Life in 1960’s Kyushu makes for far more engaging material than you might think.
What They Say:
It’s the summer of 1966 and high school freshman Kaoru Nishimi is struggling to adjust to the latest of many moves in his young life, this time to his uncle’s home in the seaside town of Kyushu. It’s never easy adjusting and it’s never easy fitting in, but this time will be different. This time he’ll meet friends who will change his life forever, and he’ll discover a new passion, one that grabs his heart and rocks him to his very soul. It’s music. A beat. A whole new way of looking at life. It’s called jazz, and together with bad boy Sentaro and music store girl Ritsuko, they’re going to follow their muse to wherever their music takes them!
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release bring us the original Japanese language track and the new English language adaptation in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that uses dialogue well when it comes to overall placement and depth as there are some really good moments where the levels vary as they talk, but it also has to stand out well when it comes to the music since that’s just key to things. And it does a very good job of it here of being very warm and engaging as it plays out. The music when played by the characters has a really warm and rich feeling about it, though not quite a “being there” feeling that you would hope for. But that’s just how this kind of material works. The encoding is good overall, though there are reports of problems with episode eleven on the Japanese side, but how noticeable it is seems to be dependent on equipment and sensitivity. Other than that, dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no other problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, where the extras are also located. The series has a very strong look about it when it comes to some of the shading it employs, especially around characters faces, and there’s a lot of really good detail to the backgrounds and some of the items of the time that show up throughout it. There’s a lot of great backgrounds here, both with interiors and skylines and the like, and they bring a certain life to it which the transfer captures well. The only areas that stood out a bit was with some of the blues in the uniforms that have a bit of noise. But beyond that there’s a lot to like here with the way the presentation looks as it brings the animation to life well.
The presentation for this release is quite good as we get the two discs inside a standard sized Blu-ray case. The front cover artwork is spot-on as it works a similar feeling to a lot of records from the 60’s as it feaure sthe core trio of characters in their own blocks with an orange background to it while there’s white segments throughout it. The text is laid out nicely and the logo is just basic text, but it works right with the angles used. I absolutely love the design of the “complete collection” wording itself as well as it just highlights the whole classic feel to it. The back cover works similar colors and design, though it’s a bit cleaner in terms of presenting the amount of text it has to work with when it comes to the concept. The shots are quite good as we get some good variety to it, the special features are all strongly listed and the production information is conveyed clearly. The technical information is in the standard grid and it all covers everything accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release uses a lot of the same elements as the cover, but it goes a bit traditional as well as it uses character artwork for a lot of it, but without the orange backgrounds. The right side has the navigational strip, which is where the black and orange comes in, with the logo running alongside it similar to how the front cover works. There’s a brightness and life to it that works nicely and draws you in. Submenus load quickly, language navigation is a breeze and the extras on the second volume are easy to navigate since they’re laid out cleanly so you know what each of them is about. We didn’t have any problems navigating the menus and it fits the theme nicely.
The extras for this release are on the second volume and we do get a good selection here. While we have the usual suspects in the clean opening and closing sequences, always welcome, and some of the original promos, we also get a trio of interview pieces. These are a bit more hands on as it deals with the music side of the production a bit and there’s one with Watanabe himself, another with Yoko Kanno and a third with the two lead men and their time talking about the characters, music and influences of it all. They each run about 15 minutes on average and bring some welcome views on the show from those involved that helps to humanize it just a bit more.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Yūki Kodama, Kids on the Slope is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe and it brings him back with Yoko Kanno. That lead to all sorts of comparisons to past works when it first hit the airwaves in 2012. Is this the next Cowboy Bebop? Will it be a new Samurai Champloo? It’s best and practically necessary to eject such thoughts because it does a disserve to the work at hand that came from Yuki Kodama. Bringing these talents to the show is definitely a positive since it will capture more people than it might otherwise, but it’s a double edged sword. If you’re not able to get those comparisons out of your mind, it may be quite hard to get into the show for what it is and what it’s meant to be.
