Sk8 the Infinity
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
So I know I said last week that Sk8 the Infinity's depiction of Reki and Langa's relationship is what actually sucked me into the show, and that's still mostly true. But the more kinetic appeal that is the main selling point of this series, the skating itself, shouldn't be understated just because it didn't quite click with me at first. The simple fact is that what Utsumi and Bones are even trying to do here is worth praise for ambition alone. The movement and action inherent in depicting skateboarding are intrinsically challenging in animation, let alone pulling it off with the resources and schedule of a weekly television anime. Even if you aren't into the already-comically ramping up melodrama motivating these boys' downhill jams, seeing all those sick tricks successfully depicted, especially in the lengths this third episode goes to, can suck you in just as much as the appreciable character dynamics in episode 2 did to me. It effortlessly lands the main appealing trick of any good activity-based anime: I absolutely can't skateboard and would certainly end up a slab of bloody beef jerky the first time I attempted, but watching everything in this episode had me going “That looks so cool, I'd love to try that!”
Part of that's certainly down to the point that, after the previous episode featured so much intimate coverage of the rudimentary basics of skateboarding, this one hits much harder in showing off the tricks and speed responsible for the excitement of the sport. That's thanks to the appearance of Reki and Langa's latest Skateboard Nemesis, upstart gamer kid and probable catboy Miya. He's a young prodigy already competing at a pro level, he thinks ‘fun’ is just a buzzword, and he really, really doesn't believe in the power of friendship. You just can't wait for Langa and Reki to pull a humbling surprise win out against this kid, but also those tricks he shows off while he's sizing them up are pretty dang cool. It feeds the storytelling as well, demonstrating how Reki understands the technical mechanics behind performing advanced tricks like the ones Miya can pull off, but lacks the coordination and cultivated talent to do them himself. It's an interesting way to frame one of our main characters, building on the previous episodes' idea that Reki might be better-suited as a coach or board technician than an actual competitive skater, despite the enjoyment he derives from the sport. That is the point, of course, since it's him pooling those personal resources with Langa that lets them surpass Miya and prove that the real skating victory was the friends we made along the way.
There's a very obvious, pointedly visible theme of ‘balance’ driving this episode. It's full of shots featuring symmetrical and mirrored compositions, keeping that motif in our minds as it creeps into the storytelling itself. Miya believes he's better off by himself, but that stems from the way his skills and fame outweighed those of his friends and drove them away. Miya and Langa, in contrast, compliment each other with their different strengths and form a well-balanced pair. Langa's shortcomings in skateboarding that persist this episode stem from his troubles with balancing on the board, which Reki picks up on and makes a special modification to said board to compensate for that. And Langa then utilizes that adaptability to beat Miya by the end, demonstrating the power of that balanced relationship, potentially rebalancing Miya's own opinions on others and enjoying the sport he's so good at.
That moment, that turning point of Langa's victory, is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Sk8 the Infinity work so well in terms of ridiculous sports-anime excess and brilliantly-illustrated character context. Reki's modification to Langa's board is putting the wheels on swivels, adjusting to Langa's sense of balance. Just to start this seems like the sort of thing that actually wouldn't work, with Reki and Shadow even tacitly confirming that for the audience, only for the explanation to be that Langa is just that specific kind of sports-anime freak of nature that he can make it work. And if Cherry Blossom gets to ride around on an Amazon Alexa taped to a Roomba, what're a few office-chair wheels as a modification, right? But it's those swivels, and Reki's suggestion to Langa in the moment of the race, that prompts him to use them to swing across a broken rail while grinding – a feat which wouldn't be achievable with a ‘normal’ board. It's the kind of ridiculous antic that's the reason I love sports anime like this, and it's also the episode's ultimate expression of the power of Reki and Langa's teamwork, and that ‘balance’ motif that's been textually and visually on display the whole time. It's not just a cool-ass ridiculous sports anime moment, it's a symbolic cool-ass ridiculous sports anime moment!
That kind of outrageously perfect moment can only come about thanks to all the ‘craziness’ endemic to the sheer number of moving parts Sk8 the Infinity has in its storytelling, and the way Hiroko Utsumi keeps it all in harmony. It manages that appreciable effect where it looks effortless at first glance, all breezily exciting skate action and appealing developments between characters, but when you put it under a microscope and see things like the effort required in animating the skateboarding or the multi-layered deployment of themes and motifs for this single episode, you realize how much she's working her ass off corralling all those elements. There are still some conspicuously technically-necessary elements to the storytelling, like the idea that the Beefs in ‘S’ must be motivated by some challenge or bet, crowbar-ing in stakes and drama where you couldn't normally get them from characters just skating for fun. And that melodrama still threatens to overtake itself as escalations like the debut of ostentatious Skate Vampire Adam are dropping in as plot manipulations just three episodes in. But speaking as someone who didn't immediately fall in love with this series, it's impossible not to be drawn in to its particular brand of self-seriousness just on account of how confidently it sells it. Like Langa on that swivel-wheels board, it probably wouldn't work for anybody else, but these people are able to pull it off.
Sk8 the Infinity is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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