With a script written by Chiaki J. Konaka (Serial Experiments Lain, The Big O, Hellsing) I had a lot of hope for Air Gear going into the first volume. Full of high energy and an interesting, Jet Set Radio-like concept ADV's latest publication looked to have a lot going for it. That's what I thought at least until I actually watched the first four episodes.
To say that I was disappointed with Air Gear would be kind of an understatement. The story and character development were so watered down that the show felt like little more than kind of a Beyblade rip off. There was little depth to be found anywhere and the characters were not entirely endearing. Sure there was a gratuitous amount of T&A but when it stems from a 14 year old character is it really that appealing? I think not.
Air Gear is a show devoted to an advance in technology that has given birth to motorized rollerblades. By adjusting the distribution of weight of a person's body these "Air Treks" allow a person to achieve new heights and reach new speeds. It's not surprising then that this technology is wildly popular with youths and even less shocking that there is an underground world where gangs (known as Storm Riders) compete against each other. Thankfully it's not quite Fast and the Furious but it's kind of close when you get right down to it.
In this technologically superior future a young boy named Ikki aspires to be one of the brazen Air Trek riders that own the night. He desires it so much that he gave some grief to a gang of riders known as the Skull Saders. They mopped the floor with him and left him (soiled pants and all) to limp his way back home. It's not his parents that he has to deal with though. Instead he lives with a group of sisters for some strange reason.
One night after a defeated attempt at sneaking a peak at bath time for the girls he stumbled upon a hard to ignore room with a collection of Air Treks in it. He finds out that the group of sisters are actually one of the much talked about gangs. With wanton disregard to his wellbeing he straps on a pair of Treks and blasts off into the night. Unfortunately for Ikki he stumbles upon a meeting of Storm Riders and is confronted by the Skull Saders once again.
With a challenge in place he sees it as an opportunity to get close with a pink haired beauty that he has had his eye on. Needless to say he accepts the challenge despite the fact that he's a newbie when it comes to riding on Treks. Things are a little rough at first but along the way he sees a slipstream of wind through some sort of hallucination. This means that he is naturally in another class compared to other riders and has a powerful innate talent. Why else would he be the main character in the show?
Sadly the interesting parts in Air Gear pretty much stop there. There is very little character development to be found in the series beyond strapping the Air Treks onto Ikki. Sure one of the sisters takes a liking to the boy and starts a war with the pink haired hottie but other than that there is really nothing. No story development is another weak point. Each episode takes place one right after the other but they very episodic with a different battle waiting to be had.
In many ways I'd say that Air Gear is reminiscent of Tenjho Tenge; which is both a good and a bad thing. It's big on action, big on fanservice, but light on plot and depth. Future volumes of Air Gear may churn out a better story or more interesting development but as things stand for this first installment both are pretty paper thin.
Air Gear is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The show was originally produced in 2006 so the look on the quality side of things is fairly current. Quality isn't much of an issue though there was some compression and aliasing to be found in quite a few scenes. Overall the animation and design is fairly attractive, if not a little generic. I haven't seen the manga so I can't make comparisons between the art styles though I felt that the anime looked decent at the very least.
The audio for Air Gear is presented in the form of English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0. Depending on your personal preference both tracks churn out a decent output for what they were designed for. The English dubbing may not be the best but the 5.1 sound is quite decent and makes intelligent use of the rear channels. The overall audio presence has been boosted for this track as well so it comes across more prominently than the Japanese selection did. English subtitles are included.
All you're going to find on this first volume of Air Gear for bonus content is a grouping of ADV previews and clean opening and closing animations. Something involving the manga could have shed more light on the show but unfortunately things are really skimpy.
Watching the first four episodes of Air Gear just wasn't a solid experience for me. The show didn't feel like it fully realized its potential and pushed the action and T&A above character development and story. When a series does this it lacks depth and tends to lose a mature viewer's interest. Kids might find something to like with this series but considering that there is indeed nudity and sexual humor it's definitely not recommended. A rental might suffice if you're interested in an anime similar to Jet Set Radio but don't be surprised if you don't find yourself under whelmed.