The series takes us back to an interesting time that we normally don’t see in anime, 1966, some twenty years after the end of World War II and a growing generation with a very different mindset than their elders. The show focuses on Kaoru, a transfer student who has come to Kyushu from Yokosuka to live with his family there that he doesn’t know that well. These kinds of changes are never easy and Kaoru isn’t an introvert but he’s not about to share himself either as he’s still stinging from the loss of his friends and where he was before this. Add in that the people of Kyushu are a bit different than where he was as well, which leads to some small misunderstandings here and there, and you have someone that’s just doing what he can until things take better shape.
Where things at school change quickly though is when there’s an instance where a fight is about to break out and he finds himself surprisingly aligned with Sentaro, a definitely roughhousing type that looks like trouble and didn’t care much for Kaoru to begin with. But it turns to Kaoru’s advantage and there’s a draw between the two young men, though Sentaro’s brash nature has him coming across as swaggering, which impacts Kaoru a lot. Kaoru has his problems with change to be sure, but he’s also coping with the way so many are viewing him as the rich boy from the big city compared to their “countryside” ways which they feel can be easily ridiculed by someone like him. Not that Kaoru did any of that in the brief time that they’ve known him.
What becomes the real tie that binds the two young men together though is that of jazz. Sentaro’s definitely into it as it’s a growing phenomenon at that time but Kaoru comes from a classical background which is something that Sentaro scoffs at. But it’s that first real opening between them that you can see being explored more as the show goes on. And it’s enough because of how Kaoru acts that it makes an impression on many others. While most of the students give Sentaro a wide berth, Kaoru just deals with him normally and that catches their attention in hushed whispers. Kaoru’s arrival of the school is certainly explored slowly here, but it hits some intriguing notes and definitely makes clear where it can go but with plenty of divergences along the way to make it even more interesting.
The setup is something that really does carry the show, especially as it introduces us to Sentaro’s childhood friend Ritsuko. Who Kaoru promptly falls in love with and discovers that she’s interested in Sentaro, though it’s a kind of awkward interest because of their lengthy relationship and nearly sibling like closeness. What complicates matters more as it progresses is that Sentaro is oblivious to Ritsuko’s interest and ends up falling for another girl himself. Yurika isn’t really all that different from everyone else, but she feels a bit higher class in comparison and definitely above Sentaro’s station, which has him being really cautious about it all. But it gets even more complicated as he shows her the music that they’re all into and she’s drawn into that, but she ends up becoming interested in a slightly older man named Junichi, who is like a brother to Sentaro and has played jazz with him for an age before going to college. It’s a straightforward chain of interests in general here, but it plays out really well across the year or so that the series takes place, as they orbit each other in different ways and there are ripple effects of problems between them, misunderstandings and awkward confessions that don’t pan out well.
While there isn’t a back and forth nature here as this part takes up a good chunk of time, there is a natural feeling to a lot of it in seeing young hearts in motion, the social constructs of the time and the infusion of music. The strongest points continue to be the relationship between Sentaro and Kaoru as they have an almost on again off again kind of thing because of their frustrations with themselves and others. It left me a little frustrated when watching weekly during the simulcast, but watching it in one session here really shows the clarity of it all. But you also have to appreciate that they do spread the series out over a year or so, and then they do a big leap forward to show us where they all end up. The series hits a lot of good character notes throughout, infused with some great music, and definitely left me wanting to see the original work to see if it’s more expansive.
Kids on the Slope is a series that had so much build up before it came out because of the people involved that it couldn’t live up to what had been imagined. When you take the show for what it is, and its source material, it’s a strong character work period piece that works very well. It’s not a show that radically changes the game, but it’s a very welcome departure from the normal high school relationship shows we get. The infusion of music is a big plus and it doesn’t feel tacked on, giving us characters who have passions and try to follow them, to let them rule their lives at times, rather than fighting against it or just being bland without anything that drives them. With a strong visual design, a great setting and excellent production values overall, it’s little wonder that Kids on the Slope drew in a lot of fans and proved to be pretty emotional for many. It’s the kind of show that you can give to fans of live action period pieces and jazz and they’d completely get into it.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews with Shinichiro Watanabe, Shun Ishiwaka & Yoko Kanno, Japanese Previews, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.