Saturday, December 16, 2023

SK8 the Infinity Review

SK8 the Infinity Review

Warning: The following review will contain spoilers for SK8 the Infinity. If you want to stay clear of what happens in this show's story, please exit the tab and join me once you've watched said show. Or you can take that warning with a grain of salt and read on. Whatever floats your boat.

With that said:

Growing up as a burgeoning ace boy in the 2000s (we've graduated from not 100% bonafide straight) has given me a lot of insight as I've gotten older. I wouldn't be who I am today without the interests I discovered and devoured, most of them being tailored for tween girls. A superhero swopping in despite the odds and rescuing his damsel in distress? Hard pass. A fashion doll who looked confident in herself and ready to (hopefully) rock her first year at a monster high school? Count me in. It was easier to tap into my femininity when "girls media" had more fun. I didn't see any Hannah Montana, Winx Club, or Strawberry Shortcake over in Tween Boy Land. I'd get into some properties here and there (incidentally all video game franchises, the toy anomaly the problematic Kung Zhu line of Zhu Zhu Pets), but they still had this sheen of masculinity that I didn't feel comfortable with. Aspects like "toughing up" and being a "manly man" felt too rigid, too Elfman.

I've brought up my relationship with sports in past reviews (to recap: I did cross country for all of junior high and two years of high school), but I neglected to mentioned what I did as a kid. My brother and I were in a intramural soccer group and took gymnastics and tennis lessons for a few years prior to becoming teenagers. While the sports scene can feel like gender pigeonholing at times, taking part in these didn't feel as restricting. There wasn't this underlying current of donning masculine armor and being the best that ever was, whatever that means outside Pokemon. I was able to tap into my emotions and experience the game in ways that didn't make me lose interest. The tears weren't fun, but the glee I'd only felt messing around in the Backyard Sports CD rom games was.

That's likely a latent reason why I was initially attracted to SK8. Skateboarding had felt restrictive in some of the titles I'd seen growing up, but here was a franchise that put a little colorful spin on it. Helmed by Hiroko Utsumi, who wasn't a stranger to queer leaning shows, SK8 the Infinity promised fun, laughs, and a ride I wouldn't want to end. Promise of an iconic simuldub and subtextual gay couple followed, and I was waiting for that day for the light to turn green. Skateboarding wasn't a "man's sport" here. It could be for everyone. Now that I've collected those $200 and went into another series without my emotional support Bratz doll (iykyk in both cases and, again, with his blessing), did it live up to its potential?

Not completely. Granted, SK8 the Infinity was still an enjoyable show. I felt drawn to how the anime was able to combine a set of aesthetics I'd get in bits and pieces growing up effectively in one place. The main plot was engaging, S was able to display skating in a multifaceted way, the characters were intriguing, and the animation and music vibrant like a perfect summer day. The story and character framing had its falls, plus the content covered beyond the course felt overambitious. However, SK8 is able to make up for much of it in its successful queer subtext moments, exciting beefs, and character arcs that gives it is distinct place in the sports anime canon. It's worth a watch if it whizzed by you.


Skating is Reki Kyan's passion. He breathes it, lives it, and competes in it. He may not be the best skater on the block, but that hasn't stopped him from competing in the skate competition S. At dusk, skaters who've gotten the green light (in the form of a sticker) gather in an abandoned factory lot in the Okinawa outskirts. They go head to head in duels, also known as beefs, where they put what's important to them on the line in order to taste sweet, sweet victory. Reki has recently lost to S's resident antihero, Shadow, and is a little perplexed on where his skateboard will take him next. Enter Japanese Canadian transfer student, Langa Hasegawa, from stage left.

Langa has recently moved back to Okinawa following the death of his father. Reki is intrigued by him, and when the two meet after school one day, they become friends. Langa is eventually convinced to join Reki at his part time job, working at the skate shop Dope Sketch. The two are quickly tasked by their manager, Shokichi, to deliver a skateboard to a S skater before a big race of his. Unfortunately, Reki accidentally grabs his damaged board from his race with Shadow because both bags looked the same in the dark. Embarrassed by the mistake, Kazu, the skater, orders Reki to compete on his behalf. Who's the challenger? Shadow, obviously.

Langa volunteers to skate in Reki's place despite not having any skating experience. Despite a shaky start, Langa is able to beat Shadow using his past in another sport that lends itself surprisingly well to his skateboarding: snowboarding. The blue haired boy experiences an exhilaration that's been missing from his life post his father's demise, and he and Reki work together to improve Langa's skillset, combining the two sports and getting a slick custom board in the process (thanks, Reki). Langa's beef with Shadow, and later beef with young star MIYA get the attention of several prominent S racers, including its founder, ADAM.

ADAM is dazzled by Langa's skills, wanting a worthy challenger who will be able to rise to his level and become his EVE. After two beefs where he's able to win against Reki and draw with Langa (the police intervened on that one), he decides to declare a tournament under the sham of wanting to see who S's best talent is. In the process of bringing said prominent S racers back in the ring, Reki's confidence begins to waver amidst the talent everyone seems to have but him. Political scandal breaks out in ADAM's personal life, his subordinate, Tadashi, wants him to stop pursuing his style of skating (and skating permanently), and the friendship that's blossomed between the two leads, MIYA, and other racers is called into question. Who will come out on top in this tournament? Will it be an individual racer, or the undying power of nakama?

