[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be taking a look at the skateboarding epic SK8 the Infinity! Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is Sk8 the Infinity worth analyzing, or is it a waste of your time?]
We all like dumb garbage, right? No matter how fancy or highbrow our tastes may be, there will always be one show, one movie, that is just plain stupid. And despite that, or sometimes because of it, we love it. We love just how adamantly boneheaded a series or movie can be and nothing will ever dissuade us from it.
To use an example outside of anime, take the Fast & the Furious franchise. Is it stupid? Oh my God it’s unbelievably stupid. When the latest installment features rocket cars that try to go into space and just the verbal diahrea that is “family,” there is a lot to make fun about the series. It’s stupid beyond belief, and yet it’s one of the most profitable movie franchises of all time. I got into a debate over this weekend just about how yes, the series may be dumb, but it’s a ton of fun no matter how you look at it. And while I haven’t seen any of the films (I know, shock), I can understand the sentiment.
Anime is no different, with the amount of dumb shlock being plentiful in the anime industry. While the majority of anime nowadays consists of fairly effective action series, and there are a rare few series that actually bother to say something meaningful or deliver an exemplary experience, you would think that there would be a ton of shows that fall into the pool of being just dumb fun. Yet strangely enough that isn’t the case. They lack that certain je ne sais quoi if you will. There’s a certain type of art to making a series that is stupid, knows its stupid, but doesn’t care because it’s having a good time. It’s a formula that is hard to crack, but I think we can try and figure out what kind of anime encourages you to turn off your brain and just enjoy the pretty colors and fun characters. And I think we can do that with SK8 the Infinity.
Released in the winter of 2021, SK8 the Infinity stood out from the crowded pack almost immediately, sporting a bright color palette and being centered on an unusual topic for an anime; skateboarding. Here in America, skateboarding has been a fixture of youth culture for decades. Ever since celebrities like Tony Hawk and Bam Margera came onto the scene in the 90s, skateboarding has been generally accepted as being a product of youth culture. It’s even gained enough prominence that now it’s going to be a category in the Olympics! But while the sport has generally received mainstream attention, praise, and profitability in the States, in Japan the opposite couldn’t be more true.
Skateboarding in Japan is seen as being a social taboo. In a society richly versed in conformity and not rocking the boat, skateboarding represents everything that Japan isn’t. It disturbs the peace and causes a scene, turning public spaces that are normally meant for everyday activities into breeding grounds for anarchistic activities. Or at least, that’s what the belief in Japan is. It’s to the point where if you even have a skateboard on you, you’re seen as being a thug and a potential criminal, so people only skate in the dead of night or in secluded locations.
So skateboarding has a pretty negative connotation in Japanese culture. That doesn’t really help to explain why skateboarding anime really hasn’t been created up until this point when even in the 90s we had animated shows like Rocket Power that homaged the counterculture extreme sports movement at the time. Well, while it’s still a part of the counter-culture movement in Japan, skateboarding is also really hard to animate properly, since capturing skateboarding on film has its own set film language and cinematography that is next to impossible to animate. Imagine trying to perfectly recreate footage like this in animation. The amount of skill that would require is absurd, yet the madmen and women at Studio Bones attempted it.
It’s no surprise then that SK8 the Infinity serves as a passion project for its director, Hiroko Utsumi, who is most well known for Free! and Banana Fish. Both series have a very particular vision to them and if you’re at all familiar with Utsumi’s work, then you should be content in knowing that SK8 the Infinity is probably the perfect distillation of her particular type of directorial eye. In case you don’t, she basically animates fan-service shows centered on ridiculously hot guys. I know that may be a gross oversimplification of her particular style, but there’s no getting over the fact that Utsumi loves to direct series about really, really, ridiculously good-looking guys in intense melodramatic situations, whether it be swimming competitions or skateboaring duels.
