Much as how Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl was created by legendary manga writer and artist Naoki Urasawa in advance of the Barcelona Olympics having the first women’s Olympic Judo competition, the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Summer Olympics has had several sports anime released for the various new sports for those games. I’ve already discussed the bouldering anime, and we also got a surfing anime which I wasn’t really able to get into – at least not enough that I felt comfortable reviewing it. However, arguably the best of these is has been SK8: The Infinity, which wrapped just last season.
SK8: The Infinity is set on Okinawa, and follows Langa, who is of mixed Japanese and Anglo (Canadian) origin, who has moved back to Okinawa with his mother after his father’s death. Back in Canada he had been really into snowboarding, but he’d lost interest in the sport after his father (who taught him how to snowboard) died. And as it is – it’s kind of a moot point, since there’s no snow in Okinawa. However, one of the first people he ends up meeting at his new school is Reki, who skateboards.
In particular, Reki not only teaches Langa to skateboard – but also introduces him to “S”, an underground downhill skate race in the hills near the town, near a now abandoned mine and factory. The race has various colorful characters who have the top spots, with people taking on persona to hide their real identity (like celebrity calligrapher Kaworu Sakurayashiki taking on the identity of Cherry Blossom, and in universe Diet member Ainosuke Shindo under the identity of ADAM).
In summary, Sports Anime ensues – Langa and Reki build a coterie of friends around themselves through skateboarding, Langa demonstrates some absurdly over-the-top skateboarding techniques (mainly involving catching serious air, playing off his background in snowboarding). Oh, and there’s also some very heavy gay text – but that’s not surprising since this is from the director of both Free! and Banana Fish.
What makes the show really work is the fact that the writers and animators of SK8 really get skateboarding. Not only does Langa end up bailing a lot as he learns to skateboard (with a fair number of faceplants and nearly getting hit by a car), but the ending credits is a montage of the protagonists, who we’ve all seen pulling off impressive skateboarding feats over the show, just repeatedly eating shit. This includes not one, but two instances of characters getting crotched which, if you’ve ever watched a skateboarding bail video, is rather common (especially when learning rail grinds).
Additionally, in spite of skateboarding being an Olympic sport now (something acknowledged within the show), the anime also upfront acknowledges that to authority figures, Skateboarding Is A Crime (when it’s not) – When Langa and Reki are skateboarding outside of designated skate parks and S, and when not for basic transportation, odds are high that there may be a rent-a-cop out to attempt to chase them down. Even S itself is not viewed as okay by the police, and the cops try to break it up at one point.
Yeah, there’s Sports Anime absurdities here (Cherry Blossom’s AI controlled board being able to change shape, non-participating cast members doing color commentary, etc.), but it feels sincere, even if it’s still super over-the-top at points. Even if it doesn’t get me to try to take up skating (with my 30-something slowed ability to heal), it may get me to pick up Tony Hawk Pro Skater again.
Also, we really need a set of Tech Decks for each of the character’s boards.
SK8: The Infinity is currently available to stream on Funimation’s site, both subbed and dubbed.
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