WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT SKATE-LEADING☆STARS (Spoilers)

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By: Peggy Sue Wood | @peggyseditorial

I have said it before, and I will say it many more times–of that I am sure. I used to be a competitive figure skater. It was a long time ago, I had stop in high school due to several consecutive head injuries but I still love and follow the sport (I also still skate, just not competitively). 

When Yuri!!! on Ice was out, I loved it because it showed a lot of the cultural parts of skating. The travel, the personality types (in some cases, though not as much), the publicity, the news coverage, etc. We had cameos of famous skaters, we got to see competitions in a pretty realistic way, costuming, the dance and/or gymnastics that skaters must do on and off the ice, and so much more! (I could probably nerd about all the easter eggs and everything else all day long.) The skating in Yuri!!! on Ice is good too. The sounds are near perfect and the movements, though a bit stiff due to the use of CGI, are accurate. 

THAT ASIDE I think Skate-Leading☆Stars is better. In regards to the culture of skaters, SL☆S falls way short but that’s alright. After all, this is a sports anime set in a high school where sports is an all consuming entity and reality takes a back seat to guys with eccentric hair colors. The skating is what’s important here and OH LET ME TELL YOU it is near perfect.

Let’s look at this: 

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This is our MC, Kensei Maeshima, doing a triple axel (I think they called it a quadruple in the anime which would mean 4 spins but I counted 3 so I’m calling it a triple for now). It’s the only jump that takes off going forward in skating and is one of the most difficult jumps. All of the movement here is accurate–from the way he jumps up and straightens his legs as soon as possible with arms tucked in to help the spin, to the way he lands with a slight bend of the knee, curving around and throwing out the arms for balance (and flare). 

It’s gorgeous. And it continues. When we see Kensei practicing, we get these shots: 

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A Sit Spin ^

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Crossovers ^

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And a Salchow ^ (I think it is Salchow, but if could be a Lutz–the uncertainty comes from me finding it difficult to decipher which edge he’s on before jumping).

ALL OF THESE are beautifully animated and correct–from the way he pulls his arms in quickly and straightens his legs before bending for the landing again to the way he moves after landing. 

Crossovers are especially good as they help build momentum quickly before jumps, allowing a skater to travel more during their jump. 

And when he falls, you see something else that they train you for in skating–how to fall. It’s literally the first thing I was taught when I began taking lessons. Let me explain–in the gif above where he falls coming out of the Salchow, we see this:

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He landed on the correct foot, but was still coming out of the last half of his last turn. His other foot, which is meant to swing out, around, and behind him, before guiding the glide out of said jump, hits the ice at an angle as he lands thus causing most of the ice shaving we see happening to the top layer of ice as his other foot slides out from under him. 

Now, if your feet went out from under you–the first thing that you might do automatically is go to your knees or hands to protect your fall. In skating, it’s a bit different. If you fall, your aim is to quickly move to try and let your butt or thighs take the hit while trying to avoid joints (knees, elbows, and wrists) and head injuries. What does Kensei do? He quickly turns to land on his butt first:

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His hand skims the ice, but he moves it up, and off the ice as he bounces:

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He then turns during the bounce, aiming to land on his thighs (less painful in my experience, and less risk of a tailbone or head injury as you continue to bounce and slide on the ice). His arm extends outward to avoid hitting his elbow directly on the ice with the weight of his upper body against it, while moving the arm up, placing his bicep closer to the head (which will help prevent his head from smacking against the ice):

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Finally, he stops sliding and has, officially, “landed” his fall:

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Note how the head is tucked in, resting a bit on the bicep, his elbow is not being leaned against (or broken after this fall) since it is laying flat, and how he is on his side? Yeah. That’s a pretty great fall. 

You’d be a little scratched up after that if the ice was rough and since he wasn’t wearing a jacket/gloves–but you’d probably avoid bruising or any severe injuries. The reason for the fall was probably a combination of the scratched up ice (which he credits), being out of practice, and his need for more muscle training.  Still, AWESOME. He’s doing really well for being as out of practice as he is. 

