The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
Sk8 the Infinity
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
What is this?
Reki, a second-year high school student who loves skateboarding, gets caught up in "S," an underground and dangerous skateboard race at an abandoned mine with no rules. Langa, who has returned to Japan from Canada and has never skateboarded before, also gets wrapped up in S along with Reki. Dirty racers, AI racers, and other unique individuals compete in the "youth skateboard race battle."
How was the first episode?
Ever since Free! -Eternal Summer- concluded, I've been looking for a series that made me feel the way it did. The post-Hiroko Utsumi additions to the franchise left me feeling more cold and disappointed than warm and fuzzy, and while there have been plenty of excellent character-driven sports anime since then, and quite a few shows that feature well-muscled male casts, none of them hit quite the same.
Then I watched the first episode of Sk8 the Infinity, and there it was: the happy, contented feeling that I had spent over six years searching for, like I had just eaten a big bowl of macaroni and cheese with a side of garlic soup. Utsumi just, like, gets me.
While this is ultimately speculation, I get the sense that Sk8 the Infinity is Utsumi at her most unrestrained. There's a wild, exhilarating freedom to it that neither of her other major works could match, and I can't help but suspect that she has greater control than either one granted her. Free! was wonderful and more than a little indulgent, but restrained by Kyoto Animation's gentle house style. Banana Fish, by all accounts, was weighed down by the source manga's legendary status, with producers constantly breathing down Utsumi's neck. But now, she has an original project at Studio BONES, which historically has allowed directors' distinct voices to shine through.
The result is something that, like I said, evokes similar feelings to Free!, but is much weirder and more daring. Every visual element – from the environments, to the storyboarding, to the character designs – bursts with personality, with writing to match. I fell in love with Langa and Reki immediately; they're good kids and excellent viewer entry points, if relatively subdued compared to the rest of the cast. After all, a foul-mouthed clown and a masked man who observes the extremely risky skateboarding races while listening to classical music on a gramophone aren't going to be the most relatable characters. Someone around here has to be grounded.
While this probably isn't the most beautifully-animated show of the season – that distinction, unfortunately, goes to Mushoku Tensei – it's pretty high up there. So many of Utsumi's distinct quirks, like her flair for dramatic lighting, show up. The race scenes, which make use of techniques like POV shots, are enhanced with but not dominated by CG. If you thought this was going to be another soft pretty-boy show, you couldn't have been more mistaken; this one got my adrenaline pumping more than anything else so far this season.
I never had any doubt in my heart that it would be anything else, but Sk8 the Infinity is exactly what I needed and wanted. It's just… GR8.
Sk8 was without a doubt my most anticipated new show of the season. For one, Hiroko Utsumi is a super talented director and unique voice in the modern anime landscape. For another, she's once again working at a great studio with an all-star staff on a new original series. Every frame of Sk8's trailers just oozed style and energy, and I could not wait to see a whole episode in action. Yet somehow with my expectations set that high, this premiere kick-flipped over all of them.
This episode is nothing short of a shot of adrenaline, laced with sheer infectious energy and camp that made every minute a blast. The atmosphere effortless. The characters familiar yet instantly lovable. The action insanely, sublimely animated in a way that captures the unique speed and weight of skateboarding in motion. It's an altogether finely-crafted viewing experience that made me laugh and cheer in equal amounts, and I kind of don't want to bother talking about it instead of telling anyone reading this to shut up and get rad, because it's time to Sk8 or Die.
But ok, I'll try to stay coherent here. If you're at all a fan of Utsumi's previous sports series, Free!, then you're likely to love this one too. The characters that we've met so far are all endearing in their own way – even the crazy clown man who's dedicated his life to being the wrestling heel of the underground skate world. They're also surprisingly varied for a show designed around pretty dudes. While Reki and Langa are our requisite high school leads, the OP promises at least a couple of adults will join the fray, and we already get a minor introduction to Skate-Ninja Cherry Blossom in all his flowey, goofy glory. That's another staple of Utsumi's voice that's very much present here – while it treats the conflict and emotions of the characters with sincerity, Sk8 is both aware of how silly its premise is and gleefully having fun with it. I'm pretty sure the main bad guy is meant to be some kind of rich skate vampire, and I can't wait for him to make a proper entrance.
So yeah, there are perhaps more substantive or deeper shows this season, but for pure, raw ebullience nothing is in the same skatepark as this one.
Finally, some good food, am I right? I was worried that this season was going to end up a bit of a snooze-fest, but here comes Saturday, January 9 to up and provide us with Horimiya and now Sk8 the Infinity, meaning that we have at least two certifiable Must Watch Anime for this Winter. If the key art and use of the number “8” in the title didn't clue you in, Sk8 the Infinity is all about eXtreme Sports with a capital-X, mashing up every downhill jam fantasy nursed by the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater players of the world with the reckless destruction of Twisted Metal, with a healthy splash of Japanese glam rock fashion for good measure. You've got the eternally enthusiastic Reki repping the scrappy underdog role, who has found a new best friend in the new transfer student, Langa, who hails from Canada. Through a series of shenanigans and misunderstandings, Langa gets roped into participating in the aforementioned downhill destruction derby, colloquially known as “S”, versus the psychotic clown heel known as “Shadow” (you know, as you do). Langa doesn't have any experience with skateboards, but he's Canadian, so you know he was born and raised on a snowboard.
