Director: Hiroko Utsumi
Streaming on: Funimation
Every so often I think of a hobby, a sport, or something that makes me say, “Man, I wish there was an anime about this.” That goes for pretty much every sport, as they all could benefit from being run through that shonen formula, and it’s worked for many of them. Then there’s games like chess that require such a fine level of strategy and foresight that it’s a wonder we haven’t seen any studio attempt a chess anime, unless you count Code Geass, which I don’t.
So the newest anime from Bones, the same studio that brought us both Fullmetal Alchemists, Mob Psycho 100, and My Hero Academia, is SK8 The Infinity, about the dangerous underground world of skateboarding in Okinawa. Skateboarding is a sport with fast dynamic motion that involves tricks and stunts, while also having an immediately recognizable aesthetic associated with it. How has there not been an anime about skateboarding before? I have exhausted the internet archives looking for a precedent (the first page of my google search), and I’m dumbfounded.
However, a skateboarding anime would be nothing without some lavish production values and a competent creative team who could devise the necessary high octane action. Luckily, Hiroko Utsumi, the director and creator, has also worked as an anime for My Hero Academia, and as the director for Free, which awakened my interest in swimming. Just swimming, absolutely nothing else was awakened in me. Not only that, it’s written by Ichiro Okochi, who penned both seasons of Code Geass. SK8 has quite the pedigree.
SK8 The Infinity centers on S, a dangerous race through an abandoned mineshaft. Reki, a passionate young skater, takes the Canadian transfer student Langa under his wing. Back home, Langa was a talented snowboarder, and finds some small success in S, though he’s going to have to learn how to skate without his feet strapped down. Once he does though, Reki’s got the feeling that his new friend is going to be something special.
But Reki and Langa are just the two leads, and from the OP you can tell that this show has a strong supporting cast in the form of the different participants in S. There’s the shinobi-inspired Cherry Blossom, the Gene Simmons imitating Shadow, the bishy catboy Miya, and…Joe. From these character lineups, you can tell that SK8’s design game is impeccable; each character has an instantly recognizable vibe that you can surmise from a single glance. That’s good, because SK8 prefers to let its skating do the talking, letting each personality shine through in each player’s style.
One of Bones’ greatest strengths as a studio is their immaculate attention to detail. Take one simple crowd shot from My Hero Academia, or the exploding debris and wild colors from a psychic battle in Mob Psycho 100, and the amount of dedication in making each facet of this world just as colorful as the rest. Just in the skate shop where Reki works is a buffet of color and variety; there’s at least a dozen differently designed shirts on the rack and skateboard decks on display.
So how does the actual skating hold up? It’s amazing, duh. It’d be kind of a disappointment to hype SK8 up this much only to tell you that each skateboard race is a couple of clunky CGI models on a shoddily composited background. I’m a sucker for dynamic 3D camera, it’s a strategy to elevate the action of any show, if it can be done properly. But how else are you supposed to convey the lightning quick movements of S without a camera not bound by physical limitations?
When your skaters are moving down a hill at upwards of 60 MPH through perilous obstacles, a steady camera and sense of geography are essential. It takes keen direction to ensure the audience knows where each racer is at any given moment and in relation to one another. SK8 does a phenomenal job of selling skating at high speeds, and it’s assisted by the sound design that complements the realistic physics and unrealistic skating. This show has two modes: show a detailed and down to earth depiction of a legitimate skateboarding trick, and someone kickflipping a twenty foot gap over a broken minecart track. I’m here for it.
But enough about these races, and a bit more about the racers. In the first two episodes, most of the main players have been established quite effectively. Cherry Blossom and Joe have a bit of a rivalry going on with differing philosophies in their skating, while the tough guy rocker Shadow has a day job as a florist. The animation does a lot of the heavy lifting in this character development, however, with each character’s body language telling just as much about them as their actions.
The plot is rather thin so far, but that’s because the majority of the focus has been on establishing these characters in this world. Langa has just appeared in the eyes of S, and his brief moment in the spotlight is having some wide ranging consequences. He still needs to learn the basics, which is why most of the second episode and several weeks is spent on him simply learning how to olly. However, I mean that as a compliment; skating is extremely difficult to learn, and while some of his snowboarding reflexes have carried over, just as often they make things more difficult for him.
The real reason I love anime centered around real hobbies is that you can immediately tell when the team behind them has a passion for it. You can tell that Yuto Tsukada, the author of Food Wars, knows his gastronomics in the way he can write a cooking battle. In that same way, the enthusiasm for skateboarding shines through in SK8’s depiction of it. That’s how you make a high school volleyball match as intense as a superpowered clash between two aliens. Simply being able to discern that passion does so much to increase my appreciation for a series.
I know I am going through the writing and I usually address OPs and EDs in the presentation segment, but I think the attitude demonstrated in SK8’s ending perfectly captures that love for skating (embedded above). Each of the participants in S are shown practicing and failing in some pretty embarrassing ways, but anyone who’s ever stepped on a skateboard can tell you how failure is a large part of the experience. You’re often just as likely to fail the 100th attempt as you are the first. It’s just a matter of trial and error, and like Reki says, the more you bail, the better you get, so bail as often as you want.
This is quite the stacked season we have, and I haven’t even discussed any of the sequels that came out already. SK8 nails that itch I’ve been having for an thrill ride action anime. As the series stands so far, I think the most work needs to be done on the characters and the plot, but the small amount they have shown so far is promising. I don’t want to jump the gun and have another God of High School situation on our hands, but SK8 has the benefit of being an original anime with a great writer.
I would be completely satisfied if they manage to keep up this level of quality while fleshing out the characters and world more. There’s clearly some wealthy sponsors behind S, and giant skate parks made out of abandoned mines don’t just happen overnight, so there’s definitely some exploration to be done here. SK8 The Infinity has delivered a solid cast, some jaw-dropping animation, and sitting down for it every week is a thrill. 9/10