Friendship, music, and love as the ties that bind and which can also sever.
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!
The release of this television series contains two language options- English and Japanese- though both tracks are limited to only a stereo mix. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and the track is present on the disc with no dropouts or distortions noted for the dialogue which comes through clearly and it does make use of directionality well on a somewhat limited basis as the show has a heavy basis on dialogue and music. Where things break down a little is in some of the tracks that focus heavily on music as some portions have a high pitched hum that appears at times and them abates with a change in directionality of the events on screen and depend on which stage the music is set to be coming from. Overall though the track really feels like it is hampered both by the DVD format which doesn’t have the lossless audio of Blu-Ray but even more so it feels hampered by the lack of a 5.1 track, something that really could have helped to sell the music greatly, though this isn’t a fault in any way on Sentai’s part but of Japan’s practices with much of television anime productions. Overall the track is pretty good though the hum does keep it from being considered very good and if it were ever popular enough to get a 5.1 re-mix I’d almost certainly jump on that in an instant, though I would go for Blu-ray to also get it lossless.
Originally airing in the middle part of the 2012 Japanese television season, Kids on the Slope is presented here in its original 16:9 aspect ratio and comes complete with an anamorphic encode. The series moves in a direction slightly different than many other shows as its character designs are a little less sleek than many which helps the series establish a stylistic look of its own while not going so far out of the standard character designs to alienate most fans, though the shadows that appear on the faces at times aren’t always the most flattering to the designs either and it also uses a pretty heavy grain to help sell the time setting of the series. For this release Sentai Filmworks went beyond what is a long standard of putting 12 episodes and extras on two discs as Sentai spreads the material out over three discs which just comes across as a fantastic move that may help cut down on video faults, though “cut down” is most assuredly not “eliminate.”.
Present on the disc (other than the afore mentioned grain) is a level of fine noise that is usually moderate as well as a bit of banding, some ghosting, minor aliasing at times (though at a few times it does stand out somewhat), some blocking that appears with certain colors there being some moments where the background images can bleed through some foreground characters. Faults aside the presentation is rather strong and colors appear to strike a nice balance, not unrealistically bold but also not washed out and the look really helps to give the show a feeling of having some grounding in reality without trying to subtly push a theme by the depictions of colors as to how one should view the world the series is creating.
The packaging for the release houses three discs in a standard sized DVD case and to accommodate this the release includes a hinge insert tray that has space for a disc on either side with the final disc being stored in the back of the inside of the case. The cover for the release features the two main male characters inside large orange rectangles with the two female characters who play important- if not exactly equal sized roles in both cases- in the feature getting their own squares near the guy who has a crush on them with the logo being fit into a upside down and reversed “L” shape that helps it stand out from many other releases.
The spine uses a reddish-brown color with the title in white with the three main characters each getting an oval portrait at the top with Ritsuko being present between the two young men. The back cover features a mostly white background with eight stills from the series present along with the copy and some large bolded PR that points out that the team also worked on Cowboy Bebop while the features are listed in a small reddish-brown box and the technical specs and copyright info is at the bottom in white and orange boxes. The discs each use an image of one of the three principle cast members as the two young men play their instruments and Ritsuko is again assigned the spot between them as she appears on the second disc, though she is pictured holding sheet music to her chest as she doesn’t play an instrument in the series.
The menus use are fairly basic in mechanics in that they use static images of character with the main menus featuring the same characters from the respective discs on one side of the screen while the individual titles options are listed on the other side, and in addition most of the sub menu screens use images of the trio together that helps sell the bond they share in the series. The Main Menu also lists the options selectable vertically with episodes being listed on top while the disc’s Language Option and Special Features (where applicable) are listed under that while a portion of one of the themes playing for background music on all the menu screens. The menus themselves are on the simplistic yet effective side as they are quick to respond to changes in selection and also respond promptly to whatever option was chosen.
The release of this series contains the almost industry standard clean opening and closings and even includes some Japanese promos for the series which is a bit beyond what is the usual minimum on releases. Sentai then goes an extra mile by including three interviews on the set- two on disc two (Director Shinichiro Watanabe and Takashi Matsunaga &Shu Ishiwaka who were the instrumentalists for the two main characters) and one on disc three (composer Yoko Kanno) which allow the creative team to talk about their work on the series and which gives a bit of insight as to what they had hoped to accomplish with the work. While not vital to the series, they truly are extras in that they can provide a bit more information about the work and the effort into making it as accurate as possible including in animating the use of the instruments and it helps add a layer of appreciation for the work done on the series while showing what the hoped for goal was and letting the audience decide if they really met it or not.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based off the manga by Yuki Kodoma, Kids on the Slope follows some of the highs and lows of a pair of high school boys (and also a girl who is staring member, though not quite center focus, as well) who are introduced early in their days at their new high school set on a high hill whose slope helps give the series its name. The year is 1966 and Kaoru Nishimi has just made the latest in a long string of transfers that have kept him from spending any time in a single place for more than a year which has left him as a person who is very introverted and who has little skill connecting with others, and this lack of talent at reaching out plus his high grades make it even easier for his fellow classmates to isolate him further by projecting their own perceptions upon him making for a pretty ugly situation that continually feeds upon itself in a repeating cycle.
Things change however as, in the midst of what looks to be a panic attack brought on by some conflict, Kaoru comes across the rather large Sentaro Kawabuchi who has a reputation as a brawler and troublemaker (part of which is incredibly true and part of which may be as much the result of his own awkward skills in interaction as anything else) as Kaoru is trying to use one of the few coping skills he has to center himself by attempting to make it to the school’s roof. While the initial contact between the two goes rather oddly this incredibly opposite pair seems to be exactly what the other one needs to find a connection with another person as their different tastes open a new world for each that neither had really explored with Kaoru discovering some fun in playing jazz as opposed to just the classical piano he is used to while Sentaro finds someone who can look beyond just the image he projects. In addition, the changes that the two bring about in the other allows the both of them to recognize that they are in the spring time of youth as they discover love, though they may discover that love can break as many bonds as it creates between people when affections aren’t always returned in equal measure and it may lead to changes neither boy really can predict and which may change their relationships in ways not always for the better as their discover just how bittersweet the results of reaching out can be.