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE STORY??

Okay–Now that I’ve nerded out about the skating I’ll talk about the larger story.

Kensei is hated by his current team. It reminds me a lot of the hate that was given towards Ren Mihashi in Big Windup! prior to transferring schools. 

Kensei is obviously very talented–I mean, not everyone can come back from being off the ice FOR YEARS and do jumps like that without seriously hurting themselves and falling all over the place. It’s not like riding a bike–it’s more like highly skilled dancing… on blades… on a very slippery surface where you are likely to seriously break something. His team hates him for some reason, and act like he’s not a team player or something but he doesn’t come off that way. Perhaps a bit overly confident for their liking, but he clearly has the skills to back it up and we have proof that he can play on a team since we’re shown him playing basketball in Episode 1 and told that he’s played on and been scouted by a number of other teams at the school.

If they dislike him because of him quitting for a while, I’d say they need to get over it because we learn in the first few minutes of the anime that before Kensei’s last competition he lost both his parents–who were professional ice-skaters–in a traumatic accident. 

In the flashback we see of him as a child, the reference point for why so many of his current teammates seem to hate him, we see that Kensei doesn’t seem to have any friends. In fact, our antagonist Reo Shinozaki is the one seen surrounded by people and other kids. While Reo doesn’t seem to regard any of his peers as being friends or equals, it’s pretty clear that he is at least liked more by the other kids than Kensei who is alone. 

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As a teen, Kensei has made several friends outside of skating which we see in the current episodes but he still hasn’t made much headway with the other skaters–though at least one of the older kids, Yukimitsu Mochizuki, is nice to him. Some of the members are obviously mad at him for something and wish he wasn’t part of the team and maybe that’s because of his boisterous personality but more likely its due to something more petty, like jealousy or envy at Kensei’s skill or some sort of lack in communication. (Remember, they were all individual competitors going against each other at one point, and when your friends are also who you actively compete against it can get pretty ugly.) 

That’s not to say Kensei is without flaws. As mentioned, he is overly confident at points and makes careless statements about a few of the other members’ being of lower skill or caliber than him despite knowing that he is out of practice and that they take the sport very seriously. If I was to apply this to my own experience as a former skater, it may be like when I had a falling out with many of my skating friends after I had to stop competing and no longer attended lessons. Many of them, particularly at our young age and level, couldn’t imagine giving up skating for any reason aside from losing life or a limb. Concussions or the after effects didn’t feel real to them (nor to me), and yet the pain I felt doing simple spins or moving quickly left me in pain and feeling like I had just slammed my head against the ice. Some felt like I was quitting just as the real competitions were getting started (entering adult competitions). One friend later told me that she felt like I had quit while I was ahead, “robbing” her of the chance to beat me, as though I would have know that. A few others said that it felt like I didn’t care about them or the sport anymore when I stopped coming to group lessons. Meanwhile, I felt like I was being abandoned and lost now that I couldn’t do the one thing that had consumed much of my free time and focus in life at that age… But it’s okay now, because I found anime. (JK–it all worked out as we got older and talked things through.)

I’m sure that as the series progresses, these combative issues within the team will work themselves out and I’m looking forward to it!

Comparatively, it feels a LOT like the Free! series (you remember that swimming anime we were all obsessed with?), though the focus on ice skating that we see within the series thus far (such as news stories, the number of clubs and schools that have ice skating clubs, youtube-videos, and other media) imply that ice skating is as prevalent there as basketball or volleyball. Which, as much as I’d love that to be true, is simply not the case. It’s fictionalized, obviously, and the story is really laying on the drama pretty thick from inter-team disharmony to a larger rivalry with our antagonist that said antagonist doesn’t even seem to register, think about, or give two hoots towards.

As for the rest of the fictional universe of this world… Uh. It’s a high school sports anime so what do you expect?

Simply put, it’s a standard story for this genre. 

I have not yet read the manga–but I plan to immediately. 8/10 recommend streaming on Funimation.com, and 10/10 on animation (if only for the skating). The next episode comes out on the 10th, so now is a great time to catch up! 

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