While the first episode aired over a month ago, I have only now made time to watch Sakamichi no Apollon, also know as Kids on the Slope to non-Japanese viewers. Before watching it I read the description – the main character transfers to a new school, becomes friends with a jazz-loving classmate and music ensues. I’m not much of an audiophile, but if Kanno Youko is in charge of it, I’m sure it will be worth it.
First a few lines on the origin of this series: Sakamichi no Apollon is adapted from a (now complete) 9-volume josei manga by Kodama Yuki, which was serialized in Shogakukan’s monthly josei magazine Flowers from 2007 to 2012. While it was primarily aimed at adult women, it seems to have gained many additional readers outside that demographic and become quite popular. From what I’ve read of the manga and seen from the anime, noitaminA is following the manga with just a few minor changes so far.
The title Sakamichi no Apollon means “Apollo on the Slope” in a translation more literal than “Kids on the Slope”. After the first episode you already know which physical slope that probably is, but as for Apollo… I suspect it might be the jazz lover. With that, let’s touch upon some Greek and Roman mythology. Apollo is a well-known deity, son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother of the equally well-known godly huntress Artemis. He is associated with healing and medicine as well as ill-health and plagues. He is the patron defender of herds, the leader of the Muses, the patron of Delphi (a Greek city, where the Delphic oracle foretold future for many), et cetera. I’m afraid that won’t help us identify him in the series though…
As expected, the first episode is mainly about introducing our main characters and setting the stage with just a hint of what’s going to come. (Just skip to under the next three asterisks, if you don’t want to read my detailed summary.) Summary: It starts with the lead, Nishimi Kaoru, trudging up the slope towards the highschool he just transferred to. We meet some classmates, most importantly Mukae Ritsuko, the class representative, who gives him a tour of the school. On the tour he gets hit in the head with a baseball ball. Every time he got stressed at any of the schools he went to the roof and it always made him feel better. So he asks Mukae-san for directions and runs to the roof only to find the door barricaded with chairs. Enter the jazz kid, Kawabuchi Sentarou, sleeping on said chairs in wait of some upperclassmen, who stole the key to the roof from him after he stole it from the teachers’ room. They show up, Sentarou beats them to pulp, gets the key and refuses to give it to Nishimi-kun. Upon returning to class we find out that Sentarou is in the same class, which leads to him honing in on Nishimi-kun (instead of his previous target, who sits just next to Nishimi-kun), who after a short exchange of words snatches the keys from his hand and runs to the roof with Sentarou right behind him, because running on the roof in the rain is obviously great fun. Well, it isn’t and the only result is Mukae-san dragging them both soaking wet to the infirmary to change. We finally learn that Sentarou likes jazz, while Nishimi-kun plays the piano. Unfortunately Nishimi-kun knows mostly classical music at which Sentarou scorns.
Skipping ahead Mukae-san takes Nishimi-kun to her family’s record shop after he asks her where he could get some records with classical music. Suprisingly there’s a makeshift studio under the shop, where Sentarou practices drums. Mukae-san asks Nishimi-kun to play the piano, Sentarou objects and plays a couple of notes very clumsily himself. When Nishimi-kun corrects him and Mukae-san suggests they play together, they both ‘hmph’ at the idea. Before Nishimi-kun leaves, he asks Mukae-san’s father, what piece Sentarou was playing and buys the record.
The story takes place in late 1960’s, as we know from the manga. Was there anything to help us pinpoint the exact year in the anime? If there was, I missed it. Nevertheless there are many items and such, which point us towards the sixties – a record shop, a radio club or sailor fashion and the absence of modern technology (like mobile phones).
As for the characters, Nishimi Kaoru is a regular nerdy loner, whose father is a sailor, which leads to Nishimi-kun often moving and changing schools. His mother left them a long time ago according to his aunt with whom he is staying this time. He plays he piano, because his father played it. Kawabuchi Sentarou is a scruffy jazz lover. School is not really his thing. His childhood friend, Mukae Ritsuko, is a completely normal caring girl. There’s not much to say I suppose – so far they’re just silhouettes to be filled out later.
Kanno Youko is a huge name in anime music. She has been in charge of music for Macross, Aquarion, Genius Party and many others. In Sakamichi no Apollon she plays the piano and the keys. Since I can’t really tell you much about the music, here are the opening and ending songs, the PV and Moanin’ by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers:
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’: