Kids on the Slope: Episode 11
8.5 stars out of 10
A coming of age anime that doesn’t involve giant robots or space chicks? It almost sounds impossible, but this latest episode of Kids on the Slope proves that Shinchiro Watanabe’s emphasis on well-written human drama can supplant genre expectations. All it takes to show budding maturity are characters that truly care for each other, displaying on-screen jubilee and despair tangible enough to evoke emotional responses from the audience.
The episode starts off with Sentaro quietly running away from home at the break of dawn. His father, who left some years ago to work in another prefecture, is returning home and claiming to no longer be the drunkard his son remembers. Sentaro, needless to say, is reluctant to reunite with him. Kaoru shows up in time to knock some sense into his friend and convince him to stay. When Sentaro’s father does arrive, he offers his son a fountain pen as a gift, a first step towards recompense.
Later on Sentaro and Kaoru ask Ritsuko’s father to play bass for their group in the coming school festival. When they decide the band is still lacking “razzmatazz,” Kaoru asks Ritsuko to sing for them. They practice The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” every day until the performance. But as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end” - disillusionment ensues when we learn Sentaro is late to the festival because of a motor bike accident. He and his sister are hospitalized, and Sentaro feels he is to blame. He decides to run away from home, for real this time…
In this latest installment our protagonist, Kaoru, proves that he has come a long way from being the socially inept teen we met in the first episode; it’s astonishing to remember that this is the same Kaoru who compulsively vomited whenever he was nervous. His first act is to tackle Sentaro to the ground and force him to confront his father, reminding him that “nothing good comes out of being afraid.” We then see Kaoru at Ritsuko’s side after the squabble, leaning on her shoulder and seeking solace. And because of Kaoru’s increased confidence, Ritsuko also spreads her wings by accepting the offer to sing for his and Sentaro’s jazz group. Looks like our little Kaoru-kun is all grown up!
The song central to this episode, as mentioned above, is “My Favorite Things.” The jazz rendition featured in the show is based on a cover by John Coltrane; the album to his version can be seen lying on the ground beside Kaoru, after the group is done with rehearsals and discussing what their favorite things are. It goes without saying that Yoko Kanno’s skills as a composer are almost without parallel, and when paired with Shinchiro Watanabe’s directing, Kids on the Slope beautifully integrates narrative and music in a way that is natural and unobtrusive; Broadway musicals like The Sound of Music tend to do the opposite, featuring musical numbers that advance a plot minimally, or not at all.
The animation for Kids on the Slope has proven to be unique, consistent, and is quite frankly among the best I’ve ever seen. Certainly, one of the most notable aspects of the animation is the fact that when people are playing music, their rapid body movements are shown in detail (this episode happens to be a rare exception to that rule). Such details may seem minor to some, but it adds a level of realism and illustrates a serious effort to display the expertise necessary for playing musical instruments. Most other anime shows depict complicated movements in montage stills, a convention that probably reflects either a low budget or a refusal to move away from anime’s manga origins.
What will become of Kaoru, Sentaro and Ritsuko? Will Sentaro ever find catharsis and return home? Are Kaoru and Ritsuko ever going to kiss? Stay tuned…
- To whom would this anime appeal? : Fans of the Yoko Kanno/Shinchiro Watanabe duo; slice-of-life, school drama enthusiasts; jazz fans; strong character development.
- Which anime are similar to this one? : Believe it or not, Kids on the Slope is rather unique. I suppose the I”s Pure OVA has similarly serious school drama and romantic entanglements, but it’s a watered-down version of Kids on the Slope at best. Following Watanabe’s other shows is the next best thing (Cowboy Bebop; Samurai Champloo; Macross Plus) for fans of his excellent characterization.
- Elijah Lee