The Beatles, get dunked on.
I think my review of Kids on the Slope needs to be taken into context to understand my ramblings in it. Here, I talk about the use of melody with you, dear reader, as if you already know what is going on with the musical themes of this show. No, it seems like I'm talking to you as if you're Yoko Kanno herself. I assure you, that is not the case. The reason I'm talking about the art form with such familiarity is because, in many ways, I see a lot of what Cowboy Bebop had to offer, musically speaking, only built on and explored in a beautiful manner.
Not that Bebop and KotS are anything alike; the two shows would make for a horrible comparison in any other aspect. And yet, in the very first minute of the first episode of this anime about three young, beautiful souls navigating their teenage years, Shinichiro Watanabe's imprint registers almost immediately. Much like it did over a decade ago when I first encountered a particularly lazy bounty hunter doing tai-chi on a spacecraft...
KotS is very jazzy, yes, but in a very introductory way. We have an excellent means of being acquainted with the genre with Kaoru Nishimi. An alienated, city-bred newcomer thrust into the strange town, Kaoru feels very oppressed by his surroundings, relying on his mastery over the piano and classical music as the sole outlet for his anguish.
That soon changes when he meets Sentaro Kawabuchi, a delinquent drummer so fixedly into jazz that he consistently denounces every other genre. With some prodding and an initial rivalry between the two, Kaoru slowly but surely falls in love with swing and, alongside now good friends Sentaro and his childhood pal Ritsuko Mukae, successfully claims his adolescent life.
It must be said, as with his other labours, that Watanabe has perfected the craft of getting the feel of his period pieces as realistic as possible. Late 1960s, suburban Japan feels appropriately nostalgic and yet so strangely modern, ready to assimilate and improve upon any bits of foreign culture that it can get its hands on.
We see instances of this mindset readily in the show - we see a by-and-large acceptance of Christianity coming about after centuries of being an outlawed religion; the rise of popular movements calling for radical changes in the government; and, of course, the whole-hearted consumption of music from around the world. For crying out loud, crucial bits of the narrative take place in the basement of a shop stacked to the brim with gorgeous records, run by Ritsuko's father, a true connoisseur. And the musical influence is not restricted to dedicated jazz: many of our trio's friends and classmates display an eclectic taste, from orthodox rock bands like The Ventures (!) to Duke Ellington (!!!).
That brings me to another point - while this is classified as a Watanabe joint for our flavour of the month, I personally feel that this could have been a strong-ass contender as an out and out music anime by itself. That is because for almost every plot point of the narrative, you have some of the most expressive piano pieces captivating your attention even when the plot point itself maybe faltering. While the characters do emote convincingly with some occasionally fantastic lines, it's almost as if the dialogue is the background score to the ever-present soulful strains of the ivory keys.
As a representation of the slice-of-life genre, KotS is fantastic to say the least. While not having this one driving motivation for its protagonists to progress, it provides multiple opportunities for them to falter, experience love and happiness and loss and heartbreak, the kind only a teenager could.
And through all of this, it elevates itself from other such shows by how real everything feels. You might not have faced everything that our trio does (I can't particularly remember ever being part of a love pentagon, having a crush on four different people isn't the same thing) but you most definitely will be hit hard in dem feels by parts of their lives that you do identify with.
Kids on the Slope might not be the best anime in the last decade, let alone of all time. It certainly isn't very well-rounded; even the day-to-day story dynamics falter, inevitably, and some arcs, especially the trio's reconciliation, while incredibly heartwarming and believable, seem especially drawn out (although the second one is my personal opinion).
What isn't my personal opinion, and by far my biggest gripe with the show, is the romantic angles in the latter half of the story. While I understand that they were very important and needed to be represented, they did seem far too melodramatic and needlessly complicated, and perhaps the one facet of the show that lacked some realism. Apart from that however, Kids on the Slope did not fail to mesmerize me throughout. It made me up go that very slope our trio went through, all over again.
Light Eight. Had it touted itself as solely a SoL anime, Kids on the Slope would most definitely be in the nines in the storytelling aspect. However, its ambition ends up costing it as I would have expected much more than what it had to offer in its subplots. Overall, however, it's not bad at all.
(Japanese): Decent Eight. Again, wasn't that bad at all, they were pretty persuasive, but there were definitely no standout moments.
(English Dub): Decent Seven. Meh, the English dub delivered but it was at best so-so.
Decent Eight. The characters may be a little flat, but goddamn, these people are very, very believable. This is one aspect of the show that Watanabe most certainly came through with, and you can definitely see a Kaoru, Sentaro or Ritsuko around you. If you can't, welp, you are one of them.
Eight. Understated is the best way to describe it; the colours are soft and muted, but they contrast nicely with the backgrounds. The character designs are only slightly generic.
Light Nine. While the still frames are okay-ish at best, that completely changes when the characters are in motion. The movements are so fluid, especially those beautiful shots of Sentaro on the drums. Oh my.
Strong Nine. The incorporation of musical elements is extraordinary in itself, but the realization of how almost every episode is cleverly based off a certain musical piece is truly gasp-worthy. One of the very few anime soundtracks that I have saved on Spotify and fully plan on listening a lot in the future. Yoko Kanno, chapeau.
Overall Weighted Score: 8.63
Despite its at times overbearing love dynamics, Kids on the Slope is far from a romanticized version of adolescence. No, it instead shows every nostalgic facet of your youth in the most simple and matter-of-fact manner. That is all it had to do to hook me in, and leave me profoundly aware of all the friendships I can no longer have.