Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Anime Review: Kids on the Slope

The other noitaminA show and one that received a bit more pre-airing hype since it reunited director Shinichiro Watanabe (Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop) with composer Yoko Kanno (Wolf's Rain, Aquarion) for the first time since Cowboy Bebop and, well, people over here really like that show. The show had the tall order of adapting a nine volume (already completed) manga series in just 11 episodes so I had already lowered my expectations from "perfect thing that will never be equaled" to "has a rather good chance of being excellent".  A quick note  though, this show isn't JUST about jazz, as I'm afraid a lot of people thought when they went into it. It's about growing up so sure there's a lot of jazz but there's also friendship and a good deal of romance. If you want a show that's just about music that's fine, go watch Beck Mongolian Chop Squad, but I really hope that part alone doesn't turn people off from this series.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)

Summary: Kaoru is a military brat in 1960s Japan and Kyushu is only the latest in the long line of places his had to move to because of his dad's occupation, transfer schools, and generally feel alone and bitter about all of it. He does enjoy playing classical music on the piano a lot and that's how his luck changes as he meets classmates Ritsuko (whose dad owns a record store) and drum-player Sentaro and gets dragged into playing jazz in the basement of the record store. From there his life becomes more interesting as he begins to meet and open up to more people and finds out how painful a love triangle can be.

The Good: This is the kind of show that lives or dies by it's characters and thankfully Kaoru and Sentaro are characters that turn out much more interesting than they first appear (the rest of the cast is also interesting but it's these two boys and their friendship that holds the show together in my opinion). Kaoru noticeably, if slowly at times, grows from a cold, self-centered person whose been lonely all his life and Sen turns out to have problems of his own which greatly affect how he handles hardships. But the best part of the show is when the characters are interacting with each other, I feel like by the end of the show you could name any two characters and I'd be able to predict pretty well how they'd react (some of them wouldn't be interesting interactions but that's another thing altogether).  

The Bad: I do wish Ritsuko had gotten a bit more character development, or at least earlier on in the series since for too long she feels more like a role, "the childhood friend" or "the love interest", than an actual character. My bigger problem with the series however is that there are a lot of unexpected time skips and I'm not sure if this was a problem from the original manga or if this was a problem from the adaptation (ie, they had to cut stuff out which resulted in some rather awkward transitions). While I do believe this show was paced as well as it could've been I also do wish it had been 22 episodes instead; the characters could have been even better fleshed out and the pacing would have flowed smoother but other than that this was a solid show. 

The Audio: While this isn't my favorite Yoko Kanno soundtrack* it's really solid and all of the jazz scenes are spectacular. The music works well and I can easily see myself re-watching just the clips of the jazz sessions on youtube which is rather unusual for me. The voice acting work is solid and I really liked the opening and ending themes for the show. Both of them had subtitles by the end of the run and I like to interpret them as the opening is supposed to be Kaoru singing about how meeting Sentaro changed his life and the ending as how his relationship and infatuation with Ritsuko again changed him. I have no idea how much control an anime production has over the opening and ending themes (I know sometimes the composer helps compose the songs, other times I feel like the higher ups just try to get a up and coming group to try and get sponsorship money from their company) but regardless they worked really well here.  

The Visuals: The show did a good job making the series look like it's set in the 1960s and I really liked all the details in the backgrounds that made it feel like another time and place. But by far the most interesting part of the show was, again, the jazz sessions because of how fluid they looked. I don't believe they used rotoscoping (although apparently Kanno did choose two young, talented musicians for Kaoru and Sentaro's pieces and the grew set up tons of cameras around both of them from all angles for references) but the show is on par with Nodame Cantible for and accurate representation of characters making music. Normally this isn't a show where I would be gushing over it's looks but I was really impressed at how well those scenes turned out and everything else looked great as well.

So while in the end I enjoyed tsuritama more I still thought this was a solid show and plan to buy it when it comes out in the US (it's licensed by Section 23, fingers crossed that they get the rights to all the shows in the show). People interested in watching it can go over to either or to watch the series legally in it's entirely. The original manga has not been licensed in the US but I, ahem, plan on looking into it at least a bit anyway to see just how the anime compares. 

*weirdly enough for me that would be Wolf's Rain, which is only weird because I didn't really like the show in the end

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