It’s not often that we come across musical anime series. No, not the bravado musicals or the ones about school idol wannabes. But what about an anime about jazz? Yes, you heard it right! Labelled as the ‘jazz anime’, Sakamichi No Apollon (Kids on the Slope) will prove that first impressions can be wrong. Who knew that an anime about jazz could actually be one of the best anime series of 2012?
Meet the ‘kids on the slope’. Kaoru, a disengaged teenager, feels he does not belong anywhere in society. Things soon change when he encounters the grade’s delinquent outcast, Sentaro, and they soon become unlikely best friends in no time. With Riko to keep the boys in check, you’d think they would be an unbreakable force right till the end. But of course, life doesn’t work that way as the trio face a somersault series of heartaches, stress and emotional turmoil in the following chapters of their adolescent lives.
Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe (Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop), you’d know Sakamichi No Apollon is going to be a masterpiece. If you’re unfamiliar with his works, Watanabe is well-known for his distinct vision when it comes to anime that focuses a great deal on musical elements.
From the direction of art to animation to music, Sakamichi No Apollon is sleek, classy and full of vibrant swag – it oozes sophistication just like jazz music itself. Because Watanabe understands the essence of jazz, he knew the direction that he wanted to achieve with the story. And he couldn’t have achieved this mission without teaming up with the prolific musical composer Yoko Kanno (The Vision of Escaflowne, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Wolf’s Rain).
For an anime to focus solely on jazz, it was extremely vital for Kids on the Slope to hit the right chords. In fact, Sakamichi No Apollon would be nothing without its original soundtrack. The moment the pilot episode first introduced the classic jazz song of the series — Moanin’ (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers) — to both Kaoru and the audience, it was impossible not to fall in love with jazz at its first musical note.
The musical groove does not stop there as Sakamichi No Apollon continues to deliver an exceptional compilation of well-known jazz tunes such as John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things and Chet Baker’s But Not For Me. With a mix of the old and new, this ultimately gives more spunk and timelessness to the anime with the intentions of attracting a wider audience.
But it’s not just about the music. Kids on the Slope is a real winner when it comes to storytelling as it divulges incredibly heartfelt sub-plots with well-developed characters. Every character has their own troubles and burdens, but by the end of the day, we are reminded that everyone is a human being with a heart and emotions. This warmly prompts us to appreciate the company of friends who can get us through the good and bad days, making the slope’s journey less nauseating.
Whether it is discovering a lost mother, or dreading the return of the father, or going through unrequited love, Kids on Slope’s arcs are a variation of honest stories written from the soul that viewers can connect with on a personal level. And as each episode ends, the anime presents us with a distinctive quote, compelling viewers to reflect upon the moral of the episode.
Verdict: Sakamichi No Apollon (Kids on the Slope) is the perfect introduction to the musical genre for jazz-newbies. There’s just something about jazz that gets you going — and this anime will make you feel at ease with the world because it perfectly depicts the essence of youth, life and jazz. Without a doubt, there is probably no other anime like Kids on the Slope that can execute storytelling, music and art that sings harmoniously on the same page.
Because of its sheer perfection and gutsy attitude to be original in a sophisticated manner, it is indie anime like Sakamichi No Apollon that promotes the unpopular music of jazz to the world. An excellent feat for a ‘jazz anime’.