Friday, August 1, 2014

Rewind: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was one of the most talked-about anime in Summer 2013. It sparked swooning, debates, and a lot of fan art. I participated in none of it. As far as I understood, Free! was just a shallow anime filled with girl-oriented fan service. Still, I'm a dedicated sports anime fan, so I tried half of the first episode. The story and characters failed to grab me, and I had no need to stare at barely dressed men for twenty minutes. I dropped the show.

Then, I got a Tumblr account. I was exposed to more Free! fan art than ever before, even when the show was actually airing. And when the new season started? My defenses against everyone's favorite swimming anime really took a hit.
Ain't that an inspiring phrase? It's from episode 12. I took more
screen shots in that episode than in others... but not because it
inspired me.
Eventually, I mused that "Skin and Speedos couldn't get this level of fangirl passion on their own... right?" A follower assured me that there really was more to the show. 

So, I decided to try Free! again. My optimism held through the fifth episode, as I recorded on Tumblr:

Congratulations, Tumblr. You got me to start Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
There is more to it than fanservice. It hasn’t awed me, but I am curious about some of the characters’ backstories. And it has some of the normal sports anime trappings: a team of unique guys, old-teammate-turned-rival, cute manager, training camp… enough to assure me that, as a sports anime fan, I’m in for a bit of fun. 
Of course, the fanservice still exists, catered toward girls… especially, it seems, yaoi fangirls. Some scenes practically write the yaoi fanfiction themselves. 
I’m more a fan of pure, deep, brotherly friendship. So I ignore the invitations to read into the characters’ relationships. Instead, I enjoy the friendship, just like I do in all my favorite sports anime...
Unfortunately, my opinion of the show quickly dropped from "this is somewhat enjoyable" to "this is too sappy." On the same night as I wrote that last Tumblr post, I wrote another one about the sixth episode, stating, "I can handle 12 eps of sappiness, methinks, for the sake of the sport and the story." 

My skepticism increased as the show went on. I hoped that the swimming, at least, would be fun for me. Sports anime usually give me plenty to enjoy in the competitions and everything leading up to it. The sport in Free! should have given it an extra edge--swimming is the one sport I pay attention to and enjoy during the Olympics. My Dad's a swimmer, and I was with him when Michael Phelps won that record-breaking gold medal in 2008. Dad's enthusiasm was contagious, and I caught it.

My experiences watching Olympic swimming with Dad did help Free! a little. I soon forgot about the skin-showing part of the fan service, since the characters' swim gear made me remember watching the pre- and post-race Olympic coverage. I also understood a little bit about each stroke, so I could imagine how the characters strategized breathing, stroke length, and muscle strengthening. That actually helped my interest in the show increase--Free! contained very few details on training or strategy. There weren't even any annoying journalists or ignorant spectators to help explain the sport, so I had to fill in the gaps myself.

Despite the training camp and the many pool scenes, it seemed that Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was not actually about swimming. Or competition. Or determination, or diligence, or respect.

Free! was all about the drama. Basically, four guys used to be friends. One of them, Rin, aspired to be an Olympic swimmer. Back in grade school, he knew the importance of camradarie, and he convinced the other three kids to be in a medley relay with him. Then he went off to Australia for middle school, to study at some academy with a great swimming program. He finally came back during the second year of high school... but not to the same team, or even the same school, as the other three boys.

So, Rin was back in Japan, but he was kinda a callous jerk to his old buddies. He eventually joined one of their rival swimming teams, but he was still obsessed with being on the same team as his old friends. It was kinda like in TV shows where the girl is still totally in love with her ex, but gets a new boyfriend anyway, only to cheat on him with the ex... who also has a new significant other, so he's cheating, too.

[big spoiler ahead]

No, really. That's basically what happens in the season finale. Rin says he's quitting swimming. Then he cries about how he actually wants to be on a team with Haruka, Makato, and Nagisa again. They already have a fourth teammate, named Rei, and they're planning to swim the medley relay together. But Rei, being an understanding, enabling kohai, backs out and says that Rin can take his place in the butterfly portion of the relay. Rei was really looking forward to this race, too.

