Sakamichi no Apollon Review

Hello there. This is review number thrity four of my goal to reach a thousand. It’s another anime on the Spring 2012 lineup and the anime that aired on noitaminA along with Tsuritama. It’s called Sakamichi no Apollon or Kids on the Slope. It had much hype because the anime is directed by Shinichirō Watanabe who is directed Cowboy Bebop. Isn’t that interesting?

Any anime under noitaminA has been awesome so I know this one will be too. Let’s read on.

Story

The year is 1966. Kaoru Nishimi moves from Yokosuka to Kyushu to live with relatives. Kaoru is an honor roll student who tends to keep to himself, but meeting a notorious bad boy named Sentaro Kawabuchi started to change him. Kaoru slowly learns the beauty of jazz. He also discovers the first person he can truly call a “friend” and the fun of play music with other people.

Taking the Pants Off

This was the other anime that aired on noitaminA. The first one is Tsuritama that I enjoyed heavily. There was a lot of praise on this anime when it was airing so I was pretty excited to watch it. In Tsuritama, the four main characters bonded through fishing. In Sakamichi no Apollon, the characters are brought together by jazz music.

The first thing that you’ll notice with the anime is the visuals. The anime opens with a pretty awesome opening sequence with some wonderful sceneries and appealing colors. You’ll also notice that the anime isn’t set in modern times. The anime was set in 1966 when Japan was being occupied by the US. The setting isn’t really all that important to the story. It was merely a backdrop. It was certainly different from the other anime that came out in Spring. 1966 is a pretty nice era where Christianity is rampant. The western influence resounds pretty loudly with jazz and The Beatles mentioned countless times in the anime. It’s such a nice change of pace from the usual cliché school anime that we’ve seen countless of times. I personally like it because moe is not present and there are very little archetypes in the anime.

When you ask people what the anime is about, they tell you it’s about jazz. Jazz is a common theme in the anime but like the setting, it’s just a backdrop. It’s not like Tsuritama where the viewers are introduced to the hobby of fishing. They talk about technical stuff about fishing and different techniques to catch a fish. In this anime, jazz is just a hobby. It wasn’t a main focus in the anime. There is no introduction to jazz. We hear names like Coltrane and other jazz musicians but they never explain who they are and what they did to jazz. There is no introduction to jazz but the music is somewhat crucial to some of the plot developments.

So what exactly is Sakamichi no Apollon about? It’s a coming of age story. I stole this from Wikipedia: It tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience.  The goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society – the protagonist’s mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.”

The anime is a coming of age story about a boy named Kaoru Nishimi who lived his entire life without having any friends and with the pressures of his family wanting him to be a perfect student. He moves from the city to this rural place in Kyushu to live with his relatives. He is met with disdain with his classmates and he would often feel sick when he is in a socially pressuring situation. He finds relief by going up the roof. There he meets this big guy named Sentarou Kawabuchi. The two of them becomes friends and faces life struggles with the help of each other.

I kinda romanticize with the title too. “Kids on the slope” refers to the slope the characters take going to school. It also reflects the coming of age theme the anime has. A slope is an uneven ground where you either go downhill or uphill. Pretty poetic, isn’t? Maybe it’s just me.

It’s your typical growing up anime with bullies, friends and falling in love. The main bread and butter of the anime are this complicated love story between the characters. It’s your typical he loves her but she loves him but he loves that older girl but she loves that older guy. It had an interesting development too as each character is endearing and very likeable. It loosely reminds me of Honey and Clover, another noitaminA classic, in terms of the love story.

There is a great love story in the anime but it also tackles some life problems like heartbreak; being rejected by the person you love and moving on. There is also a theme of family and belongingness. It was some of the saddest moments in the anime where the two characters would bare their souls in front of each other. No matter how crappy they feel or how huge their problem is, the other person would help them overcome it. It tells of a bond that can stand countless storms and conquer any distance. As part of the growing pains, there is also a lot of angst and jealousy in the anime. It’s a theme that makes the characters very well developed.

Some say there is even bromance. It’s completely up to you how you interpret some of the scenes in the anime. Is too much hugging enough to call it bromance? I for one have seen a lot of bromances to tell you that the theme doesn’t exist. It isn’t even suggested because it lacks something crucial. The two characters lack sexual tension. Yeah, that’s right. The anime is just too straight forward so some people may think of the heavy bromance the two characters give off. Take it from an avid yaoi watcher, there isn’t any here. Though it depends on how open minded you are. Sure, why not? They’re *sarcasm* homo for each other (the term does not intend to offend).

Sight and Sound

Like I said before, the very first thing the anime will do is surprise you with its stunning opening sequence. The visual presentation of the anime is really amazing. You can tell just how much detail is placed in one scene to really convince you that you’ve gone back in time. Its simplicity makes the anime stand out. The cool colors and the pleasing scenery are inviting.

The character design is also very impressive. Like I said before, there is no moe in sight. It even took me awhile to enjoy the face of our heroine because I was too comfortable with the large headed bug eyed characters I usually see in anime. The anime captured the 1966 feel to a tee. From the school uniform to the US sailors in the background, it gave us an idea of what it was like back then.

The animation is freaking amazing. I would point out the first person view scuffle in the first episode as an example. It was exciting and the camera pans and rotates so impressively. It doesn’t stop there though. Sentarou’s drumming was amazing and I only though of how amazingly timed the drum and the sound is. It was so fast but it all sounds right.

Then the music. The jazz session between the characters is really alive. I mean, the movement is so natural and each instrument is clearly heard while they make noise. It’s really amazing how inviting the sound is. I’m not a fan of jazz but hearing the characters play was so pleasant to the ears that it didn’t matter if I’m not a jazz fan.

The opening sequence combined the OP song s outstanding. It’s the first thing you’ll see in the anime and its stands out so amazingly. Sakamichi no Melody by YUKI is a great song to accompany the anime. Last time I heard YUKI was in another anime, the OP of Honey and Clover. Her voice here though is much more nostalgic than impressively loud. The ending song was a bit sadder.  Altair” by Motohiro Hata meets Sakamichi no Apollon had a nice slow pace to it and the ED sequence gave of a feeling of sorrow. It reflects some of the sad themes of the anime.

Overall Score

7/10 “A coming of age story with a great setting, great characters and a pleasant soundtrack.”

It’s a great anime with a pretty interesting story to tell. It’s familiar with a theme that everyone can relate with. Growing up. I recommend it.

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