Right off the bat, what strikes me the most about SK8 is how vibrant it is. I'll go more in depth on the animation front later, but from a plot standpoint, there's never a dull moment. Compared to its sports peers (I'm referencing WAVE and Backflip specifically, given that they aired around and after this anime), SK8 fuses a lightness and grit to capture its audience. A tense beef will fade to a comedic interlude. Whether that's Reki and Langa fanboying over skating (and subtextually, each other), a training jaunt to Miyakojima, ADAM saying something suggestive, or Matchablossom bickering like they've been together for years (they have, but not romantically), there's a nuance that grounds SK8 in context that's been challenged since Yuri on Ice, but arguably, started when Free crashed onto our shores.

I haven't watched the entirety of Free outside of the first three episodes. Part of why it has resurfaced for me is in part due to my time at Half Price Books, but also because it was Utsumi's breakout show. Masculinity and femininity find a way to coexist to make swimming look like more than a sum of its parts on the school or Olympic front. Glazing over the fanservice and homoeroticism that's inspired discussion, doujin, and fanfiction, how the lead express themselves in the pool fights against the shallow end of the sport's appearance. SK8 achieves the same thing. A sport that feels like it can only be for the tough men and scene crowd grows its own set of wheels, showing skateboarding as a place where everyone can belong. There's a great crop of athletes who occupy different spaces of the sport, and they all come together to make skateboarding a rush, both in the tricks they do and the injuries they receive. It's about more than Tadashi's stance of skaters being delinquents in his attempt to steer Reki further away from his passion. Here, skating is pure adrenaline and fun.

The anime is also able to fuse its masculinity and femininity to bring me back to several media forms I took in when I was young. The beefs themselves hurtle me into a Need for Speed game, where street racers dominate the night (at least in the 2015 game). The personas call to mind magical girls in all their forms. Whether it be the Sailor Senshi or the Winx, the disguise is another way for the characters to express themselves with a little tell. ADAM almost doesn't count. Mix these two together, and other memories dance in the front of my thoughts (including, but not limited to, Totally Spies, Horseland, W.I.T.C.H., and DRAMAtical Murder). I don't feel like I've connected to an anime on this much of a thematic level before. It only makes me appreciate its content more. Seeing SK8 have fun with itself makes me want to interact with it in a deeper way.

What about the actual plot, you ask? It may not hit all the tricks the show does aesthetically, but I do have to give Ichiro Okouchi props for constructing the story in a way that lets it build at a great pace. Langa's close to fish out of water exposure to the world of S is endearing. While his dynamic with Reki starts off in the mentor-mentee lane, we see them develop as comrades and potentially more if Langa finds skating more fulfilling with the former joining him for the ride. ADAM serves a great role in attempting to fracture this bond even before it becomes a "thing." It doesn't stop with our leads, though. Okouchi is able to seamlessly weave ADAM into the lives of our other players. Directly or not doesn't matter. It helps establish his ego and why his skating ideal isn't as rewarding despite it coming with great power. It makes for seamless continuity and an engaging villain. Add in a surprise twist with his subordinate? I'm all eyes and ears.

That includes the queer subtext. SK8 loves a good moment to flaunt something queer. At the same time, its acknowledgement of this doesn't hit as hard as it could. Women are hinted at frequently. Shokichi is referenced to have a date in the first episode. JOE is a flirt. Reki acknowledges some people are motivated to skate because they like the attention of women. ADAM's aunts are hoping he'll marry so he can continue the family legacy. SHADOW hopes to admit his crush on the owner of the flower shop he works at (incidentally, Langa isn't involved of the teen and adult characters). From one angle, you could play it like the skaters trying to conform to societal expectations. From another, it's jarring to jump back into this lane when you have several moments like this:

I think part of me is now starting to see what some Yuri on Ice fans were getting at when the final episode aired and they still weren't happy with how the queer representation ended up. SK8's art of baiting steers into the two lanes of giving its target audience what it wants and mild hesitation. An anime being self aware is never a bad thing, yet SK8 tries to have it both ways and isn't able to make it gel. Much of the hesitation goes once Langa and Reki have That Scene in Episode 10, yet it lingers with JOE, with SHADOW, and the unanswered questions that get brought up once ADAM's real life investigation is brought to a halt. It's not like I'm a queer fan vying for content drippings, perched in the corner going:

SK8 just happens to get 80% of the way there before having an about face, thinking, "Now are we sure that isn't going to be too much?" The confidence in the aesthetic doesn't fully step up to the plate thanks to our good friend: Homoeroticism.

The main group dynamic is also established under unfortunate circumstances. Most properties I'm familiar with revolve around a main character becoming a part of a group, or a group being preestablished prior to their starts. There's no place to belong Reki and Langa have to hunt for. Their bond with MIYA, SHADOW, CHERRY BLOSSOM, and JOE unfolds (almost) naturally. They each fit into a role naturally, CHERRY and JOE the "parents" throughout it all. Their group officially gets together in Episode 6. However, the dynamic starts in Episode 4 when Reki, Langa, and MIYA attempt to convince SHADOW to take them to S for Reki's beef with ADAM.  What makes SHADOW relent after initially refusing? MIYA blackmails him by stating he'll tell SHADOW's non skating work boss at the flower shop his skater identity. 

