Hiroko Utsumi’s SK8 the Infinity caught my eye quickly, and it isn’t hard to see why. Yukari Gotou’s color design has left a mark on some of my all-time favorite shows and it’s no less stunning here. Additionally, this show doesn’t shy away from a spectacle that stretches suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. It commits wholeheartedly to a melodramatic skating scene that means everything to these characters.
In my first post about SK8, I mentioned that it reminded me of the first sports anime that truly hooked me years back: Kuroko no Basket. To me, it was the Dragonball Z of sports anime. It was insane and its characters were practically superhuman. By season 3, the visual representations of their skill were barely metaphor within the context.
Even so, I fell in love with the characters and felt their desire to win for whatever reasons the sport meant something to them. SK8 rekindled that magic for me. For how larger-than-life these characters are, there are themes about relationships and the fear of “losing someone” that make the story emotional.
At the beginning of the show, Reki Kyan has all the charm you’d expect of a protagonist in a show like this. He’s been skating for years and acts as the mentor for Langa Hasegawa, the new kid from Canada. Langa needs the help, but he’s certainly a fast learner, taking his experiences from snowboarding and implementing that into skating.
As the first half of the season came to a close, I worried that Langa would catch up too quickly. When he managed to beat Shadow in a race, he seemed like something of a prodigy. Although it balanced out since his opponent underestimated him and the conditions made it mostly easy to believe.
But going into the second half of the series, Langa truly started to become a prodigy and it was exactly what I feared. And yet, I didn’t mind. And it’s because of the direction they went with Reki. He suffered a truly frightening defeat at the hands of Adam, the antagonist, and suddenly skating became scary.
Reki’s arc in the second half felt very real, despite all the silliness and overly dramatic theatrics that permeate the show. Reki wasn’t just embarrassed that he lost, he was afraid because he could have been seriously hurt. To make matters worse, he sees how popular Langa is getting and how unpopular he is by comparison.
But it isn’t simple jealousy plaguing him. He’s also concerned for Langa. Reki knows that Adam is obsessed with Langa and doesn’t want him getting hurt as he did. All of these complicated feelings of anger and sadness and embarrassment push Reki to distance himself from his friends.
I’m not sure if everyone can relate to this, but I certainly know that there have been times where something happens and suddenly I fear falling out of love with an activity that meant a lot to me. The problem can only be solved by facing it head-on because if it’s something you enjoy doing, you shouldn’t let something insignificant keep you from it.
The tension between Reki and Langa was the most satisfying arc to watch unfold. It successfully manages to make Reki a far deeper and more relatable protagonist, while justifying how overpowered Langa is. It’s an impressive turn for the story to take.
The supporting cast pulled their weight in the latter half. Shadow being this heavy-metal-themed skater only to be a sweetheart-by-day was awesome and he deserves all the happiness in the world. Miya annoyed me at first by being a total brat that just talked about everything like it was a video game. He was boring, but as soon as Reki and Langa started having problems, he turned into this super concerned friend who just wanted them to stop being stupid and talk about their problems.
Finally, there’s Cherry and Joe. They may bicker like an old married couple, but the way they talk about the antagonist, Adam, it’s almost like they are the protagonists of another story very similar to Reki and Langa. Except they failed to reconnect with Adam, who used to be their friend. The dichotomy between the two groups makes the conclusion feel even more significant. Cherry and Joe are placing their bets on Reki and Langa to get through to Adam in the way they couldn’t.
Langa, being this stupidly talented but ultimately incorruptible prodigy, is the perfect opponent to face off against Adam. It’s not just to knock him down a peg, but to help him learn the same lesson that Reki relearns: Skating is fun. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
The animation, in traditional Bones form, is at 100% practically the entire time. The insane lengths the show goes to in its conclusion just to cater to how extra Adam is as a villain makes for quite the sight. It’s stupid, it abandons all realism, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It already earned it through emotional character drama. They could have pulled a Gurren Lagann and gone to space and I would have been locked in.
Actually… they kinda did. I mean- they didn’t go to space, but the show decimated the suspension of disbelief. As if to rip off off Kuroko no Basket, they have characters enter “the zone” and explain it here almost the exact same way. Between this and Jujutsu Kaisen explaining it similarly as well, I’m starting to think Japanese screenwriters legitimately believe athletes can go super sayian. I mean… I’m not an athlete so who am I to deny it but… strangely, this is becoming so common.
Overall, SK8 the Infinity is a colorful reminder that a sports anime doesn’t have to be realistic or tied down to the real world to get us invested in characters that feel real, no matter how theatrical. And I’d love to just end it there, but I feel like I can’t.
