published in Empire No.78, Sydney
Some teen anime aims for the lowest common denominator, depicting a group embroiled in adolescent troubles interred in their local high school. These high-school comedy--dramas can be great, but mostly they rely on viewers’ identification with being trapped in school to such a degree that all entertainment and dramatic endeavour has to appear within the school environment. Counter to this, some teen anime charts the lives of a group of high schoolers, but rarely shows them at school. Air Gear is a fantastic example of this’ anti-school’ strain of teen anime.
Ikki is 16 years old, staying with a trio of sprightly girls – unknown to him as the Storm Riders gang. Air Gear commences with Ikki stumbling across their video documenting the clandestine cult phenomenon of ‘air treking’: an application of urban rollerblading where the skates have been fitted with hi-tech micro engines which empower the wearer to shoot, glide and surf the city’s architecture. Before long, Ikki has taken up the sport with the Storm Riders, and therein enters the nocturnal world of competitive gangs of air trekkers who control territories, compete in ‘parts wars’ and wage in hierarchical battles of guts and skill.
The fascinating aspect of Air Gear lies in its lens on youth culture as an entirely alternative social dimension. This first volume captures the thrill of staying up late, getting pumped, and doing everything except worry about what to do at school the next day. Ikki is our innocent guide to this world. Best of all, he is no boy-hero staple, but more of a desultory self-centred type who naively pushes himself beyond all limits to uncover freaky cosmologically aligned abilities. Trust anime to deliver an adrenaline subcultural action saga featuring a central character whose sense of self grows in tandem with the mysteries of the cosmos while raging forth in a hormonal drive for speed.