Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

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What is there to like about Kids on the Slope?

I’m sick and tired of reading comments on forums and blogs about how good this anime is.  All the time I’m seeing “must watch series” or “best anime this season.”  I don’t do this kind of focused rebuttal very often, (come to think of it this may be the first time I’ve written a review like this) but all things considered I think the current situation warrants a dissenting opinion being heard—with indignant vigor.

I can’t tell what this anime wants to be about.  It’s skipping erratically between themes of music, friendship, youth and romance, which doesn’t sound like it ought to be a problem on the surface.  However, the transitions between these concepts are as flow breaking as having to portage a canoe around a dam.  There’s no reason all the themes couldn’t be woven together into a harmonious composition, but instead the show opts to go with just one mode at a time.

I thought long and hard about exactly why the pacing in this series is so terrible and I came to the realization that transitions from sequence to sequence are so abrupt and jarring that it reminded me of watching a summary episode or a clip show.  When I made that connection it started to make sense because Shinichiro Watanabe is very good at doing episodic anime like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.  For those series, episodic pacing with large breaks makes sense because the journey the characters take lends itself very organically to a lot of down time when nothing interesting is happening.  Each episode gets encapsulated nicely so that it concludes before moving on to the next leg of the story.

But Kids on the Slope doesn’t want that kind organization.  It’s happening in real time with people who see each other every day and don’t have any clear goals in mind to drive themselves fervently forward and keep them focused.  There’s no big overarching conflict to wrap everything up and give a sense of purpose or adventure to connect the points.  They’re just lethargically dealing with their problems as they arise, which is drawn-out disorganization at best and frustratingly incomprehensible chaos at its worst.

It’s like we’ve been dragged along a boring, uneventful saunter through the lives of some very ordinary, uninteresting young people whose bonds are so weak they need the pathetic excuse of playing jazz music to keep the whole mess from falling apart.  We’re expected to fill in too many of the little details and read between the lines to fully grasp what’s going on.  This is not subtlety or a method of focusing only on the big, important events.  This is plainly and simply bad writing that shows a lack of planning to keep everything moving at a cohesive pace.

I’m also completely bummed by Yoko Kanno’s complete lack of presence.  I know she’s capable of much better soundtracks than these barely audible, piddling, intermittent BGMs that go completely unnoticed.  What happened to the epic themes that characterized the grand settings of Escaflowne and RahXephon?  Where are the perfect, mood-setting tones that gave Cowboy Bebop an atmosphere as thick as Jupiter’s?  How can we get immersed in the setting, time and culture without her purposeful influence giving us the proper cues like she did in Ghost in the Shell?  Why isn’t her music filling our ears, warming our hearts and giving us an uncontrollable desire to get up and dance like the powerful songs of Macross Frontier?  It’s a complete waste of her talent, so why is she involved in this project?

What is going on? This is not good writing.

Finally, I don’t want to hear any more complaining from people about unrequited, drawn-out, misunderstood or weak romances in anime like Shakugan no Shana, Zero no Tsukaima or Boku wa Tomodachi when shows like Kids on the Slope are getting this kind of hype.  The romance in this series is terrible.  Just what the heck is going on?  I thought Yurika was under the impression that Kaoru asked her out but then she’s suddenly getting intimate with Sentarou?  It’s such an unfounded, head-spinning, hasty plot progression that it can be easy summarized in just one word—lazy.  And how can Kaoru think he’s in any position to follow the high ground when (a) he takes forever to clear up the pain and confusion he caused with Ritsuko then (b) goes for a love confession as weak as, “you don’t have to give me an answer right away,” with absolutely no follow up to show he actually cares?  It reeks of every aspect of the worst romance stories you could think of.

What are people seeing in this anime that I don’t?  Someone please enlighten me because Kids on the Slope is the most I’ve been disappointed in an anime since Blood C.  Anyone who finished reading this rant and who likes this show please explain yourself.  Clearly I just don’t get it.

Kids on the Slope Ep. 1

Initial impression – significantly underwhelming

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (Japanese title – Sakamichi no Apollon) (more info)

I know this is a weird, random thing to complain about, but I don’t think the people in Kids on the Slope are very good looking…  When I think about the works of Shinichiro Watanabe I have an image of bursting out of the starting gates with something big, flashy and tone setting.  So being left hanging on the easygoing pace set by the first episode is a bit of a letdown to say the least.  But what really shocked me about the beginning of this series is the absence of any tone-defining music courtesy of Yoko Kanno.  Aside from one teensy fight scene, there was absolutely no atmospheric mood that is typically indicative of her work (think Escaflowne, Ghost in the Shell, RahXephon, and Macross Frontier).  If the series lacks her strong music style I’m losing optimism fast and I can’t help but say aloud that the duo that made Cowboy Bebop one of the best anime of all time is not living up to their potential.  Additionally this sort of “serious music” story that’s superficially reminiscent of snooze-inducing shows like Nodame Cantabile doesn’t thrill me whatsoever.  Given the talent that lies with this anime’s staff I intend to continue watching for a while longer to see how it progresses, but I’ve not been wowed by the relaxed pace Kids on the Slope exhibits in its first episode.

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