There has, unsurprisingly, been a lot of people who ship some of these characters together. Now, whatever your opinion on shipping culture in fandoms, allow me to just be transparent. I am a gay male and I would love to see more openly gay characters in media in relationships with other males, in genres that aren’t just romances or dramas. So when I see something that I think has legitimate worth as a gay relationship in media, I’m gonna invest some time into analyzing it.
The way this was directed and written leads me to believe that there was an intention to give these characters an element of romance. This was an original script written by Ichirou Ookouchi, the man who wrote Devilman Crybaby, a show unabashed in the normalized portrayal of LGBT characters. The director, Hiroko Utsumi, also directed Banana Fish, MAPPA’s gayest show that ISN’T Yuri on Ice. There was a good chance of this being canonically gay.
The staff credentials notwithstanding, the direction and writing of these two characters were pretty clearly coded – in my eyes – as queer. Episode 10 brought me to tears initially because the scenes of Reki and Langa coming to terms with how they were being separated, and then making up, felt like two guys finally opening up about how much the other means to them. And it was the idea of them being gay that made that episode so powerful.
But then, at the end of the final episode, I felt a little empty. The story wrapped up appropriately enough, but I wanted something more. I was hoping for a more direct affirmation of their relationship. And I grappled with whether or not it was right to hold it against the show, but I’m confident in saying now that I would have loved this more if it was braver.
I’m tired of shows that bait us in and don’t have the balls to confidently say that their characters are gay. It’s always “implied,” but implications can be denied by bigots or even the producers when the question comes up. Are the characters in Free! Iwatobi Swim Club gay? Then where’s the hand-holding? Where’s the kiss? Where’s the proposal after Haru and Makoto started living together after college?
Yuri on Ice back in 2016 was so blatant with its visual storytelling that it was impossible to deny that the characters were gay. They had scene after scene of romantic tension, then they kissed (though it was censored), and then they fucking proposed. And all the fuckers on Discord that bitched to me about it not being really gay never got on my case ever again.
Some ask: “Is a kiss or a verbal confirmation needed when the subtext is so strong?” That’s a great question.
It feels like there are two extremes. Either the homoeroticism is very subtextual and can be pointed at harmlessly as an element that adds depth, or the media is direct in saying “yeah this character is gay.” To the former, I would point to something like The Lighthouse or Promare. Reuben Baron of CBR wrote an article about the gay subtext in both that I encourage you to read.
See, with subtext, someone could mention that about The Lighthouse – a film that’s already pretty dense with symbolism – and I could be like “huh, never thought of that.” Similarly, Promare‘s plot makes for a fairly fun and simple action story, akin to a lot of the action films I’ve grown up loving. And what do a lot of classic films have? A romantic subplot between two leads.
Promare features a kiss between its two male leads; the kind of symbolic romanticism that normally is seen exclusively between heteronormative pairings. People don’t normally care because, eh why not, the imagery of a romantic kiss is nice. To that, I say, “yeah, it is, so let’s get more gay versions of that.”
But if Promare did all of that, without outwardly saying “we’re totally gay for each other” AND I really like it for the queerness (among everything else), then why am I disappointed with SK8? Maybe because any subtext in SK8 is practically meaningless when so much of the main story is dealing with the interpersonal relationship of these two characters already.
Promare has subtext for days and a story about fire vs ice/ order vs chaos/ discrimination vs rebellion. It is about something that is at the core of countless discussions, making it a film that can be co-opted by many communities as a symbol or even just a talking point.
SK8 the Inifinity may have subtext, but it certainly isn’t reliant on it. Having all of this buildup only to never have the characters truly become a couple feels like a missed opportunity. They even had the camera cut away when Langa asked Reki to make him a promise about something. I thought maybe based on the presentation that it was something like a date, but it was something else entirely.
You might be thinking: “But if they are so obviously gay, does it matter?”
Yes. I know people who have pointed to shows like Symphogear and said that that is an example of gay romance “without saying they’re gay.”
First, I would say that there is a double standard with girl-on-girl romance in anime, and seeing male characters be openly gay is rarer. Secondly, even when I got to the end of Symphogear‘s wonderful final season, I still wished they had the balls to let them kiss.
If we’re all really comfortable with gay characters in anime and we all know the signs that an anime is gaybaiting, then why not have characters confess their love? Why not have real conversations where a character’s sexuality comes up, as it would normally? And finally, why not have them kiss or at least hold hands in an undeniably romantic context.
I want screenwriters to be bold; to go big or go home. I’m tired of “implied” gay. I want my characters to be boldly gay. And that is what holds this show back from being really, really great. It has a good story with good characters. However, it betrays those same characters by not being honest about them.
I have a feeling this topic deserves a longer, more thorough editorial to really explain the possible schools of thought on this topic, but that’s where I honestly found myself by the end of SK8.
It is a wonderful show, but it could have been more.