The award for most likely to be compared to the insanely popular ice-skating anime Yuri! On Ice goes to…. Was that a cheap shot? Probably. It was inevitable due to the juggernaut that YOI was and remains to be, but at least for me it’s been long enough that making comparisons between the two would be unfair. Both are completely different experiences after all, since YOI focused on men’s singles and Skate-Leading Stars focuses on the world of well, skate-leading. Let’s dive into that element first.
I mentioned before that I wasn’t going to be too happy if skate-leading is just them rephrasing an already existing ice skating sport. Which it turns it out after viewing and a bit of research, that skate-leading is, and is not just that. Skate-leading seems to have borrowed elements from two non-Olympic ice skating styles, specifically synchronized skating and ice theatre. The creative team seemed to pick the two sports apart, and then combined elements of those together to create skate-leading.
It’s hard to say for sure since one of my major gripes from someone who loves the logistics of sports, is that skate-leading, for being an original sport, doesn’t really explain how it works. We have the basics that there are typically teams of five, with two ‘guards’, two ‘wings’ and one ‘lead’ that skate to a choreographed piece. These teams appear in the anime to be same gender, but we’re not introduced to any female teams so it might even been a men’s only sport. We know they’re judged on things like precision, technicality, and ‘expressiveness’ given how often they’re referenced. But there’s not much clarity about which elements score higher, who/what scores the teams and other finer details.
That’s all a big nit-pick on my part since I was already primed to want details like that. Overall, the smoothing over and talking around those parts of the sport was perfectly fine. The story isn’t one of technicalities, but one of bonding, teamwork, and pulling something beautiful together to move the crowd. Which, large and part Skate-Leading Stars manages to do.
That’s a lot of lead-up to a plot synopsis, but with that bit of explanation done I feel like I can finally get to that. Skate-Leading Stars, is the story of Maeshima Kensei, a former men’s singles prodigy whose since left the sport due to a declaration to the young genius of Shinozaki Reo, that if he loses again he’ll quit skating. Which inevitably you can guess he does in fact lose and quit. We fast forward to high school, where Kensei is a naturally gifted athlete who seems to making a lot of jabs at his school’s skate-leading team when they’re within earshot about he’ll never join them or any team since that’s lame. Add in Sasugai Hayato, a rather shady looking teen who by chance happens to ask Kensui for directions to a skating rink one day, and due to Hayato’s nature and Shinozaki Reo’s sudden announcement of transferring to skate-leading, that Kensui wants to get back on the ice and snag a gold from his old rival as soon as possible.
As you can imagine, Kensui being a former prodigy, and all those jabs before as his former competitors in childhood, did not make for an easy transition. Even though Kensui hasn’t set a skate on the ice in years, he still has more ambition, drive, and physical ability then his soon-to-be teammates. This does not pair well with the schemer Hayato, wanting to join in an advisor and potential coach. Hayato is presented as underhanded and manipulative, especially with Kensui, which doesn’t seem that hard to do. However, he has a high set of analytical skills that he uses for skate-leading purposes. These two are are the most interesting of the core team, as the rest of the team are pretty bland to be honest. Kind-hearted captain, serious but awkward megane, showy mohawk bro, two feminine presenting male characters, an icy coach, etc round the team off.
About the only other outstanding characters are Shinozaki Reo, Kuonji Noa another former men’s singles skater transitioning to skate-leading, and then Himekawa Izumi. Reo is an oddity, since for as much as he’s set up as the antagonist of the series, he barely talks. We don’t see much of his story, or his perspective but that’s what makes the peak of action and falling action so interesting in regards to him. Noa is another interesting character in the mix because he ultimately seems to act like a selfish and careless guy, but actually has the most altruistic intention for pursuing skate-leading in the first place. Izumi is unique in the sense of how his character functions within the series to create more tension and higher stakes in the overall competition. If you’re not interested in the core cast, these three are the ones to really keep tabs on as you watch.
Additionally, I have to mention the twins; Ishikawa Susumu and Hajime who are rivals from a different school. I’m not going to sugar coat it they were boring and dull. They had no character development, and the constant whispering to each other verses being articulate almost adults who are suppose to lead a team, was annoying and over-used. I’m surprised they even bothered getting two different voice actors for the single instance they actually articulated real words, since they were just a boring cardboard cut out standing in front of a mirror with a bit of hair dye to distinguish them from one another.
But I digress.
Overall, the story follows the anticipatable course of action. There’s the usual Kensui actually joining the team and the conflicts of doing so, some other teammate to teammate drama, practices and training montages, all cumulating into the series’ major competition. More or less par for the course, so again I really encourage you to look into how Reo, Noa, and Izumi act verses any particular team. There’s a few subversions from the standard plot, and coupled with a semi-original sport are pretty entertaining as a whole if you have any familiarity with ice skating sports. Even if you aren’t there’s enough going on between actual sport, characters, and story to keep you interested at least in a marathon viewing. There’s even a bit of a potential for a second season, but it was written solidly enough that the conclusion is satisfying in it’s payout. The way the final episode plays out as a whole might be worth watching for since it’s so non-standard in it’s execution.
As for the animation aspects, I didn’t notice too many errors or glaring moment of ‘wtf was that’. J.C. Staff has a pretty solid track record for animation, and didn’t cut too many corners. I would have liked to see a bit more wide-angles during the competition of the actual formations since there’s no real sense of what a wing/gaurd/lead does. However, that probably would have meant CGI, and with how the show managed to execute all the jumps, spins, and lifts without it: it’s better to have not. Everyone moved with enough fluidity to convey the key feelings and emotions needed to get the point across and that’s just fine.
Overall, would I recommend Skate-Leading Stars? Honestly, not particularly. It might be that in reviewing my notes, and giving myself more time from finishing to reviewing has made my opinion so neutral. But I don’t think I’m too off in this statement though. It’s a solid series without too many gaps, but there’s nothing about it that’s particularly compelling or sets it apart. It’s pleasent enough to marathon without much trouble, but not a title you need to shift your priorities to see.