Legendary anime director Shinichiro Watanabe is normally associated with cult classics like “Cowboy Bebop”, “Samurai Champloo” and “Space Dandy”, not least because of their exotic sci-fi and fantasy locations. However, at the heart of all his filmmaking is a reflection on human relationships, and in this regard, his 2012 anime series “Kids On The Slope” (based on the manga by Yuki Kodama) is no different. Set in 1966, it tells the story of Kaoru Nishimi, a lonely introvert who has often had to move schools due to his father’s work demands. Transferring to a new high school on Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese home islands, Kaoru meets Sentaro, who is mistakenly regarded by locals as a thug. Their unlikely friendship introduces Kaoru, a talented classical pianist, to jazz music; Sentaro, who plays drums, regularly jams in the basement of a local record store. There Kaoru meets Ritsuko, who is in love with Sentaro; and over time, Kaoru comes to realise that he has not only made his first ever friend in Sentaro, but has in his turn fallen in love with the unavailable Ritsuko.
“Kids On The Slope” is notable for the fact that two of the main characters, Sentaro and Ritsuko, are devout Catholics, and their faith plays a major part in their character development. But it also underscores Watanabe’s interest in the dynamics of human relationships, and the joys and sorrows that flow from human connections and the emotional and existential realities attached to those associations. Also notable is the music score, produced by frequent Watanabe collaborator, Yoko Kanno; beside a number of jazz standards, Kanno’s own extraordinary jazz compositions reinforce the reputation she established with “Cowboy Bebop”. While less acclaimed than some other Watanabe productions, “Kids On The Slope” is a moving and engagingly told coming-of-age story that presents its characters as three-dimensional beings whose hidden depths also produce surprising outcomes.
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