And that’s perfectly fine. For an industry that almost seems catered at times to stoking flame wars over waifus and best girls, it’s refreshing to see the alternative. Seeing a feminine eye create boy toys for women and men to oggle over is a-okay! That is, if the series is able to get it right. You can have all of the best eye candy in the world, but sex appeal can only go so far in keeping audiences engaged. After awhile, the appeal will wear off, and it will always wear off. Soon you grow accustomed to the bodies on display and eventually you’re left with a show that still has to entertain beyond a surface level reading.
SK8 the Infinity, as ridiculous as it sounds, is what you get if you combined anime with the WWF and added in a spoonful of Fight Club. There’s an underground skateboarding competition called SK8 where skateboarders from across Japan compete in the dead of night. There are tons of celebrities in the competition, each with their own unique gimmick and personality, but none of them as as feared and as respected as the unbeatable skateboarder Adam, the Matador of Love. But we don’t follow the exploits of Adam, but instead a young skateboarding superfan named Reki as he aspires to be the best skateboarder of all and teach his new friend Langa, an immigrant from Canada, how to skateboard and have a good time.
The format of the series is pretty straightforward with each episode usually delivering a climactic skateboard battle featuring firecrackers, robot boards, and burly musclemen using their skills to claim the gold. Outside of the competition, we see the skateboarders living their lives and also dealing with drama outside of SK8, like seeing Shadow, the prototypical wrestling heel by night, be a meek and mild-mannered flower shop employee trying to muster up the courage to ask his boss out on a date. Or the resentment that Cherry and Joe feel about Adam, who used to be a close friend of theirs in real life who betrayed them for fame and power.
It has the complexity of a wrestling show and I mean that in the best way possible. There’s just a raw mentality that the series perfectly captures. You know exactly when to cheer for the faces (good guys), boo the heels (bad guys), and marvel in awe at the spectacle in front of you. Wrestling is another sport that rarely gets any anime representation and has a distinctly American vibe to it. A part of me wants to say that SK8 the Infinity feels like its inspired by America and American culture, just transposed in a Japanese setting.
All of the competitors at SK8 don’t talk about their skills outside of the track. Everyone leads their everyday lives and for many of them, if it ever got out that they were skateboarding, their careers would be ruined. Adam, also known as Ainosuke, is cautioned by his secretary that his obsession with skateboarding can and would destroy his career as a politician. The police are also frequently on the look-out for skateboarders, but not in a post-apocalyptic kind of way. Usually it’s just a slap on the wrist if they’re caught, or in the case of Reki and Langa, being chased by the shcool gym teacher and given a detention.
Ultimately, the core dynamic of the show is about the budding friendship between Langa and Reki and how it constantly evolves and changes over the course of the 12 episodes. At first Reki is seen as the expert, guiding the inexperienced Langa and teaching simple tasks like standing on the board or trying to ollie. Eventually Langa surpasses Reki at an alarming rate, which causes one of the biggest subversions I’ve seen in an anime of this type. The cocky, hot-headed kid with extremely large ambitions that we’re introduced as being the main character of the series is actually not our hero. Langa is.
It’s an interesting dyanmic shift, but it’s one that feels refreshing. We’re used to seeing certain tropes in fiction, and one of the biggest ones in anime is the hot-headed MC who gets by purely by determination and guts. Unfortunately for Reki, as he soon comes to realize, he just doesn’t have the skills to break through his skill ceiling. He can never be as good as Langa becomes and even though he hangs out with a lot of other awesome skateboarders, he knows he’ll never be at their level. Reki actually develops an inferiority complex in the series and while it is a nice change of pace, it does lead him to mope around for several episodes and crosses into “pretty boys with problems” territory.
But Reki’s journey as a character is emblematic of the central theme of the show itself as it relates to both him and Langa, and Langa with Adam. Adam is, to put it mildly, an absolutely insane villain who devours the scenery at every opportunity and is so hammy that a BBQ in Texas couldn’t produce as much pulled pork as this guy does. He just exudes confidence and every time the man speaks it’s glorious. Whether it be comparing Langa as his Eve, going all emo for his final fight with a skeleton outfit, or tap dancing on his skateboard as he dances with his opponents at Mach 5. He’s so OP he skates up hills and defies gravity. Does it make any sense? Not at all, but that’s just who Adam is. He’s also the kind of guy who, in the English dub of the series, makes a grand appearance to start a skateboarding tournament by calling out to his “Bitches, bros, and non-binary hoes.” I love it!
