Sk8 the Infinity is a great sports anime.
Sports anime is always a mixed bag when it comes to quality. A lot of them make liberal use of the reluctant athlete, the dude who has to be bullied, bribed, blackmailed, or otherwise coerced into taking part. Some focus a bit too heavily on the sport, and utilize the characters more as props than actual story-telling elements. And then, of course, some of them are just generally bad. It’s not a genre that is typically viewed or approached with a lot of respect, which makes a certain sense; it’s easy to make a sports anime that is fun, but significantly harder to make one that actually sticks around after the ending theme.
At its best, sports anime is focused less on the sport itself, than on the characters. Of the current season, Backflip!! has done this very well; everyone on the men’s rhythmic gymnastics team genuinely loves what they’re doing, and that shared passion drives both the characters and its plot in a way that is, at time of writing, a sincerely warm, fun, and funny show. Rather than utilizing resentment and uncertainty, it has character development and tension come from a genuine love for the game and a desire on the part of the characters to excel at it, which brings the characters and story together in a way that is both heart-warming and natural.
Sk8 not only understands this, and uses it as its central theme. A big part of what makes ADAM a cruel, manipulative bastard with little to no concern for the well-being of himself, his opponents, or random onlookers is that in his pursuit of escapism and his obsession with his own mythology, he forgot that the sport he loves is supposed to be, y’know, fun. Instead of enjoying what he’s doing, and using it to connect with those who share his passion, he’s ended up excelling, but alone.
Let’s come back to that.
Sk8 the Infinity is a skateboarding anime about Reki, a teenage skateboarder in Okinawa, and Langa, a Canadian transfer student who’s recently lost his dad and, with him, his passion for snowboarding. While making a delivery to the exclusive underground skateboarding race known as S, Langa ends up skating a beef after a mix-up with another skater’s board, and discovers that actually, skateboarding is kind of great. He also proves to be surprisingly great at it, since apparently skateboarding and snowboarding aren’t all that different, and the two of them begin bonding over their shared passion as Reki teaches Langa how to use his skateboard like a skateboard.
Over the course of the season, the two of them end up befriending Shadow, S’s resident chaotic clown; MIYA, a middleschooler on track for the national skateboarding championship; and Cherry and Joe, two of the founders of S. Through trials and tribulations, our core cast grows closer, falls apart for a bit, and then comes back together stronger than ever, managing to use the power of friendship to touch even ADAM’s cruel, manipulative bastard heart.
Okay, so in concept, Sk8 is not especially unique. Where it really shines is in the execution; our core cast of characters is a misfit gang of colorful, believable characters, and while the skating is well-animated and intense the series doesn’t skimp on the smaller, personal moments of characterization and growth. Skateboarding is what has brought these characters together, but who they are and how they interact is what makes them interesting and relatable. They have fun, and they tease each other, and they have petty fights, and serious arguments, and they do it with the awkwardness and intensity of people who don’t always understand each other but who still value the friendships they’ve built, even when things get bad.
This is the main thesis of Sk8; that when you find something you love, you remember how much you enjoy it, and why – and the why is just as often the people you meet as it is the skills you gain. This is part of why ADAM, for all his love of the sport, is our antagonist; he’s a phenomenal skateboarder, but he’s let his pursuit of it push away both the people who mattered, and the enjoyment he once got from it. He is alone, both literally and emotionally, and it’s this isolation that makes him not just opposed to the rest of the cast, but actively dangerous.
It’s not a flawless series, by any means. The pacing has issues at times, and it does indulge in the second-act “break-up” for tension and drama. There’s also some of the usual issues with dialogue, at least in the English dub, that is written for teenagers in a show directed at teenager by adults who seemingly have not heard a teenager speak in a casual setting in many years, leading to amazing moments such as “Everyone knows hot springs are a boomer thing.”
Also, ADAM is also an extremely creepy adult man who insists on adopting the aesthetic of romance for his obsession, despite the fact that two of his most prominent relationships are with Langa, a teenager, and Miya, who is in middle school. Add in the fact that, like with many sports anime, all of our core cast (and most of the side characters) are men and boys, it does have some… unfortunate implications, and may not necessarily be the most comfortable thing to watch if you, like me, are queer, and have grown up with media that generally depicts being queer as being something exclusively for the villainous or incompetent.
For the record, I don’t believe that was intentional; it feels more like an effect of ignorance than malice, but it can still leave a bad taste in the mouth of some of its older audience. This also exacerbated by the fact that, as a sports anime about friendship and passion with an overwhelmingly male cast, a lot of it can come off as fairly gay, and I say that both as a compliment and a critique. I understand that queer representation in Japan is trickier than it is here in the States, due to a number of cultural differences I’m sure someone will be eager to explain to me, but it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed and accepted as part of its exportation to a wider audience.
That being said, Sk8 the Infinity is a great fucking show. It’s funny, and sincere, and places a great deal of weight on relationships and the passions that help facilitate them. Studio Bones has a long list of top-tier anime, and Sk8 the Infinity definitely deserves to be included on it.
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