Despite his best attempts to stop it from happening, last week's penultimate episode of Kids on the Slope saw Sentarou flying the nest and disappearing goodness knows where - needless to say, this is something that can only have a huge impact upon those around him.
Despite showing improved grades and with lofty ambitions for his future, Kaoru is anything but happy during the remainder of the period until his graduation from high school which the first half of this final episode follows - keeping his distance from others around him who look to include him in their activities, he even goes so far as to be wilfully destructive in his relationship with Ritsuko with a mix of anger, scorn and self-loathing which proves to be a noxious mix. With Kaoru leaving for Tokyo, it seems that those heady school days will never be resurrected, and even the fact that Ritsuko sees him off on the train (albeit belatedly) is nothing if not bittersweet.
Fast forward eight years later, and we find Kaoru working as a young doctor in Tokyo, working too hard to think about his past... at least, that is, until his past decides to come and find him. After seeing one old high school buddy on television, the next thing we know Kaoru bumps into Yurika - with "bump" being the operative word for the pregnant young woman. More importantly however, Yurika is in possession of a rather intriguing photograph - a picture from a friend's wedding which contains a priest who looks almost unmistakably unique. Despite those eight long years since their last meeting, Kaoru jumps at the possibility of being reunited with his close friend, and he isn't the only one as we're treated to a saccharine, feel-good ending to the series.
As closing episodes go, this could almost be considered as two separate stories - the first half is dressed in the grim garb of reality, and a world where school life ends and everything you enjoyed during that time is gradually lost; friends drift away and move elsewhere, and things you held incredibly dear to you simply up and leave. Compared to this, the second rapidly cashes this prospect in for a flight of youthful fancy, ditching everything you've been working towards for years to reunite with those you once loved to find that they still feel exactly the same about you. It's a strangely unrealistic end to a show that has revelled in its realism, and while I can't begrudge either the series or its characters a happy ending it isn't for me - the cynical, world-weary human within me can more readily embrace the harsh reality of waving goodbye to somebody and knowing that it really is a goodbye rather than a more hopeful "au revoir".
Then again, my dissatisfaction with the reversion to a slightly cheap happy ending does nothing to dispel the massive impression that this series has left upon me - it's engaged me both visually and with its characters as their stories played out, balancing its sense of comedy and drama most excellently. Backed up by both its visual and audio aesthetics, everything about Kids on the Slopehas charmed me and shone bright - tugging my heartstrings on the one hand while making me laugh out loud with the other. This is, quite possibly, the best noitaminA series we've seen for quite some time, and it's one that I could happily rewatch multiple times. Roll on the North American Blu-Ray release.