But Adam’s ultimate goal in the series is purely one of self-service. He beats and injures skateboarders because he can and he views himself as being the best. He does it to fulfill his sense of pride in his abilities. Slowly Langa starts to feel this way as he becomes obsessed with defeating Adam, much in the same way Adam wants to possess Langa as his special someone. But Reki, after getting out of his self-loathing, comes to another conclusion. He doesn’t want to skate because he wants to be the best like no one ever was. He wants to skate because it’s fun. It’s something he loves to do and he can’t imagine doing anything else besides it.
SK8 the Infinity drives that point home every chance it can get. Sure, this is ultimately a competition to see who is the best skater but by the end every character reveals that they like to skate because it’s fun. There’s a joy in what they do and they do it not out of a sense of glory, but because they wouldn’t be where they were if it wasn’t for skating. The sport is bsaically illegal in universe, yet they don’t care if they get caught. They don’t care if they get injured in the process because that just comes with the territory. Getting injured just means that they’ll have to try again next time, something that I’m sure most skateboarders can relate to after failing to perform a trick. Also, special mention goes out to the show’s ED for just showcasing various ways tricks can fail and what those failures look like.
There’s a clear sense of joy that Utsumi gets from just creating a series about people who love what they do. The show wears its heart on its sleeve and is so adamant about its love for the sport and for anyone with a passion. Outside of writing, my go to-activity sporting activity I like to go to Nerf events. I have a squad that I always go with (MCZU represent!) and we have a blast, showing off our blaster modiciations, sharing specifications or cosmetic designs, or even revealing custom made blasters built from scratch. Whenever anyone asks why we do what we do, we always have the exact same response; it’s fun! We love doing what we do and we wouldn’t have it any other way. So I can relate to Reki in just feeling the joy around a particular hobby, no matter how niche it is.
But man oh man is SK8 the Infinity dumb. As anyone who has ever seen a wrestling show before can attest, it can get quite dumb quite fast. Only in SK8 the Infinity can a skateboarding “technique” be considered picking up your skateboard and smashing it across someone’s face, giving them a concussion. The Christ metaphors are through the roof with Adam, and watching competitors skateboard down mountains will never not be ludicrous. However, SK8 the Infinity is aware of this. It’s so over-the-top that it’s impossible to not admire. Someone, somewhere, created and approved of creating a juggalo skateboarder and I can only applaud that they somehow were able to get away with it. You just how to admire the passion that was clearly put into this show creatively just to bring some of these concepts to life. Sometimes that passion can be mismanaged however, but we’ll circle back to that next month.
But no matter how you slice it, SK8 the Infinity is virtually impossible to hate. It’s not cynical at all in its presentation. I never once felt that I was being marketed to buy any merchandise or to check out the cource material, mostly because this is an anime original series. This was just a story that Utsumi wanted to tell and she wanted to get it right, going so far as to hire a who had experience designing skateboards to design the skateboards in such a way that they can be created in real life if you knew how to customize and build boards. They wanted authenticity and they got it. There’s just so much here that reeks of dedication it’s impossible not to appreciate.
And even if I didn’t love the show as much as I do, I think that everyone can find something to appreciate in SK8 the Infinity. It knows exactly what kind of show it is trying to be and aims to be the best it can be. Subtlety is not a word in the show’s vocabulary and if that bothers you, then you MAY have a problem with it. But even in the face of sheer stupidity, there’s no denying the love that the characters have for what they do, just as the heroes of the Fast & the Furious movies love their cars, or Dante from the Devil Mary Cry series thinks he’s the coolest thing in the world. If a piece of entertainment can make us, the audience, believe that something is rad and awesome despite all of the clear logical flaws it presents, then that’s a solid piece of dumb fun. SK8 the Infinity is glorious dumb fun that every single anime fan should experience in these warm spring and summer months.