The consequences of this aren't far reaching beyond this episode character wise. Viewer wise, it made aspects of this friendship form a sour taste in my mouth, especially given one of SHADOW's main components in the story (again, more on this later). There's a lack of equality, and it doesn't only apply to SHADOW. We don't get to know as much about CHERRY, JOE, and MIYA despite some focused flashbacks on their pasts. Due to the twelve episode count and interest in prioritizing what the production team wanted to be their round characters, I get it. However, I wasn't able to feel the love SK8's fanbase has for these three as effectively because they didn't feel as fleshed out to the series. Okouchi tries and is more successful with MIYA and the pressure he faces as a young athlete. As for CHERRY and JOE, they lack depth that would garner more of my interest beyond when they were once friends with ADAM, their skating personas (we get only a lick of them as professional adults), and their rivalry/ship fodder. Side note: Matchablossom is now one of my new favorite ship names.

Reki's role in the story is also odd. Langa takes up much of the show's focus given his entrance into the Big Bad World of S. The peanut gallery can't stop talking about him, christening him SNOW. His aptitude to learn new skills thanks to snowboarding is impressive (he nails an ollie in two weeks vs. the other's two months). His sheer existence and mAsSiVe AmOuNtS oF pOtEnIaL is enough to send S's founder into a tizzy. It's understandable why Reki gets insecure and finds his skating to be inferior to the other skaters he's come to meet. After losing his beef with Adam, his worry about getting stronger clashes with hearing about Langa being propped up on his pedestal, in S or otherwise. There's even tension within the group as well (it had me thinking we had a shift in writers on the Japanese side of things. We didn't). The emotional gaslighting Reki endures works well. Maybe too well. It doesn't feel like his character has the same amount of clout or drive pushing him forward in the story. When Reki's able to re-discover why he enjoys skating, the revelation doesn't feel nearly as important as it could be given his absence. This move feels intentional on production's part. Does Langa being the person more things happen to as opposed to around still feel off? Absolutely.

Last but not least, SK8's ending doesn't tie together perfectly. Did we need ADAM to be viciously disgraced, never to show his face around S again? No. However, there's a loss in having him only start to see how his specific form of skating has distanced himself from others and even the sport itself. An unfamiliar world is opening up to him again after years of being sealed away. That's good for his character and how he'll skate going forward. It's not going to impact his life out of S, though, where the investigation into a bribe he took is null after he rats information to the police. It's symbolic of real life events, but doesn't feel satisfying after the build up it had in the back half, especially given the familial pressure the show built up for ADAM throughout the anime. We're getting more content for SK8 in the future (likely once Utsumi's next project, Bucchigiri, wraps). Maybe we'll find more answers there? That being said, the show still feels cohesive enough from how its main plot wraps despite my unease. Fans are going to get a complete story no matter what.

My thematic attachment to SK8 was a big reason why the story stuck with me. Even with the framing issues I had, the anime was still engaging enough to make skateboarding appealing and, yes, like its title, infinite. The trials its characters went through made for exciting races and tender moments that left me in a giddy nostalgic pool. There's something for everyone even if you're not here for the queer. There are parts that could have been better, but the end product still made this anime a fun companion.


For a high energy anime like this, it's only natural its characters matched that output. While I won't be covering all of the S racers in depth, I'll touch on all of them so no one feels left out. Another strong point of this anime? Its meshing of the old and the new. The generations don't clash here; save that for the courts. Even if ADAM's power cut through the joy, the power of skating with friends won't become last season's duds.

Reki's up first:

What drives Reki to skate? That's the question his internal monologue poses in the show's first scene (which gets a beautiful parallel at the end). Is it the fame? Is it the women? Nope. For Reki, skating gives him a rush that he can't find anywhere else. After getting introduced to it by a childhood friend of his, this boy's life hasn't been the same since. Dope Sketch sang to him in a way other high school part time jobs wouldn't. His enthusiasm also lends itself into creating and designing his own skate equipment. S is a safe space for him. It's this logic that gives him the confidence to introduce Langa to it and become involved with some of S's best outside the beefs.

There's insecurity tucked away under his happy-go-lucky shell, though. After losing to ADAM in attempting to stand up for MIYA's honor (blame the Love Hug), Reki gets his first real taste of the dangers skaters face in injuries and going up against an "out of their league" opponent. ADAM's condition if he won the beef was to compete against Langa. Reki asks Langa to heed the warnings he got and chose to ignore now that he's had the chance to go up against The Master himself. After that friend of his got seriously injured in his early skateboarding days, Reki knows what injuries can do to a person's psyche and the consequences of pushing themselves to the limit. Unfunnily enough, you can guess what happens from there when Langa and ADAM do end up doing their beef, the former going to-to-toe with The Master before ending in a draw, and how that starts to unravel Reki's confidence. He's now unable to put his needs first now that his involvement with S has grown. The association with Langa's growing fame and S's top skaters leads S attendees to find him as insignificant as a fly buzzing around your kitchen. It turns out Reki's belief in himself is more important to him than the show initially makes you think.

It's only when Reki attempts to cut ties with S and distance himself from Langa and the other skaters, even missing ADAM's initial tournament announcement, that he starts to realize he's lost the reason why skateboarding is so dear to him along the way. Cheering on those he cares about doesn't give him the same amount of joy as actually competing does. If he can't fit in both places, where does he belong? It's only after almost getting run over by Tadashi post fleeing from Langa that he can confront his self-doubt and re-discover the simplicity of skating as an art form. He doesn't need to compete with his new friends (and potentially more in Langa's case). Instead, all he has to know his strengths and use them to his advantage, hooting and hollering all along the way.

