Combine Jet Set Radio, The Warriors, and Rollerball with a case of Mountain Dew and what do you get? I'm really not sure, but I bet it'd be awesome. You certainly don't get Air Gear.
Air Gear is such a ridiculous hodgepodge of sad attempts to be cool that it's laughable - but only out of pity. One funky rap beat? Check! Outrageously themed gangs? Check! Extreme sports? Check! Air Gear has all the makings of a campy masterpiece, but ultimately is assembled in such a fashion that it is ineffective in any capacity. What went wrong? In a word: everything.
In a series that will either sink or swim based purely on its artistic chops, a lackluster visual style prevents Air Gear from having the charm it so desperately needs. Likewise, the animation, music, and character designs all fail to be even remotely interesting. I'm somewhat dumbfounded by the fact that rollerblading street gangs with outlandish motifs can manage to be so routine.
The premise is equally as uninspired: Young boy is introduced to variable X. Variable X is currently all the rage. Despite its popularity, X is still considered underground. Authorities wish to suppress X'ers, because it's far too edgy. With two awkward friends by his side, and a gaggle of attractive young girls rooting him on, the young boy dreams of being the best! He may lack refinement of other X'ers, but he makes up for it with his boundless will power and tireless support of loved ones. Along the way he encounters many skeptics and malicious adversaries that wish to end his journey to the top before it even begins. But that boy has heart! With this power of heart he is able to convert them into loyal followers, and sometimes even friends.
In the instance of Air Gear, variable X equates to motorized rollerblades called Air Trecks (ATs). The series makes no effort to deviate from this
tired tried-and-true formula, and yet still manages to fall face first. Episodes feel sluggish, the story doesn't make you feel anything, and the presentation as a whole is clumsy.
Every five minutes, the audience is subjected to a character philosophizing on about the wind, people having wings, heart, the heavens, and all that garbage... Knowing the beliefs that serve as a character's motivation is well and fine, but unfortunately, this is not a deep series. Moreover, it's the same damn speech every time, 'I can see the skies. With these wings I'll be able to ride the wind to the heavens! Birds can fly when they aren't in cages, blah blah blah'.
What begin as various AT races quickly turn into full-scale, super-powered slugfests, complete with punches that break through walls, enemies who can stop time, and deadly-slicing winds ... on rollerblades. One would expect these action scenes to be a nice break from the constant barrage of monologues. They aren't. The ranting actually picks up in the midst of action, only now the tone in their voice lets us know that this person means business! To make matters worse, the fights are interrupted with a seemingly endless stream of battle portraits (detailed images of mythological beasts, animals, machines, and such that spring up in the heat of battle to represent a person's inner power ... much like Popeye's tattoos after he downs a can of spinach).
Like most "I can do it!" themed anime, Air Gear might have proven a decent series for children, if it weren't so riddled with obscenity and nudity. I can't say that fanservice ever really did it for me, but in this instance it seems especially ineffective. The females are so streamlined there's really no reason to care about - Hey, wait: Tits!
In the end, there is one great thing about Air Gear: It ends abruptly.
Bottom Line: Air Gear is like that kid that wears all the clothes, buys all the music, and learns all the trends in an effort to join the 'in' crowd, but only manages to make a fool of himself. If the anime had even half the style the manga appears to, then it might actually have been almost decent.
Recommendation: I recommend you walk to your closet, sift through some boxes, dust off that Dreamcast, and play some Jet Set Radio. It's by far and away the best place to get your super-stylish rollerblading fix on. As for Air Gear, no, I wouldn't recommend it. Not to anyone. Ever.
Salvan Bonaminio has been working on his extreme pogo-stick anime Air Shaft for years. He swears that Air Gear copied his idea.