Banana Fish and Free! director Hiroko Utsumi is back with a 100% original series about the wild world of skateboarding. Mix together bombastic WWE wrestling personas, gravity-defying tricks, and no adult supervision and you get Sk8 the Infinity!
This series is streaming on Funimation
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nicky, it's finally time. Drop whatever you're doing, strap on some elbow pads, drain your neighbor's swimming pool, and get rad. Because it's time to SK8 OR DIE!
Hell yeah, I'm super psych'd to talk about mayhaps one of my favorite anime of the season, and well anticipated too! From director Hiroko Utsumi and Studio BONES, Sk8 the Infinity is a tubular tale between two bros and their love of all things boarding.
I was excited for Sk8 from the word go. The director behind Free! working with the BONES Brigade? And it's about skating? AND it's about Mad Max style death skating against evil clowns? Sign. Me. Up.
I've been a big fan of Utsumi's work as a series director ever since her debut with Free! as well and ever since I've really been longing for her to take her" skillz" to the next level into something more ambitious. But since her last series Banana Fish was a more self-serious adaption, I wasn't able to get into it as much. Utsumi's style truly shines when she's able to balance both intense fun with the intense drama. So when Sk8 from the starting line just bursts out with all this energy, I knew I was in for a real treat.
Sk8 is absolutely Utsumi opening her third eye. It's got all the vibrant energy and fun of Free! attached to a far more outlandish premise, and the result is ridiculous, fun, and ridiculously fun.
Like sure, Free! got silly now and then, but it could never have featured a Juggalo wrestling heel, let alone in its first episode.
Free! also focused more on the slice-of-life side of a sports anime and its sports battles, while deeply emotional, stuck firmly in the ground (water?) of reality. Sk8, while displaying a serious love for its sport, really takes everything to the X-TREME and quickly flies off into the realm of fantasy in a way that only anime can.
Yeah, for those hoping for a more down-to-earth skateboarding sports drama, I'm afraid you're gonna have to wait. Because while Sk8 does pay some attention to the real life world of skating, it's also a series where one of the guys has a talking, transforming robot skateboard.
Excuse you, she has a name, and it's Carla.
I know this dude's hot but his fangirls really should be questioning why he made the thing he kicks and steps on all the time call him "master" in a woman's voice.
Look, I'd hesitate to call Cherry an extreme sadist compared to the show's main antagonist. Once "Blue-haired skating vampire ringmaster DIO" enters the screen, any sort of suspension of disbelief just washes away. But that's part of what makes Sk8 great.
Though we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Sk8 doesn't immediately drop us into cyberpunk skateboarding. First it lets us dip our toes in with these two doofuses.
God, I love these two sk8er boiz. While Sk8 might be full of spectacle, it's also got a sweet side. It's characters are warm like the a sunny beach and part of what makes it all work is its ability to really mingle with them.
Reki is your typical skateboard obsessed teenager, though unlike me or my friends in middle school he actually knows a fair bit about building and maintaining a board. In fact one of my favorite parts of the early episodes is when he helps Langa build a custom board to suit his particular style. It's both a grounded way to introduce the basic mechanics of the sport and a fantastic way to let them bond.
While Reki is the expert and our introduction of the skating realm and all its wonders, Langa is the new kid on the block. He and his mom moved to the island of Okinawa, Japan all the way from the far-way snowy mountains of Canada. He starts out as a pure layman for the audience, but quickly applies his previous knowledge of snowboarding into becoming a real pro.
Langa's more than a bit reminiscent of Haru from Free! in that he's rather deadpan and prone to obsession. Though because of the sport in question he spends a lot more time getting slapsticked out of his stoic façade.
Speaking of slapstick, the smash cuts in this show are so good! I especially love the ED that's just showing all the different ways you can bail.
Though the show also expresses that it has a philosophy of "No Pain, No Gain!" You can't get better without a having a few wipe-outs! It does make me wish some characters would invest in helmets, though. I just presume they were left out so the animators don't want to have to draw them.
Thaaaaat's actually just being true to life. While actual tournaments and concerned parents require protective gear, god help you trying to get a bunch of teenagers who think they're invincible to wear helmets. And that's just when they're doing tricks in the Circle K parking lot, let alone having downhill deathmatches with ICP.
Also if you're watching this and want to get into skating: Do NOT try to copy Langa's board. You will eat shit so hard you'll taste concrete for the rest of your life.
