Sk8 the Infinity
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
Sk8 the Infinity is reaching for a near-parodic relationship with the safety of its featured sport and the portrayal thereof. The aftermath of Reki's wrecking by Adam in the previous episode earns him a hospital trip and a broken arm at the beginning of this one, with the plot settling on Langa potentially suffering a similar fate. Skateboarding's a dangerous game, we know this, with Adam's particular style of intentionally aiming for harm upping its hazards even further. With that potential danger already made apparent by Reki, the urging for Langa not to go through with the challenge seems reasonable. But the tipping point for me came when Reki and Langa's skate-shop boss tried to advise Langa to at least wear a helmet and protective pads during the skate-fight, only for the cool Canadian to blow him off under the auspices of the equipment making it difficult to move. Obviously I don't expect an anime cast of edgy skating husbandos to ensure each of them is a genuine role-model, but the flippancy still comes off as irresponsible in how enthusiastic SK8 seems to have been in selling the sport.
But then Sk8 the Infinity reminds me that I am, in fact, watching Sk8 the Infinity, a story that increasingly treats skateboarding less as an imitatible fun time and more like a superpowered shonen battle spectacle, complete with special techniques and last-minute powerups and turnarounds. In that context, it's daring you to question the idea of ‘safety’. Would you tell Goku to put a helmet on while fighting? Should Jotaro equip protective eyewear before a Stand battle? As we watch Adam rope Langa into an impromptu Tango de la Muerte while rocketing downhill on moving skateboards, it becomes obvious that Sk8 the Infinity needs no ‘Don't try this at home’ disclaimer, because if someone did make it to a level where they could pull this stuff off, they probably deserve to do it however they want.
Sports shows generally are stories about what a given activity means to each of its characters, and by letting its skateboarding cut loose as an expressive language for those characters, SK8 gets to go all-in on some truly exuberant interpretations. Most prominent in this episode is Adam, whose actions and terminology for his skate-fights have been couched in the idea of ‘love’ since he first showed up. It's an obvious, but still interesting contrast, as he playfully fight-flirts with Langa, stringing him along in those aforementioned dance moves or going for the attacking embrace of his ridiculous uphill-skateboarding trick called a ‘Love Hug’. Adam is an extremely pointed enigma so far, seemingly driven by a warped spirit of competition that manifests as on-board sexualized violence. Did this attitude come about as a result of the founder of ‘S’ driving himself to be too good, too quickly? Despite increased input from Adam's former fellows Cherry Blossom and Joe we still don't know; he's merely painted as a scary antagonist with some kind of unidentified depth lurking beneath.
Langa in this episode represents a somewhat healthier spin on that same drive. He's shown to have picked up advanced skateboarding techniques at an astonishing rate, earning the attention of the audience at ‘S’ as much as Adam himself. But as single-minded and potentially dangerous as his headlong rushing-in is noted to be, we get clear nods this episode to the intrapersonal reasons behind why he's dead-set on skating so hard: Skateboarding feels like the next evolution in his snowboarding skills that remain his strongest connection to his dead father. The clarity of that articulation stands in contrast to Adam's nebulous malice, and if we agree with Reki and the others that Langa is pushing himself too hard, we can still root for him based on why he's doing it. I'm grateful to have that reflectiveness here, since the half of this episode that leads up to Langa and Adam's duel does threaten to drag a bit. I get the idea of increasing tension in the run-up, but there's little actual character exploration or development beyond Reki being worried about Langa or the other skaters giving him tips and pointers for a contest they barely expect him to survive, let alone win. Still, Langa's amazing self-assurance that he can emerge victorious and his deep-seated reasons for doing so help propel us along better.
Even for my gripes about the pacing, it's not like things are completely uneventful in the episode's first half either, though I worry they have me asking too many questions in a show that should be trying to avoid scrutiny. We get the story out of Reki regarding that tease last week, which is predictably about a friend he had who quit skateboarding after some particularly nasty injuries. There's honestly not much here that we couldn't already guess, and I mostly find myself confused about the current state of their relationship. Can Reki no longer see or visit this person even if they don't skateboard anymore? Or is Reki's devotion to the boarding lifestyle so absolute that someone not in the game is effectively disregarded by him? Langa's assurances that he won't ever quit skateboarding regardless of the kinds of injuries he might sustain actually speaks to the latter, and I'm curious to see if the show has any intent of expanding on that view. There's also a demonstration of the mechanics behind Adam's ‘Love Hug’ uphill-skating technique, which did motivate me to do a little research and confirm that, yes, this sort of thing is possible in real life!
But it's mostly all there to prime us for another showstopper of a skate-battle in the latter half of the episode. I already talked about Adam's ridiculous rolling dance number he pulls Langa into, but that's honestly only a fraction of what's on display here. The artists at Bones have never skimped on the all-important motion of the skateboarders, and I swear it's at a new high this week. Adam's particular way of constantly moving about while on his board, as he finds himself increasingly energized by Langa's competition, keeps hitting new levels of intensity to the point where you feel like the animators are just showing off. The shifts in drama and positioning of the two contestants are signaled by SK8's now-familiar color and background switches, the moment-to-moment atmosphere changing to accommodate the show's action striving to outdo itself what feels like every thirty seconds. As such, when the fight gets cut off thanks to the cops suddenly arriving to break things up, it feels as cruelly anticlimactic as anything the show could concoct. Here I realize that SK8 has most effectively sold its brand of excitement to me: For all my initial worries about the inconsistently-portrayed dangers the characters were supposedly in, by the end I was furious that we hadn't gotten to see it conclude properly. As we see Langa feeling right at the end there, I found myself getting into this on pure thrill alone. And for all the odd storytelling issues this episode had or questions it left me with, that it still delivers that kind of excitement marks it as a continued success to me.
Sk8 the Infinity is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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