Rin takes advantage of Rei's selfless gesture, and the original four compete in the relay and win... Of course, they're disqualified afterward, because Rin is from a different school, but that's okay because they all got to swim together, and it creates a warm fuzzy feeling for fans and friendship is magic and stuff.
Rei looks on as Rin, Makoto, Haruka, and Nagisa celebrate their
victorious race. Poor guy.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting there thinking that they have terrible sportsmanship.

I wrote out my thoughts when I first finished the 12th episode:

This is overdramatic, and I'm laughing. If I take these dudes seriously, I'll get annoyed at Rin for being a drama queen. I'll also scold the others for enabling him... and being mini drama queens themselves. Guys, get over yourselves! Rin, if you wanted to swim with your friends, you should have enrolled in Iwatobi to begin with. Duh. If you're going to be as emotional as a stereotypical, hormonal teenage girl, then at least be honest with your feelings. Don't pull selfish, irrational stunts like this as tournaments. Sheesh. Go watch some real sports anime. 

[end of big spoiler]

Obviously, I have little patience for drama queens. I prefer to save that patience for any drama I encounter in real life. I mean, I do want to love these characters. I'm pretty fond of Makoto and Nagisa. I sort of like Haruka and Rei. And, if I think of him as a child going through a dramatic phase, I can care about Rin.

It's not like I disliked the first season of Free!. But I didn't particularly like it either... Although I did enjoy the ending sequence. It was like a music video, with each character acting a part, the way members of a real band would.

I suppose I can understand why some people like Free! so much. I might watch the second season, Free! Eternal Summer. It's not exactly a priority for me, though. I have plenty of other anime to keep me busy during my precious free time.


  1. I find this summer season to be a little disappointing in terms of good drama anime though I have to say the comedies were the biggest surprise for me. I usually don't like them cause I get turned off by fanservice a lot lately, but I gave them a chance this season and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Yama no Susume and Hanayamata turned out to be really great. Not only they have great animation but also I've managed to take some good life advices from them. While the first one is more silly than the other two which are more on the cute girls doing cute things side they all look great. Have you watched some good cute comedy/slice of life show that you can recommend?

    1. I'm not a big fan of drama anime, and right now, I'm too stressed to handle too much serious anime. No need to deal with a fictional character's drama--I need the energy to deal with any drama that comes my way in real life. So I'm greatly enjoying Nozaki-kun this season myself, and I wish there were more anime like it airing. I have not tried Yama no Susume or Hanayamata, and honestly, they're not a priority at the moment.

      As for recommendations... hmm... while I'm not the type to hunt down "cute" anime, a couple comedy/slice of life do come to mind. If you haven't tried Lucky Star, then you definitely need to check that out. Tonari no Seki-kun was a delightful anime with short episodes, and I still miss it. If you like a little silliness and some light romance, then I highly recommend Working!! and Servant x Service (there's a little bit too much "humor" about a character's chest in SxS, but I still loved the anime overall).

      By the way, are you the same Anon that stopped by my sports anime and AnoHana posts back in May? I don't get many Anonymous commenters, but I don't want to assume. :)

  2. Thanks very much for recommendations I'll be sure to add them to my ever expanding list of plan to watch anime xD. So many anime so little time :c. Tonari no Seki-kun looks especially nice as it's only a few minutes long and have very good reviews. I've watched a few short anime lately and really enjoyed it. I've actually taken a short break from anime lately and started playing visual novels. I want to check how Clannad VN compares to the anime.

    Yep, that's me :) been visiting your blog every week since then glad to see your posts are still great despite how swamped you've been lately. I really enjoy reading them. Have a good rest of the summer :).

    1. You're welcome! I hope you enjoy them. Tonari no Seki-kun is great if you're short on time... okay, it's just plain great, in my opinion. :) I've heard good things about the Clannad VN, although I haven't had a chance to play any visual novels myself (except a few free ones made with Ren'py, all otome games).

      It's good to hear from you again, Anon! And to hear that you've visited my blog every week... that means a lot to me. Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoy my posts! You have a good summer, too. ^_^


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