Sk8 the Infinity
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
Okay, we had a lot of fun at the beach last week, but even then Sk8 the Infinity was sure to remind us that there were some issues brewing for our boarding boys. Langa's genuine enthusiasm for skating about with Reki is still coming through, but even that seeming dedication can't sway the disconnected feeling of being left behind that Reki is still nursing. His mounting issues (as well as those of other skaters adjacent to him) keep building in this episode, which is possibly the show's most somber and serious to date. It makes for something of a different watch than the outrageousness we might have gotten used to previously, even as so much of it is still communicated via the kinds of unsubtle theatrics that continue to define the series.
The largest focus this week is on Reki and what at first appears to be his mounting inferiority complex. Despite being the one whose teaching skills got Langa skateboarding in the first place, the latter's abilities have only continued to grow exponentially as time has passed. Langa is now a significantly better skater than Reki and many of the others and he is still getting better. The show drives home the disconnect Reki is feeling via background chatter by characters in awe of Langa, and how they don't recognize, or worse, outright disparage Reki. Reki loves skating, but it's been made clear how he's thoroughly unremarkable at it, so that feeling of being left in Langa's dust persists metaphorically no matter how enthusiastically Langa keeps coming back for him.
At first, I'm of two minds on the way SK8 rather obfuscates Reki's actual issues with this episode. Obviously we're dealing with a more seriously-paced story this week, so drawing out that kind of narrative tension by making things unclear can work in terms of pacing. But making it initially seem like Reki is merely jealous of the recognition Langa's getting comes off perhaps too simplistic. It's a sharply relatable feeling, to be sure, but it immediately doesn't jibe with the issues we'd already seen Reki grappling with. Even if the intent wasn't actually to throw us off, but to simply communicate multiple mounting issues instead, the point of fame and recognition still mostly comes off as a distraction. It's time that could have been spent analyzing Reki's deeper worries about actually losing his new friend and the engagement in the sport they get together, instead of merely interrogating his inferiority.
But then again, it almost works as an emotional smokescreen to delay us until all that pent-up pressure between the two can pop off at an appropriately climactic time. In that respect, I can kind of see Reki's projections of jealousy as him putting up a dishonest front for why he's so bothered by the places Langa is going. These are still teen boys we're talking about, of course, so expecting them to be 100% emotionally honest and intelligent is a bit unreasonable. And to his credit, Reki's frustrations with himself never come off like the kind of characterization that made me annoyed with him. Like I said, he feels relatable in what he's working through, which works since that and his feeling that he can no longer relate to Langa is what is ultimately revealed to be really fueling his angst.
Langa's supposed to be more inscrutable in this case, and I think that works here as well without feeling too frustrating. We get to see that, despite the rapid improvement of his skills, it may have come about as a result of him pushing himself too hard. As much as he seemingly enjoys skating with Reki, that no longer seems to be his primary motivation for doing so. Even the snowboarding connection to his late father doesn't seem to visibly factor into Langa's actions anymore; rather, he's become hooked on the thrill of pushing his limits simply because he can. At the beginning of this episode, Joe lays out the point that “Overconfidence is poison, but confidence becomes power”, and I think that Langa is currently toeing that line, high on his own supply of confidence. It's an interesting angle, that for all of Reki's visible fretting about it, the fame and recognition might actually be more of a problem for Langa. He's got just as much a need to push himself, but now it's mutated into him seeking the next level of that rush and excitement even at his own reckless expense.
Reki, who skates for ‘fun’ with his friends, being unable to comprehend Langa's newfound desire for ‘excitement’ is what comes to a head between them at the end, as it always had to. It's a charged, rain-drenched drama bomb that is exactly the kind of intensity I come to this show for, rendering its scenery a brutal contrast to the beautiful backdrop of the beach barely a week ago. And it effectively communicates Reki's true issue: That he's worried about losing another skateboarding friend, not just to potential injuries, but to a view of the sport that he can't abide. And even as I feel Reki's history with that kind of loss remains annoyingly underexplored, it has been made clear how devastating that feeling is to him. As well, I appreciate how much more effective this feels as an obstacle for the story, because it's not the kind of thing that can be resolved simply by Langa assuring Reki he won't leave him behind. In Reki's eyes, Langa already has.
I think that's supposed to work in parallel with Adam and how we know he turned out, but his backstory and motivations continue to be the most frustratingly opaque part of this story. A few more fleeting flashbacks of him, Joe, and Cherry are shown, but the mad matador still comes off as alien and obtuse as ever. I can't even be sure if he's as effectively tied into that issue of overconfidence espoused earlier, as the other snippets we get from Adam this week seem to communicate that skateboarding for him is primarily an escape from his denser day-job duties. Speaking of, the plot point of Inspector Kiriko uncovering his shady dealings, pushing him more into said ‘escape’, comes off as the most extraneous part of the storytelling here. It doesn't really expand upon Adam as a character beyond the ruthless disdain he manages his affairs with, at worst coming off like padding until he formally declares the skateboard tournament we saw him plotting last week.
Sk8 the Infinity's own confidence and insistence on pushing its limits remain on display this episode as it moved for a denser, drama-filled introduction to this arc. I don't think it's tripped into that dreaded overconfidence yet, but it did feel a bit busier while not yet delivering on defining all the interesting angles it's trying to hook me in with. Adam will work better as a central villain if we can get a clearer picture of his actual nature, and that in turn can more effectively define what Langa will be struggling with going forward. So I hope the show can deliver on those kinds of definitions sooner rather than later, because the kinds of intensity it's looking to increase with its skateboarding action will work best when we're fully invested in these characters and their motivations.
Sk8 the Infinity is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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