Anime review: Kids on the Slope

So I finished watching Kids on the Slope, a twelve-episode anime produced in 2012 by Shinichiro Watanabe, with music by the amazing Yoko Kanno. The two previously worked on Cowboy Bebop.

This anime is nothing like Cowboy Bebop, just so you’re aware.

Also be aware of major SPOILERS and talk of rapey situations (no rape actually happens in the show, though, thank god).

Of course it’s not fair to compare the two, either, as they belong to completely different genres. KotS is more of a coming-of-age story… ish. It’s mostly just two guys totally into each other who should just make out already.

Quick summary: In 1966, aloof and studious Kaoru moves to live with his relatives. New at school, he meets half-American (white), half-Japanese and all-around reckless badboy Sentaro (Sen), and class representative Ritsuko. Sen and Ritsuko are childhood friends and Catholic.

Ritsuko (cute), Sen (drums), Kaoru (piano), Yurika (pretty)
Ritsuko (cute), Sen (drums), Kaoru (piano), Yurika (pretty)

Kaoru develops a crush on Ritsuko, who has feelings for Sen; but Kaoru and Sen are much more involved with each other than they are with any girls. They bond mostly over playing improv jazz together – Kaoru on piano and Sen on drums – and being vulnerable together. They end up performing once, at a school festival, to great applause (and the best part of the series).

Nearly all the drama revolves around the Kaoru-Ritsuko-Sen love triangle and another love triangle between Sen, a girl named Yurika, and Jun, a college-aged friend of Sen and Ritsuko.

The last half of the twelfth episode takes place eight years later, in which Kaoru is a doctor (resident), Sen is a priest who raises orphans, Yurika and Jun had married, and Ritsuko cut her hair.

What I liked

  • The music is pretty good. I’m not a fan of jazz, especially improv, but you can count on Yoko Kanno’s love of the genre to produce beautiful, compelling music. If the show was more about the music, I would’ve liked it better.
  • Animation of musicians playing: this was done very, very well.
  • The character of Matsuoka: This is more because about what I predicted would happen with him, and things went better than expected. He’s very effeminate and seemed like he was going to be one of those sly, antagonistic gay male stereotypes, but he never turned into that. His goal to support his poor family by becoming a singer is sympathetic to Sen and the viewing audience, and he actually accomplishes that goal.
  • Ritsuko and Yurika don’t fall into a virgin-whore pair. Yurika is seen in sexual terms from her introduction, and seems to be more mature than Ritsuko overall, but she isn’t completely reduced to her sexuality. And when her parents think she’s had sex, her mom actually seems somewhat supportive.

What I didn’t like

  • The rapey-ness of the interactions between boys and girls, and how it’s supposed to be a sign that the boys are in emotional turmoil: Jun shoves Yurika on the floor “because” he is traumatized by political protests at college; Kaoru shoves Ritsuko on the floor “because” he’s hurt that Sen ran away.

    Shoving women on the floor is a sign that you don’t recognize basic human boundaries. It should not be used by writers as code for “but he’s just so hurt inside”. There are many ways to show that a man is hurting than having him abusing women – including crying, which Kaoru does quite a lot.

    There’s also the implication that the girls should have expected it because they decided to spend 10 seconds alone with the male characters. I don’t like it one bit.

    Earlier, Kaoru kisses Ritsuko suddenly, without any positive sign from her that she’s even aware of his intention, and she runs away crying.

    Yurika’s character is introduced being hassled by men who clearly want to rape her.

    Sen, the supposed bad boy, is actually the only one who doesn’t force himself on women.

  • Women as emotional props: There are only two female characters in this show: Ritsuko and Yurika. Ritsuko is kind-hearted and always wants to help – like many women the world over, she does a lot of emotional work to make the men around her feel loved and valued, even when they are cold or violent towards her. Yurika likes to paint and comes from a rich family – we don’t know that much about her.

    Ritsuko and Yurika function as containers for Kaoru and Jun to let out their pain. Yurika actually tells Jun to “Do whatever you want to me” when he shoves her on the floor. It’s just a set-up to get him to pour out his trauma to her.

    That’s not cool. I’m sure these girls have hopes and dreams and opinions, but hell if we get to see that. And they get punished with almost-rape when they actually make a proactive move towards the boys they like.

  • Yurika’s character: Her story revolves around her attraction to Jun, the college student. It’s difficult to feel anything about her because there’s not much to her.

    She and the contrived drama of the Sen-Yurika-Jun triangle are just unnecessary.

