Sk8 the Infinity
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
I'd guessed last week's rain-drenched drama was the most ‘serious’ Sk8 the Infinity would allow itself to get, and it seems that was correct. There's still the major, ongoing plot, sure, but we're back to following it mostly in terms of showing off absurd skate battles rather than forlorn, introspective character work. That's good! A huge part of why I'm here is to watch these dudes ride tricked-out skateboards at unsafe speeds while throwing firecrackers and shooting lasers at each other, and I'm glad SK8 remembers that. Muscular mentor Joe even directly states late in this episode that these kinds of boarding battles are purely the domain of idiots for entertainment of other idiots. So it's not just that the show has gleeful stupidity, it's a knowing gleeful stupidity. Which is the foundation of a kind of genius, when you think about it.
There's an irony to the fact that the current central conflict is based around Reki and Langa's feelings not properly reaching one another, given the complete lack of subtlety with which everything in this show is communicated. Reki all but shouted his disconnected disaffection at his blue boyfriend in the previous episode, so the onus is now on Langa to figure out how to reconcile his driving desire for skating intensity with those boarding bro-times he wants to maintain. Langa's emotional journey that we see here doesn't have as clear an arc as what led to Reki's outburst last week, possibly because that journey isn't actually completed yet. But we see the cracks forming where Langa previously seemed so sure about how he wanted to continue. He goes by Reki's place and notes when he's gone. He gets hopeful that it's Reki when a hand is placed on his shoulder, and is specifically disappointed when it's Adam instead, despite his previous excitement to compete against ol' Skateboard Dio. His beloved personal connection to Reki was the driving force of Langa getting into this sport, despite assertions by the older boarders that "Everyone is alone when they skate".
The pointed parallels between Langa and Adam continue to be played up as rife, because Sk8 the Infinity has never heard of subtlety. But these are far from mere potential foreshadowing of the kind of bad end Langa should seek to avoid (as well as retro-shadowing how Adam arrived at his current mindset), as the show also takes the opportunity to go hog-wild on introducing other kinds of comparisons. We find out that Adam's snubbed secretary Tadashi was in fact the one who taught him to skate. With Adam's skill increased to this point of destroying all he comes into contact with – and eventually himself it would seem – Tadashi takes it upon himself to enter Adam's tournament and beat him at his own game. It's a complete counter to Reki's choice of simply withdrawing from Langa's life as their skateboard ideologies diverge, but it's all still based on that idea of teaching someone something as a bonding activity only to be abandoned when they adopt an approach that carries them away from you.
Skateboarding as a language of love has been a nascent theme of the series since Adam made his debut, but the show leans into that turn particularly hard this week. There's all the overt theming of Adam's tournament that we get into: He's looking for his ‘Eve’, the tournament itself has the incredible title of 'White Eden Wedding Beef'... hell, even Tadashi continues the biblical metaphor by entering to spoil Adam's garden using the code-name ‘Snake’. That's all fun and good, but it also gets to a point where the show's sledgehammer approach ironically hinders its impact. We're given some deep flashbacks on Adam that reveal the physical abuse he had received from the aunts who raised him under the auspices of their ‘love’, and how that translated to his own practicing of aggressive affection in skateboard form. It's a tragically typical type of tale, of course, but I'm not sure Sk8 the Infinity's otherwise lovably-dumb self is exactly the show to be attempting any kind of serious analysis of the thorny interplay between romance and violence. Trying to mine depth from Adam's character via “He was abused by his loved ones, which led him to couch his own love in abuse!” doesn't quite work when the vehicle for those actions is outrageously-animated skateboard-duels.
The outlining is similarly blunt for the Reki/Langa situation, if not as fraught with challenging subject matter. In a hilariously direct bit of inspiration, Reki catches a TV interview with a less talented track runner who got into making shoes to support athletes instead. At that point the show might as well ditch the parallel altogether and have skateboarding itself directly implicated to Reki. Perhaps his boss at the skate shop could be the one to communicate that to him, since they otherwise seem to have forgotten that character exists. On the other end you've got Langa's adorable mom clearly (and unwittingly) relating her advice to her son in the context of patching up a romantic relationship. All these parallels and allusions can be fun, but I feel like when this is the kind of show that also knowingly admits its ultimately simple-minded ambitions, pursuing this kind of complexity might come off unnecessary, confident though it is.
Because Sk8 the Infinity definitely still knows why we're really here. A tournament arc is nothing if not an excuse for an anime to show off, so we get a brickload of boarding badness on display this week. It goes to town on illustrating all the ‘special moves’ these characters get to use as well, from having some rando named ‘Harry’ make it to the finals just so he can job to Shadow's Dick Dastardly heel tactics, to letting Joe cut loose with an insane ricochet turn trick that Miya flat-out tells the audience shouldn't actually work. It's even here that the loving connections between our entertaining SK8er bois are most effectively outlined, with Langa showing off his own signature gimmick in the form of those spinning trucks – the ones Reki installed for him. The skating action and the people it's between is rapidly varied enough to gloss over the somewhat samey environment and presentation this week compared to SK8's usual standards.
SK8 isn't riding too dangerous a path right now, and I don't think it needs to. Its raw entertainment value is enough that there's no reason for it to dwell on challenging subject matter, so at least it moves past problems like Adam's abusive upbringing rather quickly. But with that briskness in mind, it does maybe feel like there still hasn't been enough movement on the Langa/Reki reconciliation front. I do like the fundamentals of this conflict, but limiting the boys' ability to see eye-to-eye could stick as a sore point the longer it goes on. Especially when the actual answer is so obvious, dragging out their inspiration to figure it out themselves can feel more forced than it needs to. Sk8 the Infinity can know it's stupid, but that should make it easier to also come off as simple and earnest.
Sk8 the Infinity is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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