For as insightful as Reki's character arc is, I still find it weird that he doesn't feel like SK8's protagonist whatsoever. There are several reasons for this, many I've already discussed. One I haven't elaborated on yet is Reki's role as a mentor to Langa. This role establishes a distance from Reki's role in the plot from the start. Rather than being the one who is involved in S's beefs and seeing him grow due to them (Langa), Reki lives vicariously through Langa's accomplishments, only inserting himself into a race early on when ADAM insults MIYA. The distance only grows once his self-confidence hits its lowest point, and despite having a resolution, it doesn't make his re-discovered passion for the sport feel as important as it should. Even Okouchi notices this discrepancy, having ADAM dub Reki a third wheel when he invites the latter to compete in the tournament after orchestrating SHADOW's removal.

That doesn't mean I didn't like Reki. His boisterousness and relationship with skating remind me of the leads from Wave and Backflip, Masaki and Shotaro. He may not be a noob to the titular sport in question, but he still needs to learn how to lean into his ambition without getting lost in the sea of self-doubt (which is easy to do sometimes). His energy level is always at 100% before the angst kicks in, yet that arc in question gives him a new sense of confidence that makes him feel different compared to the character he started as. I did like how his self-doubt started to hit once he lost to ADAM, but it did feel overwhelming mid show that it had me thinking about another character whose prime arc was their own wallowing (Chidori from Kiznaiver). It hurt and was annoying to see Reki continually beat himself up to the point where he turns in his S sticker (!), and doesn't fight back when a group of people he used to skate with antagonize him. In his eyes, he deserved it because he feels like the lowest of the low.

His friendship with Langa was also a highlight of SK8. Once the two are able to patch up their differences, they ease back into their old relationship like two peas in a pod, with a nice dose of mutual attraction underscoring it. It's easy to see how much Reki enjoys seeing Langa skate despite getting caught up in their differences, and they're able to bounce off each other in a way only the closest friends can (despite not knowing each other for very long). You can spin all the theories about what Reki promises to do with Langa before the tournament's finale (seeing as the anime cuts away from its audio), but there's a care and commitment in the two promising to be by each other's sides to prove the infinite possibilities skating can offer. Did I wish I liked Reki in a way other fans did? Yes. However, his character was still solid despite feeling off as a lead in his own story.

Now for Langa:

This isn't the first time Okouchi's developed a deuteragonist to work in tandem or counter the show's protagonist. We've got Code Geass's Suzaku Kururugi, Guilty Crown's Gai Tsutsugami, and DEVILMAN crybaby's Ryo Asuka lined up and ready to defend this stance. What makes Langa fascinating as a character compared to what I've seen/heard of the other three properties is how SK8 directly spits him into the action thanks to Reki's encouragement. Following his father's death, Langa hasn't been able to find passion in the sport that used to bring him joy. Skateboarding not only allows him to re-claim that emotion, but tap into his extensive training and let his wheels soar. When did Langa start snowboarding? When he was two. He's a second year in high school, so I'll let you do the math.

The sports end up being fairly transferrable. Even with some difficulty, Langa's able to soak up different moves and tricks that allow the spotlights to shine directly on him. The emotions he doesn't often express in real life get transmitted to his skating. Like Reki, he doesn't have any outside motivation beyond how he feels on the course. As long as he has a good skating partner (iykyk), he can feel that adrenaline rush on the board that calls back to the days spent with his dad on the slopes, and he's comfortable in taking a risk (and there are plenty), the street cred he gains throughout the show? Earned.

Langa also has the most implicit queer coding in the show. There are a few scenes where he eats dinner with his mom, the latter fretting about how unexpressive her kid is and trying to figure out how best to communicate with him (because teenagers). In Episode 8, after Reki pushes Langa away due to his anxiety and using a promise they made to each other as an excuse to do so, Nanako wonders if her son is having relationship troubles. She tells him that no matter what happens, she hopes he and the girl in question will be able to make up. Confused, Langa repeats the word girl in Japanese, kanojo, as a question. Adding in the fact that his confession of wanting to skate with Reki infinitely two episodes later has a romantic tilt makes it clear Langa's feelings towards Reki aren't as platonic as SK8 wants to spin it.

Beyond the conversations with JOE in the anime's back half (that goes for him and Reki), Langa also isn't associated with any female characters in a romantic subtext. True, there aren't a lot of named female characters, but when the only woman he interacts with is his mom, and the only indirect contact he has is when Reki asks him how he would hit on a unnamed woman in Episode 6 (I have a feeling she was the same person voiced by Saori Hayami in Episode 2), it's pretty telling beyond some overt affection displayed elsewhere in the show. Their relationship might not stoke the shipper flames that reside in my heart, but them spending time together was sweet. Even more so once they made up. Give it up for framing!

Combining this with how engaging Langa is as a character made him easy to gravitate to from SK8's start. The audience gets to see his initial interactions with S first hand with him getting multiple chances to show his chops in beefs an added bonus. Langa's background in snowboarding was a smart writing move as it gives him reason why he's a great skater beyond being a Special Snowflake (further irony with this). I also liked seeing him getting to stake in a variety of ways, noting the emotional differences he felt while in the moment. What he lacks in Reki's boisterousness comes through when he's on the board. Although Langa isn't very expressive, there's more to him than meets the eye. It was easy to cheer him on and hope the anime would give him the chance to grow further, patch things up with Reki, and be his own skater without completely owning his nickname (I chalk it up as a generation thing). Those qualities and the fact the plot happened to drift around actions he took in S accidentally made him the lead to watch out for. Part of me can't complain.

