Content warnings: Gendered insults and objectification of women.
What’s it about? In an abandoned mine on Okinawa, skateboarders gather for the “S” races, where anything goes and the cost of losing can be steep. When 17-year-old transfer student Langa meets the young skater Reki, he gets pulled into the world of underground skating, bringing his own unique style from his days of snowboarding in Canada.
Sk8 the Infinity (or Sk8er Boiz, as I’ve been calling it) is the latest offering from Utsumi Hiroko (Free!, Banana Fish), one of the few high-profile female directors in the industry. While I support her work in theory, I’ve never been able to get into her shows in practice—but this time, she’s working with studio BONES on an anime-original, too-cool-for-school racing show! Surely this time would be different, I thought as I greedily claimed the premiere review.
And, so far, my feeling was right… with a few caveats, anyway.
The first thing you have to know about Sk8 the Infinity (Skinfinity?) is that it’s damn fun. Something of a skateboarding version of drag-racing flicks, it oozes energy from every frame. The racing sequences are a dizzying combination of dynamic animation and gorgeous storyboards; the characters are expressive in that endearingly exaggerated way I’ve come to associate with BONES anime; the backgrounds are lush with personality; and the music is excellently suited to each scene.
If you think about Sk8er Boiz for more than, like, five seconds, you remember that the premise is extremely silly (abandoned mines! skate-bombs! concrete snowboarding!), but the series is also aware of this and strikes exactly the right tone of enjoyable escapism. This is perhaps best exemplified by the show’s opening and ending themes, where the OP emphasizes the cool factor while the ED emphasizes the humor, featuring each of our skaters attempting a sick trick and magnificently beefing it.
Our two protagonists are also immediately likable, with hints of personal struggles and lots of room to explore their stories. Reki is a spirited long-time skateboarding fanatic and talented craftsman (he builds his own boards) who’s still struggling to make a name for himself in the racing world. Langa is the more poker-faced outsider, a mixed-race transfer student initially just focused on finding a part-time job who soon discovers a way to pursue his passion for snowboarding even while living in the tropics.
The two have different surface-level personalities but basically get along well, leaving the initial conflicts to come from the other racers—particularly Shadow, the “antihero of the ‘S’ world” who would be right at home at an ICP concert. It’s still too early to know if Reki and Langa will become partners, rivals, or a mix of both (and there’s no sexual tension whatsoever at this point, if you were hoping for queer subtext), but they’re entertaining to watch regardless.
And, now that I’ve told you all how much fun I had watching this premiere, allow me to put on my Feminist Killjoy Hat, because yikes, does Sk8er Boiz have a worrisome sexist streak.
The lack of female racers is disappointing but not exactly surprising given the genre, since both male- and female-led sports anime tend to ignore the existence of other genders. Far more concerning, though, is when Reki casually explains that every S race involves a bet where the racers put “something” on the line—from “money” to “an apology” to “women.” It’s uncomfortably objectifying, suggesting that women are no more than prizes to be won and lost in this world.
Things don’t get any better at the races themselves. The only female character outside of Langa’s mom is a nameless skater’s nameless girlfriend who exists solely to have gendered insults screamed at her. Shadow reminds the boyfriend that the bet for this race was “a tattoo” and threatens that, if he wins, he’ll force the boyfriend to get “Dumpster Slut” tattooed above his girlfriend’s name.
All of this took maybe 60 seconds of the entire episode, so it’s not a deal-breaker for me yet, but these kinds of seemingly throwaway moments can build on each other and suck the joy out of a series in a hurry. I like these sk8er boiz and don’t particularly want to say “see ya later boys,” so hopefully the series got all its obligatory Edgy Counterculture Misogyny out of its system and we can focus on the cool races from now on.
Beyond that, there’s not much to talk about from a feminist perspective. The show is pretty chill about Langa being half-Japanese. There are a handful of background darker-skinned characters and a single Black man who gives Langa an S race pass, but he has no lines so there’s really nothing to say about BIPOC rep at this point. The series takes place on Okinawa and could, in theory, explore a variety of sociocultural topics, such as the indigenous Ryukyuan peoples or the unwanted presence of the U.S. military… but, honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
My expectations for Sk8 the Infinity are that it will be bright, energetic, fantastically animated, rad as hell, and—assuming it can knock it off with the sporadic sexism—a lot of fun to watch. If you’re looking for something Nuanced And Deep, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. But if you’re in the mood for an engaging anime about likable kids doing sick grinds and sweet flips, then you and these sk8er boiz may just rock each other’s world.
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