Sports anime can be exciting, endearing, optimistic, emotional, and in some respects, way better than actual sports. But many shows fall into a tired trope: having a protagonist who is really good at their respective sport from the very beginning. Which makes SK8 the Infinity so refreshing. The show has a sports prodigy, but Reki, the protagonist of SK8 the Infinity, isn’t the prodigy himself — and it makes all the difference
When studio Bones and creator Hiroko Utsumi first introduce Reki, he’s narrating to the audience how some people define happiness as being rich, famous, or respected. Though he doesn’t offer an answer for what he believes happiness is, his actions speak for themselves. The next thing we see him do is participate in the high-thrill, highly illegal, and highly dangerous skateboard racing track called “S.” Though Reki doesn’t have remarkable skills or a signature trick or fantastic persona going for him, he finds happiness through the thrill and challenge that comes with skating.
Things change however when a new kid arrives in town and joins his class. Langa is a half-Japanese kid returning from Canada, where his dad taught him how to snowboard. In a move that would make Johnny Tsunami proud, Langa proves himself quite the skating prodigy, effortlessly translating his snowboarding skills to asphalt and concrete to become the hottest new sensation of “S.” Reki and Langa become friends, though it becomes clear early on that Langa’s skills quickly grow beyond anything that Reki can teach him. But the bond the two share over skating takes precedence over any sort of rivalry.
As with most other sports films and TV shows, sports anime are predominantly about following an underdog with the ability to become the very best (like no one ever was). After all, what would have become of Ashita no Joe if Joe Yabuki had never won a fight? Even if the Karasuno High school volleyball team from Haikyuu!! were to have lost a big game, part of the fun is knowing that they’ll pick themselves back up, train harder, and come back stronger than before for round two. But what makes SK8 the Infinity special is how early it makes it clear that Reki will never be on the same level as the other superstars of “S.”
Though the show’s early episodes didn’t make a big deal out of this distinction in levels of skill, episode 7 and onwards began changing gears and started emphasizing Reki’s feelings about being left out, perhaps inevitably due to the competitive nature of sports. No matter how much Reki loves skating, the show makes clear that being surrounded by so many great talents has given him impostor syndrome. The biggest risk to Reki’s sports livelihood is losing sight of recognizing his own talents — no matter how much Langa and their friends try to convince him otherwise.
Whereas easier dramas might portray Reki as jealous, SK8 the Infinity depicts the skater and Langa’s shared passion having naturally changed and deepened alongside their friendship. After winning several races against big-time skaters, including going toe-to-toe with the mastermind behind “S,” a masked skater named Adam, Langa is no longer content with just skating; he needs more. Langa is now in it for the thrill of pushing himself to the limit just because he can, facing increasingly more dangerous opponents because he now knows that he has what it takes to catch up to them. But he might also lose his friend in pursuing a view of skating that Reki cannot follow himself.
The show almost provides a bit of inspiration, or potential solution, to Reki’s issues of self-confidence when he watches a TV interview in episode 8, where a not-so-talented track runner found his passion making shoes to support other athletes. Reki has always been great at supporting others, not only through the example of him teaching Langa how to skate, but even going as far as having built Langa a skateboard designed specifically to support his snowboarding skills. This doesn’t mean that he has to abandon skateboarding to become a craftsman, but that SK8 is building up to an eventual moment of realization. Reki will have to find a way to go back to enjoying the sport for the love of the sport itself and stop being so self-conscious about his own skills.
For most people, their relationship with sports is one where they see and evaluate others as they share their excitement, but never really get to be in the spotlight. SK8 the Infinity is building up to a sports anime show unlike few others: One that acknowledges the excitement of being able to share your passions with others, as well as the frustration of recognizing you may never be the best at what you love. So far, SK8 is about the different things people love about skating — the thrill of surpassing yourself, the fame and respect that comes with being good — but that we also don’t need anything fancy to be happy. Reki just needs to skate.
SK8 the Infinity streams on Funimation.