So much of this show needs a Parental Advisory label. For example, I'm extremely against children becoming GAMERS and also catboys, but especially not Gamer Catboys. That there is the real danger.
You really do have to wonder what Miya's parents are thinking. Like it's bad enough you're pushing your kid into professional sports at age 12 or whatever, but then you're not suspicious about him dressing up in a kigurumi and disappearing every night? Just ain't right.
But I guess these are just the things you can expect when you literally name your underground illegal skating race after that one Cool S every edgy middle-schooler inexplicably knows how to draw in their notebook once they reach age 12.
Just saying we should be highly suspect of any parents who send their kid to a school with this Little Lord Fauntleroy looking uniform.
But the cast of Sk8 aren't just kids though. As an extreme sport, most of the participants are actually adults. Lots of anime focus on high schoolers, which was fine when I was a teenager but as an adult woman, I'm pretty thankful Sk8 has Cherry Blossom, JOE, and SHADOW. They are pretty fun in their own right when normally they wouldn't be considered part of the main cast.
Shoutout to SHADOW especially. Any sports series can throw some hot dudes at you and call it today. Only Sk8 has the courage to make one of its major characters a heavy metal clown who works at a flower shop as his day job.
Everyone in the S ring has to have their own Skatesona, which is what we'll be using to refer to most of the characters. Y'know in order to protect their identities or something?? Not that it really stops the characters from crashing into each other during the day. Seeing everyone running about trying to function in their everyday lives when you know they're all reckless 2 Fool 4 Skool skating demons creates a more multifaceted picture. For example, Cherry is a professional calligraphy artist and JOE is a chef with his own Italian restaurant. And then you can use that information to do these great little bits in the interstitials.
Oh the eye catches are fantastic. It's rare you get a production with this much energy coursing through every single aspect. Sailor SHADOW is definitely my favorite.
During the race Cherry is, as stated before, actually a cyber-surfing NINJA, and Joe is well uhh.....
Bless Utsumi for this meal.
JOE is here to fulfill Utsumi's insatiable thirst for muscles, and by god does he deliver.
Just an absolute meat mountain. You could climb this motherfucker like Everest.
Also JOE and Cherry have absolutely fucked. Like they're on the outs now and will get catty but you know it's because neither of them are totally over it yet but both are too proud to make the first move.
Oh yeah, their rapport ranges from "petty exes" to "old married couple" most of the time. Always bickering, competing, talking about the "old days". It's pretty obvious they have a history they can never truly separate from because of their shared love for the sport. Both of these characters have tons of female fans in the background but you never see them with as much energy interacting with them as they do with each other.
I do appreciate their rival packs of fangirls. A classic Utsumi touch.
I really like how they're dressed up, lol.
Also I'm pretty sure to even get into the Cool S Club you have to skate regularly, so they dress like that while shredding. Give me a spinoff about them making that work.
Though, Cherry and Joe aren't just long-time rivals, they're respected members of the community and their history creates a window where we view the main antagonist and analyze the real conflicts of the show.
Okay, yeah, that's enough preamble. Let's get to the star of the show:
ADAM, the progenitor of the S race, is a force of fuckin' nature. While initially shrouded in mystery, it's nearly impossible for the viewer to take their eyes off of him when he's in the spotlight. Also he's voiced by Takehito Koyasu in the same style of DIO BRANDO from Jojo's, he's just an incredibly striking villain.
ADAM here is what will make or break the show for you. If the thought of a sadistic skateboarding matador vampire who tap dances on his board doesn't fill you with instant joy, you will never be able to truly embrace Sk8. But if, like me, that sentence made you smile like a jackass? You're in for the ride of your life.
ADAM comes in after Langa's beef with MIYA and immediately any sort of veil about the show is gone. He's not called "The Matador of Love" for nothing. This man exudes energy to an exciting, terrifying, and mesmerizing degree. While bailing is a normal part of the sport, ADAM pushes everything to the edge and ends up shredding his opponents to pieces out of "love." He represents the real threat of someone who gets too engrossed in the thrilling aspect of the sport. Even going so far as to mid-fight kabedon-ing Reki so hard he can't help but piss his pants at just the thought for the rest of the show.
Keep in mind that's not just any Kabedon. It's a horizontal kabedon. While both are rocketing downhill on their skateboards and banking a turn. Extra is honestly too weak a word to describe this man.
And that's not even touching his signature "Love Hug" in which he turns so fast to skate UPHILL towards his opponent into an embrace so they'll freak out.
