Ah, fall is here. Time for sweaters, boots, cozy blankets, and pumpkin-spiced everything. As I stare out my office window at the changing trees, I think about a lot of things. And for some reason, one of them is Sakamichi no Apollon, one of my favorite anime of all time.
Sakamichi no Apollon (known as Kids on the Slope) is extremely underrated. Made by Shinichiro Watanade, the creator of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo (anime classics), Sakamichi is about Kaoru, a high schooler who moves to a new school and is swept off his feet by a loud-mouthed boy named Sentaro and the adrenaline-pumping sound of American jazz. Previously a social outcast and prim and proper classical pianist, Kaoru is pushed out of his lonely life as he befriends the delinquent-esque Sentaro and experiences love, loss, and regret in the chaotic setting of 1960's post-World War II Japan.
I will admit, I started watching Sakamichi while it was airing in Japan and dropped it. I was a senior in high school and I was stupid. A few years later, I gave it another try and was blown away by its direction, emotional heft, soundtrack, and story-telling. This show is outstanding in almost every way and I’m telling you to watch it. Watch it.
Sakamichi is a slice-of-life/music anime, like the recent hit Your Lie in April. And yes, Your Lie in April also has emotional weight, but where April feels like a fairytale, Sakamichi feels like a bio-pic, a real story about the youth of Japan striving for happiness and acceptance in a turbulent time. Its characters are so well written that they feel like living, breathing people. Each one of them has motivations that are believable and add to their coming of age in a both expanding and shrinking world.
Where do I start with this show? The music: killer. Sakamichi has a bomb soundtrack filled with expressive jazz, blues and rock that perfectly encapsulates the show’s tone. The on-screen performances are incredible. I am a musician but was never a jazz fan (I’m more into the symphonic stuff). I listen to this OST at least 6 times a year. It’s just too good not to gush over. Do yourself a favorite and listen to it here.
It’s an outstanding character drama. Again, the realism sells it. None of it is overly clichéd, and the story’s emotional swells and dives rip your heart out. It’s funny one moment but poignant and reflective the next. No character is perfect; Sentaro is overly selfless, Kaoru is naïve and selfish. Ritsuko doesn’t know how to handle her emotions, Yurika is too idealistic. And don’t get me started on Jun-nii, the man of the hour. His story arc is possibly one of the best I’ve ever seen— its pacing, character development and representation of the student riots that saturated Japanese colleges during this time in history are pitch-perfect. This is just good writing, guys. Did you expect anything else from the guy who made Spike Spiegel?
But back to my window, which somehow made me remember this 2012 gem. I look out and see a time of football games in the lawn, leaf piles, and family fun runs. Fall reminds me of simple days. And I think that’s why it makes me remember those kids on that crazy steep slope. They desire for the childhood days they'll never get. These amazing knuckleheads live for the days where they can run down the slope without a care in the world, but they are few and far between. The inherent melancholy of autumn reminds me of their unrequited longing for something more.
The slope itself is a thoughtful ongoing visual metaphor throughout the show that's incredible. Please watch this show.
On a less depressing note, I think autumn and Sakamichi are also linked by their coloring. In my opinion, fall has the best colors and lighting of any season. The trees are beautiful and the sun is present but not over-powering; shadows are long and colors are less saturated but still vibrant. Sakamichi has that feel. Everything is dim but impactful. The shadows are long and the seasons move the story brilliantly. When I’m watching that show, I feel like I’ve been transported back to 1960’s Japan where the jazz is poppin’ and the sailors are cursin’. It feels alive, like how I feel when the air gets crisp and the wind blows strong.
It was hard not breaking down the fantastic specifics of this show while talking about it. I need to pick some of my favorite aspects and do a spoiler version of this. It’s an incredible show that will make you feel deeply, listen intently, and fall in love with Kaoru and Sentaro’s powerful companionship that saves both of them without them realizing it.