Kids on the Slope (anime) review and thoughts about josei

If fate is a millstone, then we are the grist. There is nothing we can do. So I wish for strength. If I cannot protect them from the wheel, then give me a strong blade, and enough strength… to shatter fate.
Ichigo Kurosaki

The above pretty much sums up why I’m a shounen fan.  A friend of mine talked me into watching Kids on the Slope/Sakamichi no Apollon by Yuki Kodama.  It’s a very good show.

kids

I hated the ending.

Apparently, it’s slightly different in the manga.  I hate to admit such a thing on a manga blog, but I’ve not read the manga.  You can, if you like: http://www.mangareader.net/sakamichi-no-apollon.  It’s also a fairly beautiful and engaging anime, which I was able to find subbed under its English title.

sen

It’s basically the story of Kaoru Nishimi a nerdy, classical piano playing high schooler who ends up in a new school, having been transferred, yet again thanks to his father’s job situation.  He’s super nervous in situations that involve being social to the point of having to throw up.  He ends up on the school’s roof where he meets Sentaro Kawabuchi, the typical high school delinquent, who also happens to play drums in a kind of on-the-fly jazz band in his best friend’s father’s record store basement.

With this set-up, and not knowing this particular story was written in the josei sub-genre, I kind of expected the typical story to follow in which the two guys become friends, music gets made, and wacky-but-ultimately-surmountable hi jinx ensue.  Maybe there would be some slightly tear-jerking moments of friendship-y goodness, but, you know, things would basically WORK OUT.

For the most part, that’s what this story is.

And I was 99.9% satisfied with it.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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Apparently, josei is known for dealing with mature subjects.  There aren’t actually a ton of those in Kids on the Slope/Sakamichi no Apollon. The delinquent buddy, Senataro, is a hafu–he’s got an American soldier father and a Japanese mother.  It’s never stated, but, clearly, that’s part of why he’s constantly getting in fights at school. Presumably, this racism is not something that gets talked about much in the less “mature” sub-genres.  Likewise, there is an older trumpet player who hooks-up with a high school girl, and, again, it kind of seems like maybe they’re lovers, but it turns out no (–despite her mom insisting on the sly that they get her an appointment at the gynecologist, which was a moment I ADORED, by the way.)  Two of the main characters are Catholic, too, which is unusual and mostly treated well. (Christians in manga/anime is its own fascinating thing, I came across Christians in Wandering Son and also, of course, in the anime of Samurai Champloo.)

But, for the most part, the story plays out very much like it’s going to be a story about some guys in a band and the struggles they have before, you know, maybe getting a really awesome gig somewhere or winning a battle of the bands…. the end.

There’s even a teaser for a battle of the bands.  The high school talent festival gives our heroes a rival rock band to contend with (and yet the power of jazz [and friendship!] prevails.)

Except, it turns out, that was just a shounen tease.  The friendship that’s the core of this story gets turned on its head one fateful night  (the penultimate episode) when the delinquent buddy, Sentaro, gets in a motorcycle accident.  He’s okay, but his younger sister, who was riding with him by chance, has a serious head injury and it looks like she may never come out of the coma.  Sen is onii-chan.  He’s more than devastated; he’s beyond gutted.  Being Catholic, Senataro makes a kind of pack with god (it’s actually a very poetic moment that echoes back to the very first meeting of our two heroes): my life for hers.  When the sister makes a ‘miraculous’ recovery, Sen takes that has his cue to disappear.

Just for the record, I’m still totally on board with the story at this point. Sure, it veered off the course (pun intended) that I was expecting from the story, especially since we were headed into the big band battle… but you know, I’m invested in these characters so I will follow down this suddenly much more harrowing road.

Our p.o.v. hero, Kaoru, makes what seems–in the anime–like a half-ass attempt to find his Very Best Friend and then we kind of just skip over time like a rock on water–first to a few months before graduation when we see Kaoru hurting so much he acts like a jerk to his girlfriend–then to graduation where the absence of Sen is still felt like a pall–and then… and then….

Eight years later.

At this point, I was shouting at my screen, “Are you [bleep]ing kidding me???”

Then, in a ten minute montage or so, a series of coincidences allows our heroes reconnect, play a little bit of jazz in the church where delinquent has become a novice priest, make some orphans appreciate jazz until the mean head priest comes in and wrecks the party.  Yay.  The end.

I just stared at the screen as the credits rolled and thought, “That’s it? I invested all that time and emotion for this??”

Again, apparently, the manga does it better.

But, I’m not going to invest in all this AGAIN for something that might be just a little bit better.  BECAUSE NO SHOUNEN HERO IN THE HISTORY OF EVER WOULD LEAVE A MAN DOWN.

I realize (now) that josei is meant to be more realistic fiction, but I was not prepared, okay? My tender shounen heart was not ready to abandoned a friend for EIGHT YEARS and go on with my life.  Honestly, in Real Life ™, if I had a friend saying things about exchanging his life for a miracle, I would never, ever let him disappear. I’d be afraid, Catholic or not, that he was going to do himself in, you know?

Also getting back together to play a gig is not a satisfying conclusion for me, especially when we were treated to an image of our rival rock band being famous enough to be on TV.  What the hell?  The music wasn’t important enough to fight for.

Neither were the friends.

OMG I QUIT SO HARD

I had a long drawn out argument about this with the friend who recommended it to me, and my position came down to a singular problem: needs more Gryffindors.

Or an Ichigo.

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