So far, week 3 of the Winter 2021 season has been kind to the overachievers on the schedule, and to the bubble boys as well. Tenchi Souzou Design-bu continues to be entertaining, and 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team had its best episode so far (though by no means a great one). Kai Byoui Ramune and SK∞ are a clear level above those shows for me though, and both of them had very strong outings as well. Ramune was my out and out sleeper for the season, but SK∞ has definitely exceeded my expectations so far. There’s some really good stuff happening here, better than I would have expected from this writer and director even with Bones’ involvement.
Basically, SK∞ is just fun to an illegal extent. It’s Bones cranked up to eleven, all boyish enthusiasm and bombast and goofiness. It’s also a reminder that Bones takes a back seat to no one when it comes to hand-drawn motion in anime. While there is a smattering of CGI here, with a Bones series it never dominates, and the skating sequences are really beautifully shot. I don’t think there’s a huge margin for error with a show like this, with its relative limited ambition. You pretty much have to nail it for it to work, and SK∞ is nailing it. It’s like preparing a recipe with only 3 or 4 ingredients – you better make damn well sure those ingredients are really high quality.
As we wade deeper into the story, it’s becoming clear that Langa is a prodigy to an extent that Reki is not. Whether it’s Reki’s fate to basically become Langa’s equipment man I don’t know, but Langa is already surpassing him – and Reki is noticing – and Reki is showing considerable skill and intuition in board design. He keeps tweaking things more and more to suit Langa’s snowboarding approach – swapping out the bindings for toe clips, swapping out standard wheels for spinners (like on luggage or office chairs) so turns will feel more like what Langa is used to.
All this is in service of his upcoming “beef” with Miya, on whom much of this episode focuses. He’s a phenom, obviously, but Reki notes in ultra-Bones fashion that he doesn’t look like he’s having fun when he skates. There’s a reason for that of course – Miya is already dealing with the pressures of being a star, and his elite status has cost him his friendships with his fellow sk8er boyz, especially former best friend Taka. To be fair, from what we see it looks like the split was caused by their jealously rather than Miya’s arrogance. But the result is that Miya has become a cocky little guttersnipe pretending to embrace his lone wolf existence.
When it comes time for the beef, Shadow decides to follow in his car to get a close look at what kicked his ass, and Reki tags along uninvited. Shadow is already emerging as more a comic figure than true antagonist (someone else seems to be stepping into that role). The beef itself is another tour de force of animation and cinematography, with Langa pulling out every risky snowboarding trick he knows to pip Miya at the finish. After he does so Adam (Koyasu Takehito) shows up and rips Miya to shreds – interesting, as in real life he’s seemingly in charge of the skateboarding business empire sponsoring him.
A new friendship is born here, as Reki more or less kidnaps Miya into his party, and Adam would appear to be the villain of the piece. I think that means everyone, including Shadow and the still largely unexplored Joe and Cherry Blossom, will wind up as allies taking Adam on, but in truth I’m not expecting things with SK∞ to ever get dark and serious. This is the skateboarding anime the world needed, whether it knew it or not, and as long as it keeps attacking the audience with the same earnest ebullience it is now, things should be just fine.