Air Gear Vol. 1

Is rollerblading really an interesting enough sport to make a story out of?  Apparently, manga creator Oh Great! thinks so, as his manga of Air Gear has been going on for at least thirteen volumes or so with more to come. Of course, Air Gear isn't about just plain old roller skating but Air Treks, decked out skates with motors and gadgets and such that make using them into an extreme sport. All things considered, we've seen sports anime made from far worse conceits, and Air Gear has a great soundtrack and reasonable good animation to go with it. But sadly, Air Gear Vol. 1 shows that a lack of character development, clichéd plots, and uncomfortable sexual innuendo can take down an otherwise promising show very quickly.

Ikki is a tough guy who lives with the easy-on-the-eyes Noyamano sisters. He can handle himself in a fight, but what happens when the guys you are fighting have Air Treks?  These stylish rollerblades allow a skilled user to virtually take flight in all sorts of acrobatic moves. A youth gang subculture has grown up around Air Treks, and when Ikki finds out about it, he is intrigued. Of course, it turns out that Ikki has surprising Air Trek skills from the get-go; he's a born natural. He quickly gets engaged in the world of gang competitions only to find out that the four Noyamanos are themselves an Air Trek team! But lest my readers think the show is all about skating, there's a love triangle building between Ikki, the mysterious and flirtateous Simco, and Ringo, the Noyamano sister who's fallen head over heels for him. Now isn't that sweet?

As you might have guessed from the description above, Air Gear Vol. 1 follows every shonen stereotype ever seen. That isn't to say that it isn't enjoyable at times. The first episode in particular shows some promise with some genuinely unexpected humor and a playful nature. With the admittedly entertaining music pumping in the background, I thought that despite its trappings, it might be a worthwhile show. But each episode just sinks deeper and deeper into tedium. I have to admit that I finally used the fast-forward button during the last half of the fourth episode. I could tell each move the show was going to make. Why bother watching when you could write the show yourself?

There are two big problems with Air Gear Vol. 1 that go beyond its unoriginal plot. The first is the lack of character development. Ikki isn't a really nice guy, and while brash young hotheads are a staple of the shonen genre, he is almost totally unrelatable. We don't know why he lives with the Noyamanos; we have no idea about his family or his background. He is a cypher standing in for a real person. I don't care if he's going to become an Air Trek master because he is a nobody, a nothing. The love triangle aspect makes this all the more clear. Why would anybody be interested in this guy?  Because he's a mystery? Ikki as the lead of the show just isn't interesting enough.

Then there's the issue of the fanservice and sexual innuendo. While I might not appreciate a lot of fanservice in my shows, I understand its allure. Air Gear is certainly not, say, Agent Aika; while some flesh is shown, it's not constant. But what was disturbing to me was that there were lots of innuendos and fanservice all centered around 14-year-old girls. I know that for some this might just be a selling point. For me, it was simply wrong, and even if the plot of Air Gear had been more solid, it still would have bothered me. Do we really need underage seduction in our entertainment?

While the first episode of Air Gear isn't bad, the following three episodes descend into junk. If you must buy an Air Gear product, then I really would suggest the soundtrack album; the music I enjoyed.  But if you've been watching anime for more than a few weeks, you've seen this show done better with less garbage and more style.

Air Gear Vol. 1 -- profanity, sexual innuendo involving underage characters, brief nudity -- C