Company: Kyoto Animation
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 3 July 2013 – 25 Sept 2013
Synopsis: Haruka Nanase is a boy who loves to be in water. Before graduating elementary school, he participated in a relay with fellow swim club members, Makoto Tachibana, Nagisa Hazuki, and Rin Matsuoka. After emerging victorious, the boys went their separate ways. In the middle of High School, Haruka reunites with Nagisa and Makoto, and Nagisa proposes they form a swimming club. Haruka is not interested until Rin reappears and challenges Haruka to a race. After losing, Haruka forms the swimming club with his friends, as he does not want things to end here with Rin just yet.
Characters: Cookie-cutter personalities and ill-developed.
Fan Service: Plenty of biceps, pecs, and abs to go around.
Comedy: Repetitive and flat.
Story: Overly simplistic and mundane.
Utterly vapid and mundane, Free! is but another addition to the Kyoto Animation catalogue of dreadfully dull, idyllic high school anime. The only notable difference in this work is that instead of cute girls doing cute things, we get a bunch of pretty boys in swim suits with bulging biceps, pecs and abs palling around in the pool. Although being a female-demographic targeted show carries a certain novelty in an industry dominated by male viewers, there simply is not enough meat on the bones here to make Free! feel like anything more than a cheap gimmick.
To begin with, Free! shares a similar problem with many moe-centric anime of the modern age: each character in the main cast has an annoying cookie cutter personality designed to appeal to specific fetishes and fantasies. Haru is the quiet and cool type, Makoto is the caring sempai, Nagisa is the energetic and happy-go-lucky kid, Rei is the butt monkey of the cast, and Rin is the typical ball of angst who is mean for no good reason. This characterization is lazy, and it becomes all too apparent throughout the show because of how static and underdeveloped the cast is by the end.
For a sports themed show, this is the ultimate sacrilege. Sports anime often offer up some of the best personal growth stories around, but this is totally nonexistent in Free! Rin is never compelled to change his extremely mean-spirited behavior on his own, because his friends do everything to try and fix their relationship. Haru’s single greatest revelation in the story is that he likes to swim with his friends. None of the other cast members change or grow significantly in anyway either. The lone exception is Rei, but because of the other characters’ over obsession with Rin in the story, and the fact he is not one of their childhood friends, he is ultimately made to feel like a perpetual fifth wheel. Not only does it shaft his character, but it reflects quite poorly on the others as well.
Essentially the entire story can be summarized as swimming with your friends is fun. It is fairly simplistic, safe, and downright uninteresting storytelling. Unfortunately, none of the other aspects of the show can save it. The comedy is flat and repetitive, often recycling jokes like Haru always undressing to swim when he sees water. Almost none of the actual swimming competitions carry any sort of intensity in them, which is exasperated by the lack of named opponents, resulting in a very detached experience. And besides a few scenes of animated swimming, Free! is not that impressive visually either compared to previous Kyoto Animation works.
It does not help that just like many anime out there with women drawn in grotesquely disproportionate ways, Free! showcases a clear misunderstanding of basic human anatomy as well. I cannot help but arrive at the conclusion that this show is only meant for people who like watching half-naked men in swimming pools with homosexual undertones. This is not flattering regardless of the gender of the characters, and just because female-targeted shows of such nature are rarer, it does not absolve of it of such criticism. There is no doubt that the anime industry is dominated by males, and in some cases may be incredibly chauvinistic, but if Free! is the industry’s answer to accommodating female viewers into the fandom, then this is a cause for great concern.
The Rating: 4
Reviewed by: Reckoner