Also note that ADAM leads a secret double life as well. But instead of a chef or a flower shop assistant, he's a member of the national government. Which really completes the picture. Like imagine if it came out that your senator likes to dress up as a rodeo clown and challenge teenagers to motocross racing. How surreal would that be?
Again, ADAM, or Ainosuke, is really the character were all subtext goes off to die. He has every marker of a Japanese man deep "in the closet", wanting to unleash the shackles of respectable society in order to live the more exciting and tantalizing nightlife of his own creation. Complete with his very traditional tea-sipping aunties who keep emphasizing how important it is that he doesn't ruin the family name because they love him so much.
It's here in particular that the central sport being skating becomes important. Most other kinds of athletic pursuits are regimented, but skating has a history and iconography of both individualism and counterculture. So while it's goofy as all fuck that these grown men dress up as Skatesonas, it's also a pretty fitting way to have them—and ADAM in specific— express their true selves, twisted as it might be.
Also yeah, all subtext just becomes text whenever he starts talking about finding his own personal EVE.
Once he takes interest in Langa he pretty much pursues him like a starving Wile E. Coyote chases after Road Runner. Dude is relentless and he's not coy about it. Much to Reki's dismay.
Now there's a lot that could be said about the most explicitly queer coded character being Mr. Bad Touch, and I think that's a fair criticism of Sk8, but I think it's mostly balanced out by how great Reki and Langa are together. Just look at this adorable Broposal:
Yeah, but Langa is very similar to ADAM in that he also gets high on the thrills. This drives a rift between him and his best bro. Reki, having lost his previous skating-bro to injury from ADAM, becomes deeply concerned and fearful. Langa, meanwhile, continues to ignore the warning signs and exceeds to a level where Reki can no longer compare in order to get closer to defeating ADAM. Drifting them further apart.
It's melodramatic as all fuck, but the show sells it by showing just how much the whole thing's tearing up Reki inside. He feels like he's losing his closest companion due to the machinations of a skate-psycho AND his own shortcomings, and the result is actually pretty heartbreaking.
Reki's arc is a little befuddled as he fumbles between wanting to simply be supportive and feeling left behind by everyone, but it's no less heartbreaking.
And it's got every bone in my body rooting for these boys to kiss and make-up already. Langa's mom agrees.
Though she might not be ready to accept that her son has a boyfriend, she's very supportive all the same.
For Reki, skating was a way to connect with the people he loves while pushing himself. Seeing that passion get crushed beneath the snazzy bootheels of somebody obsessed with competition for its own sake is rough, and I hope these two can work things out. Especially since Langa is slowly realizing that he's not addicted to the thrill of skating—he's addicted to the thrill of love that skating brought to him.
The show definitely goes out of it's way to show how skating is something that is supposed to bring people together. ADAM's vision of love is sadistic but not disingenuous. He's totally sincere. Rather, because of his strict (and abusive) upbringing his expression of love is ultimately broken and warped. It's not something that stems from skating itself like others might believe.
Even his childhood friend and lackey Tadashi feels guilty because he feels he created a monster for simply trying to bond with someone.
Adam's definitions for a lot of stuff is questionable. Like I think he might have gotten "skating" mixed up with "AEW Dynamite" here:
That's one way to tell off your ex that you're not into them anymore.
Maybe he just wanted to get that mask off to see if Cherry is still rocking the lip ring. I hope he is.
All I can think about is how painful it is to get his long hair caught in it.
Considering how he takes other injuries he probably doesn't notice.
But man, just everything about Sk8 is a joyride. It pulls you along with the characters and takes you on such a rollercoaster that sometimes I worry I'm the one that's gonna end up in the hospital when all is said and done.
I just love every one of these adrenaline-crazed puppy dogs so much, I can't help but stick around to see what happens.
It's been an absolute blast so far, and has me both aching to listen to JFA on a Walkman again AND waiting for every new episode. This is a season with a number of fantastic original shows, but Sk8 is easily the one I look forward to most. Every Saturday feels like waking up to a new Sum 41 music video, and it's gonna be hard to say goodbye to that.
Don't say "See you later" To these good Sk8er Boiz!! They're exactly the kind of thing I needed. It might be Utsumi's best series yet and Bone's animation is absolutely vibrant. With a few episodes left, I'm just hoping they've reserved the best tricks for last.
Here's to a full 1080, no face plants!
I'm gonna practice not blinking so I don't miss a second of it.