I'm now going to lean into some of S's top racers. I'll be using both their real and skater names to give their personas on and off the track more depth. We're starting with none other than S's greatest antihero, SHADOW:

SHADOW in S was one of the first things I saw once this show started airing. A skater who looked like a Gene Simmons/The Demon and Lars Ümlaüt fusion (incidentally, Simmons did the VO for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock's story mode)? Consider me snagged like late ace teen Jack seeing Usagi from Juuni Taisen for the first time. Long live iconic character designs!

What's even funnier is that SHADOW outside of S couldn't be more different. His real name is Hiromi Higa, part time 24 year old hard working flower shop employee. Don't you forget it, either (the age part). He hopes to one day earn the admiration of his boss as he has a not so subtle crush on her. I'd say SK8 even goes so far as to indirectly state he enters the tournament in its back half to win her over as both worker and skater. Hiromi does a great job keeping his work and non work life separate, even if at times, I could tell that rock and roll soul was batting against his work persona (and I'm not just talking about him using his work truck as transportation).

The sensitive soul all but vanishes in beefs. SHADOW is brash, intimidating, and isn't afraid to shake other skaters by using tricks in order to get ahead. His antagonistic introduction as Reki and Langa's opponent is only a piece of the complicated puzzle that is ADAM. While Hiromi knows he can play dirty, there's a difference between him and S's founder's skating styles. Sure, they're both intimidating, but at least SHADOW wouldn't be the type of person to let you wind up in the hospital with broken bones. You'd just get a good scare. Maybe lightly degraded?

These two personalities clash once SHADOW spends time with Reki, Langa, and MIYA both in and out of S. Although Hiromi can be a softie, he wouldn't be a cinnamon roll by the meme standards. He's easily angered with plenty of buttons to push, yet he still cares and wants what's best for his fellow skaters beyond his teasing. It gave his impetus for the tournament more depth for me even if the anime didn't follow through with it. Outside of not wooing the flower shop owner, he also happens to get cut from the tournament after ADAM has Kazu, that skater from Episode 1, injure him to the point where he can't compete. At least he protected his boss (who probably had no idea why Hiromi was being called SHADOW). I was happy he took a genuine liking to the other skaters as it showed how much life he had. It's more life than it feels like the anime gave him, where it feels he's relegated for comedic gags or mooched off of as the oldest of the core S group (not counting CHERRY or JOE here).

As far as his non skater and skater self are concerned, one of my favorite moments from the show is when the group goes to Miyakojima at the halfway point. Before the beef to the hot springs at night, Hiromi has a bit to drink and falls asleep. Just as the group is ready to head out, he emerges in full makeup and hair, stating the alcohol has burned off thanks to the promise of a good race. Not only was this scene funny, but I also found it gratifying for Hiromi himself. As SHADOW, he's able to express a side to himself he wouldn't otherwise. Hobbies are a way for us to find something we're passionate about. If they happen to clash like Hiromi's, so be it. Both flower tending and skating make him happy. The interests fuse to make him a multifaceted flat character who's ready for the opportunity to be more.

Will we get there with another season? I hope so. How the anime handled SHADOW as it came to a close wasn't my favorite. There was plenty of friction in granting more opportunities for Hiromi to shine and sticking him in his "lane." That lane happened to be the comedic sidekick, which could work if it felt like the show wasn't working against his dreams for the LOLs. That frame with MIYA and him in the opening where the former's in front and the latter's a speck on the horizon? I'll take foreshadowing for 200, Alex. It's clear SK8's priorities didn't include wanting to see SHADOW through, which is a pity. He's the kind of good dark vibrancy that not only made me laugh, but was excited to get to know more of.

Speaking of dark vibrancy:

Welcome ADAM, AKA Ainosuke Shindo, to the fold. The founder of S, the beacon of this show's queer energy to rival any drag performer, and my favorite character. As I feel the intense glares of several SK8 fans by admitting this fact, let me backtrack and talk about his history before I go into detail about why he works for me on multiple levels.

Skating has been a secret passion of Ainosuke's ever since he was young (I'll get into why in a bit). From birth, his family, but especially his aunts and father, have only wanted one thing: For Ainosuke to be the next head of the Shindo family. Not only in politics, but in passing down the family genes. Years of verbal and physical abuse have toughed Ainosuke to the point that his skating persona has been crafted from years of repression. Skating gives him a chance to dabble in the luxuries he wouldn't otherwise in public. You know, the opposite of the shady deals and insider trading in his corporate life. Getting busted as a young adult hasn't stopped him from going after the thing he loves most. He's able to smoke in public, dress extravagantly, and express desire he'd only let slip to the closest person in his immediate circle. That, and the racers in S. Well, actually, make that just one.

