It’s actually about music!
Evening, readers. The Inverseman here reviewing some of last year’s greats. Tonight we’re looking at Shinichi Watanabe’s adaptation of Yuki Kodama’s Sakamichi no Apollon (also known as Kids on the Slope). So with so many musically-inclined people behind this anime, how did it perform? Let’s dig in.
It’s 1966, a complex political time but not when you’re a high school teenager in the countryside where life is simple. Kaoru Nishimi is a boy from a rich family frequently displaced by his busy dad’s job. Moving down to the Kyushu area, he meets Sentaro Kawabuchi and Ritsuko Mukae, and so begins his discovery of jazz, friendship, and romance.
Granted, I don’t read or watch much romance but part of the strengths of Sakamichi no Apollon is the interaction between Kaoru and Sentaro. As the two get caught up in love triangles and misunderstandings, you see a raw and real friendship. Not every time is pleasant between them, they do have rough patches. Neither of them has it all figured out, and problems aren’t always over in one shot, but it all hashes out with their mutual support. And the key to this is through the natural elements of good romance.
Good drama comes from people acting like people, we’re not as “rational” as we believe. Coupled with misunderstandings in spite of best intentions, that’s how the drama comes forth. I could relate to many of the characters and thought “if I was in that person’s shoes, I’d do the same thing”. Though it’s a fine line. There are a couple moments where you feel like you’d need a stronger step out of the all-knowing audience role to withhold the desire to say “no, you idiot!”. Fortunately, it’s not all angst, because you know the mood will lighten any and everyone’s spirits once the music starts playing. A strong theme is how music plays into the lives of the characters, unlike a certain other show which I poke fun at.
You really get to see the characters grow, even the female cast. I’m glad that while Sentaro and Kaoru get great development, that Ritsuko and Yurika get good moments to unpack their feelings. Although I wasn’t as big on Yurika’s subplot and Jun-nii’s role in it. The messy way the characters relate and the flux of how the relations go, is a lot like jazz in itself, messy but I kinda like messy when done well. The ending was touching, but still a bit rushed. There are plenty of answers to be had in the original manga that didn’t seem so apparent. Overall pacing isn’t as strong but pacing is a devil.
With Shinichiro Watanabe as director we have none other than Yoko Kanno composing the OST and while the plot I’d pitch as pretty good or strong, I’d pitch the OST decisions as both clever and very strong. Silence marks most of the background music. Unless someone is performing or something critical to the story is happening, you’ll hear a silent ambiance. In a way whereas Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo were stories driven by the music, we see in a story about music, the story drives the music and that’s a very bold choice. That said, you naturally become more in tune when the characters perform, especially in one episode where a very symbolic medley is played.
As for the rest, the animation and art style, wasn’t really as much of a hit for me. The aesthetic wasn’t as my style and the animation was okay-ish, but nothing to write home about.Voice casting fit with no qualms, but the best score I’d give would be to soundtrack. Jazz buffs would instantly pick out Evans, Gershwin, Blakey, and more.
It may not be with all the razzmatazz and flash as other shows directed by Watanabe, but Sakamichi no Apollon is easily a solid in my book. I’d easily add this to my list of “show to normal people” anime. Join me next time when I teach professional barfighting.
– Excellent use of BGM
– Good plot that weaves in music
– Overall strong character development
– Pacing towards the end finds a bit of trouble and leaves a few unsettling questions
– Art not as strong
Director: Shinichirō Watanabe
Character design: Nobuteru Yuki
Music: Yoko Kanno
Original creator: Yuki Kodama
Original run: April 12, 2012 – June 28, 2012