From a purely visual standpoint, Sk8 the Infinity has the most impressive production I think I've seen so far this season; Studio Bones is putting a lot of sparkle on this one, believe you me, and director Hiroko Utsumi — of Free! fame — knows how to make “pretty anime boys doing sports” look good. The world of Sk8 the Infinity has a wild, rock-and-roll-future vibe to it. The elegant rich guy that supports Langa in the “S” race has a holographic virtual assistance and a Tron/Akira motorcycle; there seems to be a villainous figure who keeps to his lair of TV screens, a phantom conducting a spooky remix of Beethoven's 5th while flashing his vampire fangs, because of course. Reki and Langa also make a great, classic pair of heroes to root for. The goofy little comic-strip sketch that the episode uses for its ad-break is enough to get me on board with their friendship, let alone all of the cool skater tricks and nail-biting races we're going to see as the season continues.
Really, that's what makes Sk8 the Infinity succeed. Every bit of its script and production seems to understand that, in order to work, this series needs to be every kind of cool it could possibly be: Extreme, dope, choice, fresh, phat, bitchin', sick, wicked, gnarly, rad, radical, baller, bad (as in good), badass, tight, tubular, far out, bodacious, most excellent, awesome, boffo, metal, supreme, righteous, chill, lit, fire, fly, jiggy, da bomb, blingin', crackerjack, jolly good, Mighty Morphin', and in all waysとても 凄い. The world has been decidedly lacking in cool as of late, and I am personally very glad to know that every Saturday will be that much cooler with the Sk8er Bois on the scene.
I have to hand it to this show – even before they made it absolutely clear that Langa had been a snowboarder in his home country of Canada, I could tell from the body language and the way he tried to stand on the skateboard. Yes, there were plenty of clues before we got to that point, but it would have been really easy to just say, “He can snowboard, so he can use a skateboard” and not take it any further. Instead the entire way he rides his board looks like a skilled snowboarder, from the way he stands to his moves to how he uses his hands. As someone who grew up skiing, I loved it.
That, however, is the major realistic feature of the episode, although it really doesn't need much more than that to sell itself. And really, the concept of a super-secret incredibly-dangerous skateboard racing ground made out of an abandoned mine and factory is the kind of cyberpunk coolness that doesn't need to make sense. Apparently that's where the skating elite of Okinawa go to strut their stuff, and let me tell you, I felt like I needed knee braces and a tetanus shot just from looking at it. Danger aside, though, the concept of a Skate Club (or Sk8 Club) where the loser has to do what the winner says isn't without its appeal, especially when the bad guy looks like he escaped from either an 80s rock band or an evil funhouse.
Langa is just one of two protagonists here – the other one is Reki, an enthusiastic high school kid whom we see lose pretty badly to Shadow (the psycho clown) to the tune of a broken arm/fingers and a skateboard Shadow's allowed to set on fire as the winner. None of Reki's friends seem to care at all about his favorite pastime, so when Langa shows even the bare minimum of interest after transferring, Reki is all over him. Never having snowboarded, or seen anyone do it, Reki has no idea what's going on when Langa duct tapes his feet to the board (to mimic the straps and clips on a snowboard), but he's definitely impressed by what his new, somewhat reluctant friend can do.
I feel like this is one of those episodes, and possibly entire shows, that you watch for the action rather than the plot. It's exhilarating to watch the course be run, and the sheer variety of crazy skater personas that people have donned is also fascinating. There is a cheesy element to things – looking at you, weird conductor guy with the record player – but the rest might be enough to outweigh that. As someone not at all interested in skateboarding, I found this surprisingly fun, so even if the premise doesn't sound like your thing, it might be worth checking out anyway.
I had not looked at the staff listing for this one before watching it, but all throughout this episode, I couldn't help but think of Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club. Turns out there's a reason for that: they both have Hiroko Utsumi for a director. In terms of first impressions, the feat accomplished here is the same as with Free!: take a sports concept which focuses on handsome guys and turn it into the season's prettiest-looking debut to date.
And while there is a certain inherent cool factor to underground competitive skateboarding and some of the freakish people who get involved in it, I cannot over-stress how strong a draw the visuals for this series are. This is the best-looking title from studio BONES in a long, long time, and one of the best- looking debuts of the past few seasons. The quality shows up everywhere: in the finely-drawn and beautifully-colored character designs for the central duo, the more extreme designs for some of the other skateboarding freaks, and even the more ordinary designs of background characters. It's in the explosion of color and wealth of details in scenes like the skateboard shop or the marvelous design of the skating venue. It's also in the animation. The skateboarding scenes are eye-popping displays enhanced with well-above-average CG support, but even the non-feature scene animation looks good. I am not a big sakuga person, but I could almost watch this one for the visuals alone.
By comparison, the story set-up is more ordinary. A newcomer who has a background in snowboarding arrives and gets drawn into the skateboarding scene, in part because of its similarities to skateboarding. By applying some principles he knows well from snowboarding, he is able to pull tricks that confound even veteran skateboarders. I am a lot more leery about the suggestion of rich guys standing above the skateboarding scene but still connected to it, but at least leads Reki and Langa seem to have a solid start to their relationship. A small mystery also involves why Langa is so urgent for money, and that he can cook for himself is an interesting detail not commonly seen in such characters. The one question the episode leaves me with, though, is why Reki isn't using dirty tricks, too, if they are allowed by the rules. With the silly humor also effectively mixed in, this is a much more impressive debut than I was expecting. Not sure how much more I will watch, but I definitely did not feel like I was wasting my time.
discuss this in the forum (324 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history