    Also, I don’t know what the laws are like in Japan, and we don’t know their exact ages, but seeing her and Jun together made me feel uncomfortable. That they are happily married and expecting their first child eight years later is not that believable.

  • Jun’s character: Like Yurika, he doesn’t have a lot to him and his story doesn’t seem all that necessary. He gets involved in politics while in college, and when one of his friends gets injured, he freaks out and leaves both politics and college.

    I don’t know quite how to interpret the story, not being familiar with 1960s Japanese politics, but it comes across to me as being a cautionary tale against political involvement and protest. If that’s so, I’m not sure why the writers shoved that story into a show about teens in high school. It doesn’t really belong there.

  • Women disrupt men’s friendships: Well, it’s pretty obvious. Sen and Kaoru fight because of Ritsuko. Sen and Jun fight because of Yurika. It paints women as outsiders and disruptive forces, and puts a subtle “girls are trouble” tone onto the whole series.
  • None of the girls participate in the music until the second-to-last episode, in which the boys ask Ritsuko to sing a song with them so as to be more appealing for the school festival. Because music is so important to the boys, this automatically puts the girls on the periphery.
  • Catholicism: Sen and Ritsuko are apparently Catholic, as they attend a church and Sen wears a rosary as a necklace. It’s not really clear why either of them are Catholic, and it doesn’t seem particularly relevant to any of the plot points. It seems out of place.
  • Sen as a tragic mulatto: Okay, stick with me on this one. I know that Japan and the U.S. have different histories and attitudes about race and interracial children, but it occurred to me that Sen kind of (KIND OF, okay) fits into the tragic mulatto stereotype.

    You can read about the trope, but briefly, a tragic mulatto is a person with mixed-race heritage that causes them no end of trouble: they’re shunned by society, and/or their family; at the very least, they have problems fitting in. They are usually very sad, sometimes suicidal, and oftentimes in American literature, they’re dead at the end of the story.

    Sen’s mother had a relationship (a one-night stand, perhaps) with a white American sailor, had Sen, and left him with her mother. Sen’s grandmother hated him, and he got into trouble at school a lot – mostly punching other kids.

    Sen’s grandmother died from some sort of bloody lung-related condition, and you assume Sen’s mother came back to claim him. She married a Japanese man and they had like 20 children together, but Sen’s step-father was an alcoholic and left to do business elsewhere (possibly America but I’m not sure).

    Sen decides to run away when he finds out his step-father is coming back, because he would no longer be the oldest man in the house, and he assumes his step-father hates him because of his American father. In a nice turn, his fears are unfounded, and his step-father makes an effort to be friendly to him.

    However, in a completely ridiculous and inexplicable turn of events (see below) Sen runs away anyway, and when we see him eight years later, he is a Catholic priest taking care of orphaned children.

    In other words… he’s never going to get married to a nice Japanese lady and have mixed-race children. That troublesome white blood ain’t going anywhere, is what I’m saying.

  • The completely ridiculous and inexplicable turn of events is that Sen gets into a motorcycle crash on his way to return some music to Kaoru… except that his sister was also on the bike, and she gets hurt really badly. It’s all for the drama: you see the headlights, Sen’s wide eyes, then Ritsuko runs up to Kaoru to tell him their friend is in the hospital.

    So of course you’re all, “Oh noes, Sen’s dead”, but then Kaoru runs to the hospital and discovers that the person with the head trauma is actually Sen’s sister, who is eight or so. However, her explanation that she’d twisted her ankle still doesn’t explain why she, an eight-year old girl with no established extra-curricular activities, was out at night in the dark by herself.

    That is just lazy writing, my friends.

  • If I were Japanese I would probably have noticed, but I couldn’t even tell it was 1966. Like, nothing about the fashion or city-scapes or music really let me know it was in 1966. Even Kaoru’s 1967 calendar in the last episode – I thought it was just a vintage calendar that he liked because of the art or something.


  • Lastly – and thank you for making it this far – is that Sen and Kaoru are SO IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER. The whole time I was just like, GET MARRIED ALREADY. All the stupid drama and rapey shit was totally unnecessary because Sen and Kaoru only have eyes for each other. They only ever feel deeply about each other, not the girls; Kaoru even gets mad at Jun because Jun, in “taking” Yurika from Sen, hurt Sen.

    At the end, when the three characters are reunited, I guess Ritsuko and Kaoru will get together because Sen is a priest. But poor Ritsuko should really just move on, because she’s not getting a fulfilling relationship from either of them.

    Phew! So obviously I don’t recommend this series – it’s mostly contrived, boring, and rapey. If you like jazz music, just listen to some albums.


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