Music As a Language
Kids On The Slope is about a young piano player in high school named Kaoru who recently moved to a new town. He’s been moving around his whole life. To say he is distant and introverted is an understatement. He is inside his mind 100% of the time. For all you deep thinkers out there (myself included) he is the essence of you. Constantly questioning his motives, life, and purpose. He’s got some deep seeded issues to work out. One of the ways he deals with his solitude is by playing classical piano. I believe that is how he restores order and harmony to his life. Upon entering school, Kaoru becomes the target of feared class bully, Sentaro. Much to the discomfort of Kaoru, Sentaro is confident, aggressive and absent minded—nothing like him. In contrast, to Kaoru’s surprise, he comes to realize Sentaro is less of a bully and more like a little kid. But it is not until Kaoru finds out that Sentaro is a skilled Jazz drummer that a friendship begins to bloom.
Not only did the show make me fall in love with great jazz music, but as a drummer, I can say the accuracy and precision of Sentaros body movements while on the kit are–to my knowledge–100% accurate. If it sounds like he is hitting the high-hat half open and also kicking the bass drum, then that is what he is doing on screen. Even doing a drum solo his flying fingers and small finesse touches ‘round the kit are captured with perfection. Usually when drumming happens on screen I’m quick to point out flaws to friends. But in Kids on The Slope I just sat there, dumbfounded and amused.
Now when referring to musical accuracy I can only speak for Sentaros movements on the kit. I’m not able to detect any flaws by other musicians. And quite frankly, that may be how ‘non drummers’ feel when watching Sentaro.
What I most appreciated about Kids on the Slope was its ability to show drumming and all the complexities that go into it. Something I’ve never been able to convey to my non drumming friends.
A specific moment in the show, does just that. It’s one of my ‘all time’ favorite moments in Anime. When Kaoru wanders into the basement of a record store and starts playing a classical piece on an old piano. All of a sudden there is a “smash” and he looks up to find Sentaro sitting behind a drum set. After a brief exchange, Sentaro scoffs at Kaoru’s taste in music and claims that jazz drumming is “where it’s at” and then proceeds to attack his kit with mad aggression and fluidity. At first Kaoru covers his ears, because from a classical music standpoint–or as I like to think, from a non-drummer standpoint–all he hears is the random crashing and bashing of symbols. But in that same brief moment, his eyes widen and he uncovers his ears. It’s as if he suddenly began to understand a conversation that was being carried on next to him in a foreign language. In that moment, Kaoru is able to comprehend how a drum set works and the purpose each piece serves.
Kids on the Slope held a mirror to all the things I wanted people to understand about drumming but couldn’t get across. When Sentaro plays. You get the feeling of being “in the pocket”. The feeling of being in total control while being absolutely free. There are no rules while on the kit. There is no music sheet or “way to play”. It’s all in the emotion and it comes from the heart. Staring at a drum kit. Thinking of all the possible rudiments, swings and clashes. And when Sentaro does start to play, others see loud noises and flailing arms, but I see passion, tenacity and precision. That is where Kids on The Slope brings you–that point of musical creation–the genuine feelings and emotions that go with compiling a song. It lets you experience how a moment or a song gets created. How a little inspiration sparks a whole jam sesh. Kids on the slope understands that and invites viewers into the private world of “literally” underground music and how it directly impacts the lives of those playing it.
Often times when there is a dispute or misunderstanding, the characters turn to their instruments to resolve their pain. When Sentaro and Kaoru fight, instead of bashing their heads in, they have a jam ‘sesh. They use music as a way to express themselves when words fall short. I love this aspect of the show.
As a viewer you start to see how music directly affects each of their lives. As Karuno starts to learn how to play jazz piano, he himself becomes more free spirited and outgoing. Meanwhile, Sentaro becomes influenced by Karuno’s classical style and attempts to increase his communication skills and maturity. In turn, each character is revealed to have made some changes in their life, due to music.
At only 12 episodes it is the shortest anime I’ve ever seen. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Play on.