Do you want to spend your life living in regret? Or do you want to break free? Put your skates on—it's time to make an icy comeback!
Skate-Leading Stars is an original anime television series produced by J.C.Staff with Goro Taniguchi (Code Geass) as chief director, original character designs from Yana Taboso (Black Butler), and a script written by Noboru Kimura (Gundam Build Divers).
The series follows Kensei Maeshima (voiced by Yuuma Uchida), whose young figure skating career comes to a halt after being put off by his rival Reo Shinozaki (voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya). Years later, Maeshima meets a boy named Hayato Sasugai (voiced by Makoto Furukawa), who has followed his short-lived skating career and introduces him to the world of skate-leading.
Since its announcement, the series has received comparisons between the fan-favorite figure skating anime, Yuri!!! on Ice. All eyes then will be on how Skate-Leading Stars holds up and what fresh ideas it brings to the ice rink: Will it have beautiful and accurate skate sequences? Endearing and iconic characters? Fanservice…?! Jokes aside, are you ready to get swept away by the Skate-Leading Stars?
There will be minor spoilers for ahead, but do keep in mind that this is only the first episode.
In true rivalry-in-sports-anime fashion, Episode 1 (“Pact”) opens with a young and spirited Maeshima challenging the cool Shinozaki during a skating meet, and the stakes are already high: If Maeshima loses to Shinozaki, he quits figure skating.
Despite giving a winning performance, Maeshima lands second place behind Shinozaki. And to add insult to injury, Shinozaki refuses to acknowledge Maeshima as a rival and snuffs out any hope of them competing again in the future.
Fast forward to the present, Maeshima is in high school and has tried out every other sport besides figure skating. It is not until a fateful encounter with the peculiar Sasugai, a freshman like him and a wannabe skating coach, that Maeshima realizes that maybe the ice rink is where he truly belongs. They form a pact to turn that realization into reality.
These two characters are the stand-outs so far in this first episode. Maeshima seems to be a decent enough MC, exhibiting a burning passion both on and off the ice rink. Sasugai, on the other hand, is surrounded by intrigue, which makes him someone to keep tabs on in the coming episodes.
Another highlight—and what people are probably looking forward to—is the skate sequences. While it is too early to tell whether it will reach the level of iconic-ness as the performances in Yuri!!! on Ice, on its own, Skate-Leading Stars sets up its own standard for animated figure skating: There is an elegance to the way the characters skate and jump and twirl on the ice rink. The animation, seamless and in sync with the musical score. The close-up shots also add a level of emotional depth to reveal these characters’ personalities.
It was also bold of the show to introduce its own take on the figure skating sport. Skate-leading, as described in the anime's official site, is a "fictional figure-skating competition, in which each team of five skaters earns points for technical skills (such as unison formation) and artistry (such as composition and entertainment)." It's a good strategy to attract audiences, especially since the series has no manga nor an established fanbase.
For a first episode, the series already covers a lot of bases as if it were ticking off a list: Backstory? Check. Introduction of all the characters from the promo posters? Done. Time jump to set-up MC's growth? You got it. While there is nothing wrong with a fast-paced plot, you also have to make sure that viewers understand it if you want them to come back for the next episodes. The bouncy-EDM OP (“Chase the core” by Takao Sakuma) and rock-infused ED (“Jump” by Shuugo Nakamura) also give nothing away as to how intense the series will go. They only show the cast and crew credits with a few shots of the characters in skating form interwoven. Still, the animation is nice and pleasing enough to the eyes.
But if there is any big takeaway from this episode, viewers should anticipate the surprises the series has up its sleeves. Beyond comparisons to other similar shows, Skate-Leading Stars deserves a chance to prove itself worthy to be called the premier skating anime this season. They are called stars for a reason.
Skate-Leading Stars premieres on January 10, 2021, at 22:30 (JST).
Official Anime Website: Skate-Leading Stars
Official Anime Twitter: @Skate_Leading