When Langa skates his way into his first S beef, ADAM immediately takes notice. It goes beyond dubbing him Little Langa (Langa-kun), giving him roses when they race for the first time, and keeping tabs on whenever he jumps back on his board. A deep obsession takes hold. With the newbie's skill, ADAM feels he now has an equal he can match against in races. He's too perfect, opponents are as fascinating as developing mold. Not with EVE by his side. Skating's something Ainosuke can be excited about again. Maybe Langa reminds him of his younger self before he veered down his current dark, stormy road? In any case, a near defeat at getting the chance to compete with Langa in the tournament causes ADAM to skate his way to a dress shop a la Lifetime movie villain to rush order a new ensemble:

Just seeing this sharp contrast in costumes is fascinating. From a thematic standpoint, A+. From a reference standpoint, I can hear Jasmine Kennedie's voice in my ear now doing a spin on her Drag Race entrance quote, because this is, in fact, the funeral look. Whereas ADAM's main outfit is a vibrant red and black, the blue and black combo here feels cold and distant. It poses as a fascinating finale piece for ADAM, who not only lines up his skating aesthetic to Langa's own color wise with it, but figuratively dies and gets reborn during this beef. Don't you just love overt symbolism?

It's been a while since I've felt this attached to a series villain. ADAM encompasses several qualities to make a great one. There's his signature moves (him debuting Full Swing Kiss was enough to make me break out "5 Fingaz to the Face"), how he owns his charisma on and off the skateboard, his family drama, and how he only lets select people see who he truly is. He may use an actual mask to hide himself compared to Hiromi's makeup, yet unlike SHADOW, there's a mix of shame ADAM seems to briefly address in his "darkest" moments. This shame is in himself. It's something I doubt he's fully processed after almost going to jail/carting Tadashi off to jail as his scapegoat, but one can dream.

What makes ADAM work as effectively as he does is his nuance. We're not supposed to root for him because he's a trash human being, but we can't look away as he litters the ground with roses, rust-encrusted diamonds, and queer tears. In my case, the ways in which he both embraces and weaponizes his not subtextual queerness kept me enamored to the screen and mulling over him months afterward. Skating is a place where Ainosuke can soak up every single thing he was told as ADAM, and yet he also uses it as his own place to hide. His position at the top of the dogpile in SK8 has Reki idolizing him at the start of the series, and even then, ADAM uses this love against the latter in their beef. If we were uneasy towards ADAM beforehand meddling MIYA, that was the point where we jumped ship. Not me, though. I sat perched on my couch, thinking, "Tell me more, wise one." As a walking contradiction, ADAM made for a fascinating character study. He's easily my favorite anime character of the year, and easily broke into my top twelve of all time. This is how you craft a captivating and fun antagonist.

P.S. After listening to this album post watching this show (and seeing that the lead off single dropped while I was watching it), I dub Slayyyter's Starfucker my official soundtrack for Ainosuke Shindo/ADAM. "Dramatic" is the song I get the most life from/ADAM out of.

Last but not least for my full character breakdowns, we have Tadashi:

Tadashi has been Ainosuke's right hand man in the business world, but he's been a part of his life for longer than that. The two met as kids since the Kikuchis worked for the Shindos. Tadashi was tasked to look over Ainosuke. He did that, but a deeper friendship also blossomed. One day, Ainosuke found Tadashi on a skateboard and immediately became interested in learning more about the sport. The foundation of ADAM's skills we can all thank Tadashi for. You wouldn't guess based on how he's treated now. The gratitude Ainosuke showed towards Tadashi in his childhood? Out the window. Tadashi is now seen as a dog, willingly following Ainsouke/ADAM's commands without double-questioning them. Call it twisted trust, call it classism, or call it demeaning. Tadashi's enough of a wet blanket; he can take it as far as Ainosuke's concerned!

But you see, Tadashi has a plan. Blaming himself for ADAM's evolution as a skater, Tadashi decides to enter the tournament ADAM holds in the second half of the series behind his back. Going under the moniker SNAKE, all eyes go to him as someone who could out-master The Master himself. I can see where these compliments come from, since he shows off some techniques ADAM has made part of his brand. Naturally, Ainosuke hates this because he has to be number one, yet Tadashi has another goal. Being the one person who's seen firsthand how Ainosuke's relationship with skating has warped to the point where he's only in it for the money, the power, and all the glory (and let's be real in continuing to paraphrase Lana, that's not what any of the other "bitches" want), if Tadashi ends up winning the tournament as SNAKE, he plans to take the sport away from his boss entirely. How? It's unclear. But this gatekeep flex is the most power we've seen him attempt to consider throughout the series.

At the end of the day, SNAKE decides to forfeit after Reki enters the tournament following SHADOW's forced removal. Upon seeing Reki's love for the sport evident in the beef (despite the fact that he loses again, albeit not due to Love Hug), it reminds Tadashi of Ainosuke's own relationship to skating growing up. There, he could escape from the pressures his family put him under and discover a new world for himself. It's a world he still loves, but it hasn't come without its own costs (and repression). SNAKE believe ADAM can re-discover the skating he abandoned if he goes up against Langa in the tournament's finale, and in stepping out, hopes the competitive edge that's fueled S's founder's style can begin to dissipate. By the end of the series, there's a start, but I wonder how long it'll stick if Season 2 wheels around with no new antagonist/s (in which case, I will be disappointed).

I honestly wasn't expecting Tadashi to get much development at the start of the series. The opening foreshadows it, sure, but part of his character arc is the fact he's Ainosuke's right hand man. His life is shaped around what his superior does, getting reprimanded for not being a good puppy (which a dub compilation told me Ainosuke refers to Tadashi as at least once), and being responsible for building the ADAM character. Due to this close relationship, Tadashi's developed a dependency. It's not healthy, and one of the reasons why I don't romantically ship these two (hasn't stopped others, though). Does this mean I wasn't fascinated by it? No. Tadashi still has respect for the man he grew up with to the point where he blames himself for the person his boss has become. If only he hadn't introduced Ainosuke to skateboarding, then his descent into Competitive Hell wouldn't have happened.

