For me Kids on the Slope (a.k.a. Sakamichi no Apollon) turned out to the biggest disappointment of the Spring 2012 season. Don’t get me wrong, this is a quality show with a lot of talent behind it, high production values and a clear determination to prove that animation can be used for serious drama. But once again I am reminded that in Japanese “dorama” typically means “soap opera.” This show is an erupting volcano of angst.
I say this as someone who has a pretty high tolerance for angst. I’m not the sort of anime fan who will stomp off if a character shows self-doubt, or even if a character behaves self-destructively as long as this is an essential part of an otherwise good story. But this goes way too far. If you took out all the angst there would be nothing left but the musical numbers and all of them together would barely fill a single episode.
I think I was really hoping that this would be more like Nodame Cantabile. It seemed sort of reasonable. Both shows are about young musicians, both have a very similar drawing style and both are loaded with product placement for Yamaha instruments.
But they are really nothing alike. The two main characters in Nodame Cantabile have real problems. Their musical talent is offset by severe psychological handicaps. But they have no trace of self-pity. They often behave inappropriately but they keep plugging away, helping each other out if they can, and eventually succeed in building successful lives for themselves.
By comparison Kaoru, the protagonist of Kids on the Slope, is much harder to sympathize with. Yes his mother abandoned him, his father doesn’t have time for him and at the beginning of the story he has no close friends. But he is a good student from a rich family. His long term prospects are great. His only psychological handicap is that he has the emotional maturity of a small child.
Kaoru in fact spends most of the series whining, throwing temper tantrums and making the people who care about him miserable. I kept waiting to see some personal growth but if it occurs it must be during the eight-year gap between the end of the story and the epilog.
Compared to Kaoru the other characters seem more likable, but basically they are all unhappy and somewhat self-destructive, or at least self-defeating.
It more or less works out in the end and one could argue that all this is just being realistic, but I didn’t find it much fun to watch. Not recommended.