WARNING: The following spoilers for Skate-Leading Stars Episode 4, "Inspiration," now streaming on Funimation.
When Skate-Leading Stars first was announced, many anime enthusiasts saw it and had flashbacks to Yuri!!! on Ice, one of the most successful sports anime in recent memory. However, when it finally came out, Skate-Leading Stars turned out to defy expectations... in a bad way.
On paper, Skate-Leading Stars is about a team of athletes coming together. Where Skate-Leading Stars fails is in making all of the characters behave in an unnecessarily aggressive manner to one another. In this sense, Skate-Leading Stars fails as a team sports series because, even four episodes in, the characters are so poorly defined that they don't feel like a team.
One-Dimensional Characters Ruin Skate-Leading Stars
Skate-Leading Stars' characters are painfully one-note, each defined by a singular personality trait. The main character Kensei is just good at every sport he tries by watching, but he's really good at skating. He refuses to listen to what other people say. As a teen, he has the same goals he had when he was a goal: beat his rival, Shinozaki.
Shinozaki has a half-brother who also hates him, so Kensei and the bespectacled brother form an alliance as a result. Said brother's only defining trait is he's super into statistics and exclusively wears an expression reserved for someone about to do something lewd and insidious.
The main antagonist Shinozaki is one of the most boring rival characters ever to appear in a sports anime. In four episodes, he has only a few moments of dialogue. It's uncertain if his lack of expressive emotion or lack of interest in speaking to people is a product of arrogance, social awkwardness or a Rei Ayanami-esque inability to comprehend other people. Shinozaki feels like what Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto would be like if someone sucked out the sass and replaced it with nothing.
In terms of characterization, it feels as if the show attempts to compensate for shallowness by introducing a ton of characters. There are so many of them that it's genuinely hard to keep track of their names due to how little they stand out. This emphasis on quantity simply exposes the lack of quality.
Skate-Leading Stars Features a Team With Painful Chemistry
Skate-Leading Stars is a team-centric anime where the characters all hate each other, resulting in a team dynamic that borders on painful to watch from the moment they form together. Kensei left skating at age 11 due to a bet he made with Shinozaki, which other skaters in his school seem to resent. Not a single skater in his class seems to empathize or even like him, all due to a decision he made when he was 11.
This sheer level of pettiness makes it hard to like anyone on Kensei's team. To make matters worse, when Kensei says he wants to join the team, the team bullies him and mocks him for every decision he makes. Even when he manages to keep pace with them, they bully the kid. The plots of Episode 2 and 3 are all about the team trying to kick Kensei out. This results in an inter-team competition, where half of the skating team competes with the other half in a skating competition. Normally, one would think that Kensei's team might come together and mutually respect one another, but there's zero sign of that yet.
Throughout all of this, one might be asking "Where's the coach in all of this?" The coach is a professional skater himself, off on leave for a season to recover from an injury. He is so profoundly disinterested in his team that he spends every episode on his phone, just grumbling to his students. Even when the students perform brilliantly in front of him, he just doesn't care.
Skate-Leading Stars Fails as a Sports Anime
What makes this all so frustrating is how Skate-Leading Stars has a perfect sports anime set-up yet drops the ball in every regard. There are numerous sports anime out there that feature rivals coming together as teammates to face greater opposition. Haikyuu!! starts with Shoyo and Tobio as rivals, but the show soon develops a dynamic between them and the rest of their team. The two Yuris in Yuri!!! on Ice start with a very tense rivalry, only for the two to basically cheer one another on by the time they reach the Grand Prix.
Skate-Leading Stars looks especially weak next to the other Winter 2021 sports anime: Sk8 the Infinity, Wave!! Surfing Yappe!! or 2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team. All feature far more interesting characters who actually likable and show the capacity to grow and change. No matter how much the show tries skating around it, Skate-Leading Stars' characters are dead in the water.