The heart of the story though is really nurtured through jazz which not only comes to bind may of the series characters together by presenting a bond they otherwise likely never would have formed through a common love but it also serves as the undercurrent to series itself as not only does the act of playing music play a large role in the series it feels like emotionally the spirit series is based of jazz in that at times the series has moments that feel predictable from the tempo of the work while at others there are points that feel rather spontaneous and which just flow up out of nowhere. This flow is where the audience either is going to connect with the series or not as it often portrays events with some dramatic but often broad strokes as the 12 (well, 11 ½ really) episodes of the series cover the three years of the youngsters lives and the ups and downs that mark many important events along the way but leave much unsaid as to the development that goes on in those unseen periods between the characters in the series.
As the characters progress along their paths they discover at times just how important various relationships have become to them as at times the relationships break apart or shift causing the youths to have to reevaluate just how they had been interacting as they learn just how powerful the connections they feel with others can be but also how fragile they can be when various emotions jut up against each other like icebergs colliding, often with some spectacularly impressive results that can be equal parts beautiful and ugly in the aftermath as not everyone handles all the moments with the greatest of ease and their inexperience can lead to more pain than they were intending. Watching the series can help one remember those days where one believed that almost anything was possible and yet a single word in passing or seeming slight could seem just as powerful a destructive force in terms of the future and which can help provide a connecting point despite the differences in what the viewer’s tastes may be when it comes to things like jazz that play a heavy role in the series. The series greatest strength is found is in the display of various characters and their actions of falling in love and the thrill it can bring while a good deal of the humor and drama well center around the actions of some of those around each individual who may be well meaning but create new problems as they act more out of how they interpret the situation to be rather than really spend the time to sit down and talk things through which creates a lot of moments of comedy but also provides the bittersweet undercurrent that many of the episodes have woven through their core.
This melodrama also likely will be where the divide comes from those who find themselves loving the series and those who come away feeling that the series just failed to really connect with them as to a very large extent what the series shows off is the more splashy moments in these character’s time together which often relies on big, emotional pieces to sell its message which does create a bit of a feeling at times, much like a piece of music can, that the tempo and atmosphere are adding depth to a situation that is more façade than structure when examined closely. In that regard certain parts of the series at times feel almost manipulative as they are designed to draw out the desired emotions rather than create them naturally if the series was a longer one and they had the time to build up to certain events rather than having to play some of them heavier to achieve the same result and it can leave one feeling a bit hollow when they do some introspection on the series and try to pin down just what it is they enjoyed (or not) from the show.
Regardless of how one connects with the series though, probably one of the biggest determinations of just how much an individual gets out of it will depend to some extent on what they enter into it with, and in that regard Sentai Filmworks may not have helped the title in the long run with its prominent listing of director Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno on the front and using the link of their past work on Cowboy Bebop as a selling point as Kids on the Slope is really nothing like that title in terms of presentation or themes (nor is it Macross Plus which the two worked on either but one might make some better comparisons give the friendship/relationship elements and how they played out there). While from a marketing standpoint it is a smart move, it may set people up hoping for an experience based off a past work that this one isn’t designed to deliver and as such it may help create an environment where disappointment can foster by hampering this series’ ability to present itself to its audience without having to try to be the next Cowboy Bebop in its audiences mind. Coming into this title I had seen a number of people speak positively about it but had missed much of any hype which, when combined with being able to see this work as its own entity and not really basing it off some of the creative staff’s previous efforts, probably gave me the best way of viewing the title… though pointing that out near the end of a review meant to talk about aspects of the release and which will give a reader some exposure is admittedly somewhere between ironic and hypocritical on the scale of things.
Overall Kids on the Slope is the kind of title that elicited in me probably many of the emotions that the creators were looking for as I watched the characters go through their paces and felt for them as they achieved triumphs and experienced misfortunes which allowed me to connect with the moment which was certainly helped out by the music used in the series. Having taken a little time to process the series since finishing it I do wonder just how it will hold up in future viewings as my initial reactions were so powerful but revisiting some of the parts have me recognizing just how many flaws exist alongside its solid parts. I wish that the series had been longer and thus given some time to flush out some of the characters and events better to deliver an even more powerful punch as well as add a bit of long term replay value as I suspect the series will probably be something that may not play quite as well as the first time for me a few years from now but which will still give me a warm glow from remembering the initial viewing and the exhilaration that was provided during that first experience.
Kids on the Slope is a highly energized tale that covers the highs and lows of a couple of friends who learn how relationships can lift them up as well as how they can be bittersweet set to an infectious jazz inspired music track that helps to compliment and lift the series to some rather loft heights. At times it feels like the series has all the power of a live performance to really excite the audience and bring them along with the swell of emotions that serves both to increase its strengths but it also hides the flaws for the most part which may leave audiences with the curious post concert hangover of suddenly recognizing these lower points as the buzz wears off. Those looking for the next Cowboy Bebop because of the creative team may find themselves a touch disappointed as this series is one that goes its own way but those willing to judge it on its own merits will find a very good- bordering on great at times- series that looks to examine a small group of friends and the trials they face when they decide to embrace others and the joy and sorrows that spin off from there and it presents a stylish ride with fantastic music to illuminate the way.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 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+
Extras Grade: A+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.