Saturday, January 05, 2013

Kids on the Slope

I bought my first jazz album sometime in 2003 or '04. It was almost immediately after reading the Tokyo chapter of David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, which name-checked a number of performers and records. After Yoko Kanno's soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop, I'd been wondering where to start with "real" jazz, and the novel had given me a list of albums to check out.

I was trying to find Undercurrent by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, but the Belfast HMV didn't have a particularly large jazz section at the time and I ended up buying Waltz For Debby by the Bill Evans Trio* - the only Bill Evans they had.

Jazz and anime seem to have overlapped quite a lot in my interests, until I left Belfast for Dundee in 2007. I'd all but burned out on anime and the move to Scotland meant that my enthusiasm for running my anime website (which had basically supplied me with free titles for a few years) completely died.

With jazz, I'd been content for a long time to just stick with the three or four albums I had, especially with CDs costing up to £16 a pop and an aversion to buying digital music (I don't pirate it either; I buy the CD and rip it) that still persists. I still listened to jazz, but wasn't especially eager to buy more.

For the last few months - basically since being exposed to Puella Magi Madoka Magica - I'd been wondering what other stuff I've missed. I asked on Twitter for recommendations of recent titles, and someone mentioned - almost in passing - Kids on the Slope.

I'd never heard of it before. I didn't reading anything about it before watching. And the first episode kicked my ass in a way that nothing has for a long, long time.

This is the moment, in the first episode, that I fell entirely in love with the series.

Everything about Kids on the Slope was different from what I thought I'd find when I came back to anime; the art and the animation, the way the characters act and the way the music sounds. There are no supernatural forces at work, there are no heroes or villains, there are only people who don't really know who they are or who they want to be, and who've ended up figuring it out together.

It's difficult to express how much - and even harder to explain why - this show stuck a chord with me, but I was so excited by every episode. Not just waiting to see where the story went, which I was, but waiting for the music - to see what pieces they picked and to watch them play it.

If you'll forgive this temporary digression into internet vernacular: OH MAN, THE FEELS.

I wish I could say that everybody would get such a brilliant experience out of the show, but I have a feeling that if you don't like jazz (and some people don't; nobody's perfect) then you won't understand Kaoru's, for want of a better word, "awakening" the first time he hears Sentaro play.

The show has really reignited my interest in jazz, though. I've already bought two new albums off the back of this series (Portrait in Jazz - because you can never have enough Bill Evans - and Moanin'), and I'm already looking into where I should start with Charles Mingus.

The video embedded above was the moment that I knew Kids on the Slope was going to be something special, when I knew it was going to be something that stuck with me. But my favourite sequence in the show (arguably surpassed by the very last performance in the final episode), is when they perform this medley. Music seems like a fitting way to stop myself talking about the show, because now that I've started it's getting very difficult to stop.

One final word, that might convince otherwise hesitant anime fans to give it a shot: the show was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, and the music's produced by Yoko Kanno. How far wrong could that pedigree lead you?

*I wish I had a specific memory of the first time I heard those opening notes. I wonder if it was a big deal? I know it was a positive experience, just judging by my CD collection, but was it transformative?

Maybe that's why was such a powerful, exciting moment for me, to see Kaoru's face when Sentaro finishes that first drum solo - hearing that music somehow makes it feel like it's okay to just wing it until you find a rhythm where everything clicks into place.

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