Air Gear Volume 1: East Side Showdown
© Oh! Great / Kodansha · Marvelous Entertainment · Avex Entertainment · Toei Animation
Brett D. Rogers · March 3, 2007 | After navigating a tough day in the office, crowded subway trains and icy sidewalks, the last thing I want to do is sit down and watch a show I have to think about. Enter Air Gear, a rollerblading-themed series that brings anime one step closer to leaving no sport or hobby unanimated. While inline skates may not exactly jump out as an obvious topic around which to build a show, it somehow works.

Middle school student Ikki Minami's a tough, confident young man with a couple of good friends and a knack for getting into trouble. Ikki lives with the Noyamanos, four sisters ranging in age from ten to twenty-something, a situation that leads to some comedy and the sort of sexual tension and fan service one would expect from a show based on a manga by Oh! Great (Ogure Ito), who also wrote Tenjho Tenge.

During some snooping around the house, Ikki discovers that the sisters compete as a gang of highly ranked Storm Riders, participants in an extreme sport that marries a technological advance in powerful miniature motors with inline skates to create Air Treks, the ultimate rollerblades. The result is something like the next generation of Wile E. Coyote's jet propelled roller skates.

Air Gear Volume 1: East Side Showdown
Directed by Hajime Kamegaki
Animation production by Toei Animation
Distributed by ADV Films, 2007
Originally broadcast in Japan in 2006
100 minutes

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While already fast out of the box, Air Treks can be modified to override their preset speed limits and bolstered with parts to provide improved performance. With all that power strapped to their feet, some of the city's youth have taken to forming rival groups of Storm Riders, which gather to race in loosely organized competitions to win each other's gang emblems or Air Trek parts. When they're not racing each other, those under the Air Trek spell are usually running from the cops or streaking across rooftops performing death-defying stunts at amazing speeds.

Ikki's not about to let his housemates have all the fun, so he sneaks off with a pair of their Treks and hits the streets. Never one to shy from trouble, Ikki doesn't quite have the hang of skating before finds himself in a fight with a gang of Storm Riders.

After a rough start and some help from the Noyamanos, Ikki taps into his natural abilities and pushes himself to start his own gang of Storm Riders and rise above the rest to become the best Storm Rider in the city. The journey is reckless, carefree and filled with the thrills of competition, youthful exuberance and blurring the line between skating and flight.

Air Gear is fairly pleasing to look at, despite its mediocre overall production values. Toei Animation uses some crafty techniques to create the illusion of intense action without animating a large number of moving body parts. It works well and dovetails nicely with the character designs and color palette.

Air Gear isn't filled with complicated plot twists, intricate, layered relationships, or deep, conflicted characters. It's a show that relies on a simple formula of action, high energy music and a hint of sex appeal to maintain a light, fun story without a bit of pretense.

DVD Features: 4:3 aspect ratio; English and Japanese audio tracks; English subtitles; Region 1.

DVD Extras: Textless opening and ending.
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