This internal gaslighting also opens up the analytic possibility of Tadashi feeling he deserves the kind of treatment he gets from Ainosuke. It's clear the breaking point in their relationship, at least until the insider trading's cleaned up, is when Tadashi is set up to take the fall should Ainosuke's role go south. This spurs Tadashi into action, because while he may be powerless to his boss, he still holds the power in their relationship's start. SNAKE as a name is fitting to me. He immediately slithers his way from Mystery Man to Top Contender, but it's also a not so subtle fuck you. Tadashi's standing up for himself in the only way he knows how, and that, my friends, is what we call commendable. This even leads him to persuade Reki to try and drop skating permanently (you know, after he turned in his badge) because of the sport's "association" with delinquency and his own abating (?) self-hatred.

Does he still yearn for Ainosuke's approval? Absolutely. The final scene of the anime gives us the proof in the pudding for that. Some things may never change, but maybe this new sign of respect means Tadashi has more of an incentive to stay by his boss's side, for better or worse. He could tell ADAM had a kind of fun in that last beef that he was worried wouldn't face the music again. All this rolled into one makes Tadashi a compelling character to follow throughout the show's run. I like how he was written to be both assertive, yet fall back into old habits when all is said and done. We won't see him cut his losses. Whether that's a yay or not is undetermined. What we do know? He has more power than he thinks he does, and I would love to see him skate again for good times sake once production on Season 2 gets underway. 

P.P.S. On the topic of Slayyyter, this song off Starfucker illustrates Tadashi and Ainosuke's relationship for me to a T.

Other characters in the SK8 world include:

CHERRY BLOSSOM, aka Kaoru Sakurabayashi, who uses an AI board named Clara to take his refined racing to the top. He doesn't take your bullshit, especially with his old skating partner/rival, who I'll briefly talk about next. Outside of skating, he's a famous AI calligrapher.

JOE, aka Kojiro Nanjo, who uses his honed strength to his advantage in S. He owns and works at an Italian restaurant outside of skating, and has a reputation for being a complete flirt. Normally, I like these characters in reverse harems if they have other traits to balance them out (like backstory, magical girl appreciation, or me at fourteen heart eyeing a sexy voice (purely for Hiroyuki Yoshino as Debito)). Is it not enough development, having Flirt encompass his personality outside of the minor glimpse into his, Kaoru, and Ainosuke's past/s, or wanting more fuel for the iconic Matchablossom ship that I didn't get? The jury's out for now. I could prefer himbos?

Miya Chinen, who goes by his first name in beefs, the young prodigy whose drive to become stronger has led him to develop a competitive attitude, driving away potential allies and old skateboarding friends. This is until he meets Reki and posse. He's also a big fan of video games and refers to people he doesn't like as "slime." Out of the other racers, he was the most interesting to me because of how he was put on a pedestal by his parents, Ainosuke, and himself. That, and I think a part of every viewer just vibed with the cat hood.

Our dutiful sides are Shokichi Oka, the owner of Dope Sketch, his pet fox Sketchy, Lenga's mother (Nanako), Lenga's father (Oliver), Kiriko Kamata, the lead investigator in the case against Ainosuke, Ainosuke's aunts and father, the woman who we see in Episodes 2 and 6 (her name is Ema according to the SK8 Wiki), a police chief and a member of Ainosuke's team involved in the latter's political organization (and its corruption), the floral shop manager, Reki's mom and siblings, Miya's former friend, Takashi, the former's parents, the twice appearing skater Kazu, and his once appearing girlfriend Miki.


The animation for this series was produced by BONES, who are known for their work on Soul Eater, Bungo Stray Dogs, and Noragami.

Right off the boat, SK8 declares what it is, and fuck apologies. Beacons of light radiate off of this project. It's clear in several aspects. I immediately clicked with how colorful the characters and their senses of style looked. We get to know them as people even before they open their mouths. This is the second time group aesthetics have played a role in Utsumi's work, and I have to hand it to her. Her staff knows what they're doing with them. Masculinity and femininity collide in satisfying ways to give each skater their own flair.

This translates into the actual movement, too. Winter 2021 was a busy season for BONES (but depending on the studio, which one isn't?). They never neglected to make the S beefs lose fluidity or pizazz. I was impressed by some of the tricks the characters were able to pull off, both official skating ones and otherwise. They gave me the rush street racing games did when I was a teen, drifting along empty streets to an impressive electro pop soundtrack. When the slight animation dips happened, the beefs still managed to look good, and that's what was important to me. It's another way that this series uses its medium to communicate skating's draw as both activity and sport. I wouldn't be surprised if several viewers got into the sport because of this show. If it looks this cool, and you can deck out your gear like that, why not give it a chance? Time to hit up a local skate shop, and if you don't have one, maybe Zumiez!

I also have SK8 to thank for making me notice skateboarder form as I walk across my grad school campus. The boarders always seem to know what they're doing among busy student and car traffic with their headphones on. It's a contrast to the occasional quiet Reki and Langa find in Okinawa. Everyone gets props.


