Sk8 the Infinity
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Sk8 the Infinity ?
Hiroko Utsumi's back with a new anime in the boys-sports showcase stylings of Free!, as opposed to everything that was going on in Banana Fish, with dudes freestyling it up on skateboards this time instead of in the pool. The first episode of Sk8 the Infinity seemed to be an introduction to everything that the series might encompass, showing off all the characters and seeing how skateboarding, the boards themselves, the culture, and the competitions would be integral to the show. And I'll be honest, that first episode didn't really click for me! For a series that seemed to be shooting for downhill jam excitement between its opening scene and climax, the downtime between that wherein we followed main boys Reki and Langa felt far too languid in comparison. There were flashes of attitude and style just in the backgrounds and designs and the way the colors of everything popped, but that stretch of pacing seemed at odds with the supposed appeal of the show.
With the second episode, however, things settle in an interesting way: It doubles down on depicting the chill skating times of our new best bros, but reveals how that can make for a pretty entertaining show in itself! As in Free! Utsumi has a pretty strong handle on depicting this relatable central relationship, and one teaching the other to skate is as good a hook as any to portray their development as the rest of the players in this weird little skateboard-obsessed parallel universe make their own moves. Being an extremely ‘anime’ sports-action show, it relies on some well-worn tropes to make this work at the outset: Langa is basically an isekai protagonist, coming from the mysterious alternate world of ‘Canada’ and finding that his lifetime experience in snowboarding gives him a leg up in learning these in-demand new skateboard skills (he even has a close encounter with Truck-kun in the second episode!). Seeing how he adapts his Shaun White skillset to be more Tony Hawk makes for a novel way to explain those technical bases to a layman audience, plus seeing Langa bail off of a skateboard repeatedly is entertaining in the same way as watching the boys in Haikyu!! get hit in the face with volleyballs over and over.
Reki, for his part, ends up having a slightly different role than I would have guessed just from his first appearance in this show. He's eager and ambitious, to be sure, but he's not simple or an idiot rushing into his efforts blindly. Instead, he's rooted in what should be an obvious truth of these kinds of characters: If you've got a love of skateboarding encompassing this much of your life, you'd probably know a lot about it. It's not just that Reki knows the ins and outs of building skateboards as seen in the first episode, though that's an impressive tip-off of the depths of knowledge his fandom has afforded him. The second episode makes clear that all the skating knowledge he's internalized also makes him a great teacher of the sport. You can see it in his patience with Langa and desire to make sure he takes to skateboarding properly, and how he picks up on his pupil's sensibilities by watching him, tailoring his teaching techniques and custom skateboard recommendations to Langa's style.
Apart from everything else in the second episode, the depiction of that central relationship, its give-and-take, is what elevated it for me. Everything about Reki and Langa is an exercise in contrasts that complement each other. It's not just the broad-strokes idea of someone knowledgeable teaching someone with inherent basic skills – it's everything in how they're shown within the production. Reki's movements are all fluid gliding around (check out the way he just slides down the half-pipe while sitting), confirming the sense of freedom he strives for when describing how he'd never want his feet hard-connected to the board. It lets him run symbolic circles around Langa, who's fixed in place as much as someone strapped into a snowboard and frozen like the wintery Canadian environment he hails from. Even their designs make for an obviously lovely contrast of spiky red and straightened blue. It's a relationship that sells the show for me more than any of the ridiculous skateboarding action, and in case I wasn't making it obvious: Hiroko Utsumi is still just as talented at getting me to want some boys to smooch as she was back in Free!
The rest of the production so far is as complementary to Reki and Langa as they are to each other. One particular element I love is the contrast of the riotous skateboard style anywhere it pops up (Reki's room and workshop, the store he works at, the mine where the ‘S’ competition takes place) with the more mundane ‘regular’ world this is otherwise ostensibly set in. That extends to the other skaters and their alter-egos, whom we haven't really gotten to know much beyond those base introductions. I'm not sure how I feel about some of the more outlandish gimmicks, like Cherry Blossom being an ostentatiously-dressed Skateboard Ninja who uses a futuristic Tron skateboard with a built-in AI that calculates his tricks for him. I'm obviously far more into his ostensible rival/love interest Joe, the Buff Chef™ whose style boils down to “don't think, go fast”. I also appreciate how first-episode heel Shadow seems to actually be a major character who will be sticking around in some capacity, and his gimmick of being a sweet, polite florist in his day job is a fun angle.
I could talk plenty about how lovely Sk8 the Infinity looks, or how exciting that downhill destruction derby on skateboards in the first episode was, but like I said, as appreciable as elements like that were, they aren't what drew me into this series after all. So it's nice that, unsure as I was at the outset, Utsumi's clear understanding of the benefits of centralizing a believable yet entertaining relationship became something I could really hone in on for this show. I think I could honestly watch these boys just screw around and fall off skateboards for a whole season (unsurprisingly, Utsumi's no stranger to the slice-of-life genre either); that I'll get to watch them lavishly skate and/or die against a bunch of cool cartoon characters is pretty much just a bonus.
Sk8 the Infinity is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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