I'm just going to presume that the recap-episode week they took was so Utsumi and Bones could specifically look over the issues I've been taking with the show, because sweet zombie Zeus does this episode do a lot to finally get the ball, er, board rolling past a lot of those little stumbling blocks. Even some of my more jocular jabs find their way in: Turns out Adam's improvised-weapon check against Cherry really did set off the Fight-Club impulses of the other ‘S’ skaters. Both Shadow and Reki find themselves beset by ambushing instances of overt skateboarder violence this week – were the denizens of the downhill jam always predisposed to undergo this kind of collective heel-turn? Opening on the immediate aftermath of Adam's attack, the chatter we get from the crowd effectively boils down to “Yeah that was a bit more extreme than usual, but hey, Adam gonna Adam, right?”. It's a dismissal of the exemplary extremity of Adam's actions I think that scene was supposed to communicate, and does ring with the show's continued frustrating insistence on leaving Adam less-analyzed than I'd like. But that's an isolated island of unfulfilled potential, and it's hard to complain about it when so much else happens to bring this episode around.
Seriously, there are other anime out there (sports-based or otherwise) that could only dream of having the kind of guiding vision and economic scene structure that let Sk8 the Infinity juggle so many plot threads and happenings per episode. That's especially important in episodes like this, where it's getting all its ducks in a row for the forthcoming final skateboard showdown. So we take some time to explore more of Tadashi's motivations for his exploits in the tournament as ‘Snake’, and his plotline finally gets its inevitable intersection with Reki's. The visualization of Tadashi's skating style is yet another aesthetic victory for SK8, easily communicating to us where Adam's distinctive ‘dancing’ originated (though it's a little annoying that the show doesn't trust us to get the allusion and just has the characters verbally call out the connection). They really want to drive home how the bond it forged between Tadashi and Adam was as important to them as the skating itself, meaning Tadashi blames himself for the relationship-shattering fallout of Adam skateboarding so close to the sun. But that again begs the underexplored question: Who really is at fault for how Adam turned out? Was it Tadashi, or Adam's abusive family? Tadashi insinuates later in the episode that the public perception of skateboarding itself may have clashed too hard with the expectations heaped on a public servant like Adam, implying that may have been what turned him into a sadistic madman. We skate in a society.
But the lack of a full resolution on that end actually speaks to how SK8's storytelling has matured in the past couple episodes, as the writing finally seems to have given up on trying to resolve the misunderstandings between characters at the exact same rates, instead having Tadashi literally crash into Reki's life to inadvertently inspire the latter to finally pull his head out of his ass. He's not the only one, of course; earlier in the episode, wherein Reki very clearly has hit rock-bottom, being beaten up in an alley by a pack of sour skateboard bullies, the one who appeared to console him is none other than Oka, owner of the skateboard shop! Remember how yours truly said this guy should be the one to impart some coping advice to Reki? Like I said, Utsumi has obviously been reading my reviews. Seriously though, Oka sets Reki along the line of thought he needs to eventually reconcile with Langa, and it's actually not simply a case of being satisfied in a support role. Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to get burnt out on enjoying an activity, and part of that is because you shouldn't be doing something for ‘fun’ as a way simply to impress others. That's the missing link Reki needs to be reminded of, which he finally realizes when defending his love of skateboarding to Tadashi in the face of the accusation that it's some kind of societal ill. You shouldn't do something you love, nor should you stop doing it, based on what others think.
That's a clear intersection that finally allows our boarding bros to get back together by the end of this episode. Implicitly, Reki can more effectively understand Langa's drive to better himself because he realizes he's not doing it for fame or recognition, but because that's how he interacts with the sport. Similarly, Langa comes to realize that his love of skating with others, particularly Reki, is rooted in mutual enjoyment rather than the vicious boundary-pushing of Adam, and he gathers that from watching old videos of Reki himself. Some of this is naturally spelled out in their lovely, long-overdue reunion scene at the end of the episode, but I'm going to gush about those obvious points anyway just because I was so happy to see our boys together again. The irony to the amount of griping I've done about their split for the past few episodes is that for as frustrating as that was to watch, it made me realize even more how much I adore their chemistry once they've made up. That's a serious warning: The last few minutes of this week's episode are some of the most terminally adorable interactions the two have seen in ages. From Langa going on about how amazing Reki's knowledge is, to Reki getting embarrassed at how much Langa is talking, it's all way too wholesomely cute. But hey, that's one of the main reasons we're here, right?
It's backed up by that bonus week of polish seeming to help stabilize SK8's now-known production travails. I already mentioned the attentive animation of Tadashi's board-handling, but the show's trademark shifts and contrasts in scene-lighting are really back with a vengeance this week. Virtually every section of the episode has a different color palette, presumably to illustrate the different phases in the growth the characters are experiencing. You get threatening reds and oranges highlighting the tension of the scenes where Reki and Shadow are attacked, reduced to a softer pink glow during a more emotional confrontation between Reki and Tadashi (tempered just a bit by the fact that the source of that glow is the two of them being in a love hotel together). By the time Reki and Langa finally reconvene, things have fallen under the veneer of night-time, as their story is still shadowed by darkness, yet it's clear of any dramatically torrential rain or stressfully-obstructive filters. It really drives home the catharsis, the clarity brought on by their feud being resolved, even as it is merely the calm before Adam storms back into their lives.
Sk8 the Infinity has always been a fun, entertaining show, but this episode really was it coming back to prove it knew exactly how to handle some of the more overt melodrama it had been stacking up for a while, confidently playing us like a fiddle at the same time. You can see this even in its more base indulgences. Is the bit with Tadashi and Reki in the love hotel a bit conceptually tired and even gay-panic-y? Yes, but is it also hilarious anyway thanks to the framing, performances, and abundant goofy faces? Also yes. Like Snake sidewinding his way through those rocks at the beginning of the episode, SK8 can dance around the issues it's still dealing with and look damn stylish doing so. Honestly, my only remaining point of contention with this episode was the dismissive way in which poor Shadow got injured and disqualified from the competition. But let's be real, the story had to do that, since he would have effortlessly beaten everyone else in the tournament otherwise. Hopefully Reki and Langa can get justice for the jettisoned juggalo next week.
Sk8 the Infinity is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.