-Live! is another great example of this in action, though it’s about as far as you can get from Kids on the Slope. But what makes the “twist” in Kids on the Slope so good is that not only does it not fundamentally change the series, but it makes you question what you thought the series was going to be to begin with.

I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking for the first 15 minutes.

Characters

While the side characters are certainly important in how they affect the relationships of the main trio, I’m going to stick to the main characters for the purposes of this review. There’s enough to say about Kaoru, Sentarou, and Ritsuko as it is.

Kaoru Nishimi is the protagonist. He comes from a wealthy family, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his life is ideal. He lives with his aunt and female cousin, both of whom treat him as though he’s an outsider. And because of this, his only way he can find solace is through his music — he enjoys classical by the way.

But Kaoru’s difficulties don’t stop there. He’s also kind of a nerd, suffers from panic attacks, and has just started attending classes at a new school where he has no friends. So basically normal high school-based protagonist stuff.

Although Kaoru is the main character, the series really revolves around his eventual friend, Sentarou Kawabuchi. Sentarou’s family situation is basically the opposite of Kaoru’s, he has opposite interests (still music, but Jazz, not classical), how he carries himself is different, and even his physique is different from Kaoru’s.

However, there’s just something about the way Sentarou loves his Jazz that’s infectious.

Kaoru, Sentarou, and Ritsuko from the anime series Kids on the Slope
Kaoru, Sentarou, and Ritsuko

Ritsuko Mukae is the least interesting of the three, as the female characters unfortunately are most of the time. Honestly, try to think of a male-male-female trio in anime in which the female character isn’t considered the weak link. But, she’s still (sort of) the glue that holds them together.

Really, it’s Ritsuko’s basement that holds them together because that’s where Kaoru, Sentarou, and Ritsuko’s dad play Jazz together, but we’ll give that one to Ritsuko. The only thing she really adds to the trio is the possibility for a love triangle, but what are the chances that would happen?

Life After the Slope

The titular slope that the titular kids are on in the title refers to the long hill the students have to walk up every day to get to school. However, although we hear some complaints about the slope throughout the series, it’s significance seemed to be tied with leaving school.

Sure, walking up the slope in the mornings probably sucked, but after school was out, we would always see some combination of Kaoru, Sentarou, and Ritsuko walking down the slope together as they headed for the record shop basement.

Spoilers for the end of the series are starting now.

After having seen the main characters descend the slope towards their underground jazz sanctuary so many times, I found the epilogue to be a lot more impactful. Sentarou disappears, Kaoru goes off to college in Tokyo, and Ritsuko is left alone back in the town they once shared.

There’s no more walking down the slope from the school and hanging out together. Once they go their separate was, the slope no longer plays a role and it becomes clear that it represented their friendship in some fashion.

But eight years after graduation, the three of them are finally reunited. Kaoru finds Sentarou living as a minister in training at a church on top of a slope, and the two share their first jazz session in almost a decade. Then they descend the slope just as they used to after school and run into Ritsuko at the bottom.

There’s no definitive conclusion to the series, but there doesn’t need to be. The fact that all three of them are together again at the bottom of a long, winding slope tells us everything we need to know.

Conclusion

If it weren’t for the epilogue, I probably would have given the series an 8. But the epilogue did such a good job of wrapping up the story that I have to give Kids on the Slope a 9/10. I’m not going to say that it’s broken into my top 10 anime, because it probably hasn’t, but it’s definitely one you should watch.

Normally this would be where I mention the OP/ED, but I actually haven’t seen them. For some reason I didn’t watch this series on Crunchyroll, and where I watched it had the OP/ED cut off the episodes. I’d go back and watch them, but at this point I don’t really see the purpose.

I’ll just say they’re probably good, and the song used at the end of the epilogue is probably either the OP or ED.

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