Anime Review: Free! (2013)
Haru Nanase: “I’ll show you something that you have never seen before!”
From the animation powerhouse that brought you K-On!, Full-Metal Panic, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Free! is one of Kyoto Animation and Animation DO’s recent collaborative productions directed by Hiroko Utsumi.
Haruka Nanase, Rin Matsuoka, Makoto Tachibana and Nagisa Hazuki are four childhood friends with a passion for swimming. With Haru’s freestyle perfection to Makota’s strong strokes, they were known as the ‘invincible’ relay team representing Iwatobi Swimming Club despite being mere grade school students. But when Rin suddenly leaves to attend an elite boarding swimming school in Australia, the group slowly drifted apart in different ways.
Many years later, Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa reunite with a much darker Rin, who challenges Haruka to a freestyle race. Rin wins, but this doesn’t stop the childhood friends from forming the Iwatobi High Swimming Club.
Hoping to spread their love for swimming with other students, they dream of the day where they can reunite with Rin as friends — like the way they used to be.
What was just a ten second clip that teased the public about Aoni’s future animation works, it caused the anime community to melt down via social media. Free! was set to be a major joke — it was going to be the anime dubbed as the ‘swimming’ anime’. With handsome bishonen guys flicking their wet hair and baring their toned body, it’s no surprise to see the show garnering such ~enthusiastic interest, especially amongst (fan)girls.
Many people would have tuned into the show — either to perve on the guys or to laugh at its failure — but surprisingly, Free! proved everyone wrong. Free! has more substance than we would think as it’s not just about hot guys frolicking in the pool.
Filled with rivalry drama and teen angst, Free!’s overall story is quite average and predictable. But there’s just something about the characters such as Rin and Haru’s rivalry that compels us to watch the show every week. Who will make the first move towards reconciliation? Who will win the next freestyle race? Will Rin become ‘good’ again? The audience must know!
Haru’s character is very childish, stubborn and he is obsessed with everything related to water — including bathing in his swimming suit and having mackerels for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rin is the dark, mysterious friend who yearns to be the best and is frustrated at others for having fun and being ahead in the game. To counterbalance the contrasting characters, we’ve also got the calming Makoto, happy-go-lucky Nagisa and dramatic Rei to add to the mix, and it makes the show very lively and entertaining to watch.
With the ongoing angst, the supposed betrayal, bittersweet departures, and the challenges within the pool … we’ve become so emotionally invested in the story, and we find ourselves constantly questioning the characters’ state of mind and what they plan to do next.
The animation in Free! is probably one of the show’s best features. For non-swimming fans, the anime has definitely shown the audience the beauty and power of swimming. With its amazingly beautiful and swift animation of water and swimming strokes, Free! makes us appreciate how calming, exhilarating and ‘free’ the sport is (no pun intended). This is quite evident via the many thoughts and quotes by our leading man, Haru:
“The water is alive. Once you dive in, it will immediately bare its fangs and attack. But, there’s nothing to fear. Don’t resist the water. Thrust your fingers into the surface and carve an opening. Then you slide your body through that opening…
“All I want is to feel the water. With my skin, my eyes, my soul… To never doubt what it makes me feel. Believe in myself. Don’t resist the water. Welcome it. We accept one another.”
“I’ve seen this before. This sensation… I get it now. This is what I wanted. No need to rely on or work with other people. I just want to drift through the water alone in silence.”
Accompanied by Tatsuya Katō’s appropriate soundtrack and catchy featured themes such as “Rage On” (Oldcodex) and ending theme “Splash Free” by Style Five (Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki,Tsubasa Yonaga, Daisuke Hirakawa and Mamoru Miyano), it’s hard to stay away from Free! and its glorious attempts of impressing its viewers.
Overall: While Free! isn’t incredibly great, we’re still looking forward to seeing Free!‘s Season 2. Now that the angst is cleared amongst the friends, it’ll be very interesting to see how things will continue. Will the friends have another fallout? Will someone betray another? Will Rei actually cope with Rin now in the picture?
Without a doubt, we can expect more fanservice moments from the show. If you’re looking for a light-hearted sport anime, then Free! is perfect for you. Showcasing plenty of drama, ~pretty animation, and let’s not forget those bishonen guys, it’s a show that is definitely recommended for all fangirls out there who likes a bit of bishonen love and angst.
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