Kids on the Slope (Crunchyroll link) has to be the classiest anime of the Spring 2012 season. (The Japanese title is Sakamichi no Aporon, “Apollo on the Hill Road.”)
Now I’m not saying that Kids is necessarily the best anime of the season. It’s far too early to make that call, and anyway right at this moment I’m leaning more toward Accel World.
But “best” is always a matter of taste. If you like high-minded coming-of-age stories like Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile then Kids may be just what you are looking for.
The story begins in the Summer of 1966. Kaoru Nishimi (Ryouhei Kimura) is a first-year high school student, the son of a successful businessman who apparently has no time for him. He is sent to live with his unsympathetic aunt in a small town on Kyushu.
Arriving as a transfer student after all the cliques have formed he immediately fails to fit in. He’s shy, studious, nerdy-looking and obviously richer than most of the other students–a tempting target for bullying.
Another student warns Kaoru about a fearsome delinquent named Sentarou Kawabuchi (Yoshimasa Hosoya), who is feared even by the teachers. But when they finally meet Sentarou doesn’t seem all that bad. He’s hot-tempered and always getting into fights, but there is no meanness in him. He’s basically a big dumb galoot.
The class representative Ritsuko Mukae (Yuuka Nanri) offers to show Kaoru around. She’s a sweet and earnest girl and he is instantly taken with her. When she offers to use first names he starts calling her “Ri-chan.” This is awfully forward of him and evidence of his social awkwardness but she doesn’t seem to mind.
It turns out that Sentarou and Ritsuko are actually childhood friends. Ritsuko’s father, who owns a music store, is fond of Sentarou and lets him hang out in the store’s basement where Sentarou, who is obsessed with jazz, spends long hours practicing the drums.
Hearing that Kaoru has been trained in classical piano, Sentarou challenges him to accompany him. Kaoru has never attempted jazz and in any case is reluctant to perform in front of others but he is unwilling to back down in front of Ritsuko.
His first attempts sound pretty bad and Sentarou laughs at him. Kaoru vows to get better, hoping he can eventually impress Ritsuko with his musical ability.
Ritsuko and Sentarou have another childhood friend, an older boy named Junichi Katsuragi (Junichi Suwabe). He is currently attending a university in Tokyo but whenever he gets home he makes a point of stopping at the record store to jam with Sentarou and Ritsuko’s father.
Yurika Fukahori (Aya Endou) is a pretty older student. Sentarou rescues her from some men who were harassing her and falls instantly, desperately in love.
Kaoru decides to encourage the relationship, partly because this might remove Sentarou as a potential rival for Ritsuko’s affections. Unfortunately Sentarou proves painfully, frustratingly awkward in his attempts to woo Yurika.
Kaoru is startled to learn that Sentarou and Ritsuko are both Christians.
Now I’m not counting this as a spoiler because I know nothing about where the story is going and regular readers of this blog will know that my record of making predictions about anime is pretty bad. Nevertheless I can’t help noting that Christians in anime are usually very pure-hearted or have a tragic destiny (or sometimes both.)
Ritsuko can probably qualify as pure-hearted but as for Sentarou–well let’s just say that I’m not selling him any life insurance.