The score for this series was composed by Ryo Takahashi, who is also known for two of my favorite anime scores of 2017 (Classroom of the Elite and Code:Realize), along with more recent work such as High Card.

What initially appealed me to Takahashi's work was how he was able to combine both classical and electronic elements in ways that benefited both an alternate past and a not so distant future. Seeing his name attached to SK8 while watching it got me excited, since I knew he'd bring this magic to a world where skateboarding is power. This starts the moment the show begins with the Main Theme. With light rap accentuating the electronic melody with light guitar, you know you'll be in for a good time.

This score is another way I was able to see my hours spent on Need for Speed and Forza Horizon in its mash-up of genres. Rock and electronic music work together here, creating a soundscape that's both lush and unapologetically brash. The S pieces bring the competitive drive to the beefs ("The Eyes of Insanity" gives me Taku Iwasaki a la Jormungand) that brings me right to the track. "Cracked and Flamed" is a back half track that gives fire and left me on the edge of my seat as ADAM's tournament progressed. "Lonely Skate Boy" captures the apprehension Reki faces when his self-doubt comes in. Finally, "The Way of Thaw" is aptly named for the moment it pops up in during the final episode, and for what it signifies. Takahashi displays another compelling mix to keep my attention and feel like I'm about to give it my all alongside our characters, or just feel like I'm in a reality TV show, living my Top Model runway fantasies in ways only IDOLiSH7 can. I had no complaints.

I was also happy with the Japanese voice acting for SK8. I did watch a couple episodes of the dub, and while I liked some of the voices, did feel the broadcast mixing was too muffled for my tastes (I'm going to clock not recording in studio because of quarantine), along with the script feeling too exuberant at times, potentially for the sake of fanservice if nothing else (some of the things Ainosuke/ADAM says are questionable). I felt the original Japanese track nailed the perfect balance between high camp and why so serious. I liked getting to hear both Tasuku Hatanaka and Chiaki Kobayashi in context for the first time after hearing good things about them. The former brings the perfect amount of enthusiasm to Reki even at his low points, and the latter gives Langa aloofness while still showing he's got a good head on his shoulders. There's a great mix of anime faves and up and coming talent, too. It shouldn't come as a surprise that my favorite seiyuu is Takehito Koyasu, who pretty much sells ADAM in the only way you'd expect and milks every minute of it. The contrast between his voice in and out of S to Kenta Miyake's as Hiromi/SHADOW is also interesting, given SHADOW out of makeup feels more like a character than his skating persona does. It's a fun contrast.

Other highlights include Hikaru Midorikawa (as always, he delivers), Yasunori Matsumoto (who I've been incidentally hearing more of in the past couple years, and gives Joe the perfect amount of machismo), Takuma Nagatsuka (he brings the good energy to Miya), Kensho Ono (who reads like an older Mika as Tadashi), Takako Honda (who continues to play serious characters well, but my basis for that in Nightmare Moon/Princess Luna), Kenta Okuma (Best Manager), Mie Sonozaki (who takes Concerned Mom into a different realm, and for more episodes), Masaya Fukunishi (I've grown on him. Thank Haikyuu), all of Ainosuke's aunts, and Saori Hayami (once a fave, always a fave).


SK8 was able to give me an immersive anime experience I hadn't gotten the chance to live before. Here's a show that comes close to flaunting its unapologetic self at every corner, reminding me of my childhood, how masculinity and femininity can co-exist, and sprinkling in some memorable characters along the way. This doesn't mean it didn't have its fair share of problems. Okouchi both steps to the plate and strikes out with some story and character beats (although don't think that doesn't meant I don't appreciate how he crafts character here), how our posse forms lingers beneath the ground, and the ending could have hit stronger. That said, SK8 was still able to be the most memorable show I watched this year because of how much I connected to it. Its flaws may be noticeable, but I still crossed the finish line feeling indulged, reflective, and ready to stan Ainosuke Shindo/ADAM. It'd be a waste of time for me to consider if I would have latched onto this show's themes had I seen it the year it came out. It'll stand the test of time in some shape or form.

Will Season 2 be able to do the same? It's hard to say. Again, despite some of the subplots not getting closure, the main story comes to a satisfying conclusion in a way where more content may not be needed. There's a portion of my brain that's interested to see what will happen with this world, though. Will we get a new Big Bad? Can Ainosuke do more to show he has a changed heart and isn't still slimy? Will we get more S skaters who give new meaning to the sport? Could two of those characters be twins for the aesthetic with something else waiting in the wings?

If reality TV can do it, so can SK8!

For all my queer anime fans out there, this show is definitely worth a watch if you're into sports shows, queer subtext/text, colorful animation, and good feels all around. For the anime viewers who find Utsumi's work to be fujoshi bait, I'd consider taking a peak at this and seeing if it'll change your mind. SK8's got more to it than meets the eye. It might not deliver on all its surprises, but that doesn't mean you won't have fun while you consume it.

Score: 8/10


Show depicts skating in a variety of forms and as appealing to everyone

Main story is engaging with a couple fun turns tabled

Round characters are engaging and easy to sympathize with

Ainosuke Shindo/ADAM

Colorful animation with cool skateboarding tricks

Fun OST and voice acting


Homoeroticism both lands and strikes out

How the main group forms isn't my favorite

Reki doesn't feel like the protagonist in his own story

The flat characters are quasi flat (SHADOW deserved better)