Anime Reviews | Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club

I consider swimming to be a sport of sublime beauty. As water is an element that human beings aren’t well-adapted to, it’s amazing to think that our survival process, which is using our humanly anatomy to ferry ourselves through H2O (A.K.A swimming), can actually be a sport that combines power, speed, and grace. Now, if you take the wonderful sport that is swimming and the wonderful animation form that is anime, have it feature hot and attractive men (N-N-NO! I-I’M JUST TELLING THE TRUTH, DAMMIT!), and have it animated by the wonderful people over at Kyoto Animation, what do you get?

FANSERVICE, MANSERVICE, AND HOT GUYS DICKING ABOUT IN THE POOL.

Nah, I was just kidding.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be making this review, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Ken, representing thebuttonsmashers.com. Today, from Kyoto Animation, drifting from cute girls doing cute things and instead having hot guys doing…hot things: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club.

Based on the light novel High Speed!Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is a 2013 Summer season anime directed by Hiroko Utsumi and produced by the wonderful people at Kyoto Animation (famous for their works like K-On, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Beyond the Boundary). Written by Masahiro Yokotani, with a soundtrack composed by Future Diary soundtrack-composer, Tatsuya Kato, Free started off as a promotional video by KyoAni for the summer season (which basically displayed their AWESOME talent in animating water). Possibly responding to millions of fangirls, the people at KyoAni probably thought “HEY GUYS, this commercial-thingy we did was pretty popular. LET’S MAKE AN ANIME ABOUT IT”.

Now, the question is: does this anime rely on fanservice to pull their plot over to safer waters, or does it lose its anchor and drift off into the stormy seas of fanservice-reliability?

Shall we begin? Allons-y!

Plot: 7.7/10

To be quite honest, Free! doesn’t have much of a plot. Free!follows the story of four high-school boys with girly names—Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rin. They had all participated in a swimming tournament when they were little elementary kids and formed a bond with each other, but later parted ways. Years later, Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa reunite when they enroll into Iwatobi high school. Not long after, Rin, who was thought to be in Australia, turns up and challenges Haruka to a race and wins. Afterwards, Nagisa mentions creating a swimming club and cleaning up the run-down outdoor school pool to use. Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and, later on, Rei, form the Iwatobi High School Swimming Club and work together in making the club a success, which basically includes participating in tournaments.

 Oh, and they also create sculptures of one of the most WTF mascots I have ever seen.

There is nothing much to say about Free’s plot, except that it has one. Its story is easy to grasp and fairly straightforward, going into a semi-episodic beginning while focusing on the main plot after around episode 4. There were minor cliffhangers, and while they did grab my attention, they weren’t too overwhelming. Overall, the plot is simple and effective, I was only hoping for a more diverse story, but what the heck.

Characters: 7.5/10

The characters for Free! Doesn’t really stray far from your common cardboard cut-out archetypes that we’re used to seeing in anime. You have Haruka, the quiet loner who’s mighty good at swimming freestyle and is seemingly obsessed with water; Makoto, the gentle and mature backstroke swimmer; Nagisa, the cheerful and enthusiastic breastroker (that sounded weird…); Rei, the nerdy megane-wearing, mature, calm, and perfect butterfly-style swimmer; and Rin, the competitive, emotionally conflicted, and ambitious childhood friend/Australian immigrant/human-shark hybrid. There are many other characters that I can get into more detail with, but I won’t since I don’t have the time to. Only thing I would say is that there is a whole slew of colorful characters included in this series. Granted, almost all the characters are nothing but archetypes, but some characters are more than that, which makes the characters of the show less bland.

 And I can hear the muffled screams of about a million fangirls at the moment…

What makes these characters shine though are their interactions with each other and how their relationship (AS FRIENDS, MIND YOU) are illustrated. KyoAni has always been excellent at projecting character interactions, showing how each and every character has some sort of significance and are not there just for the sake of being…well, there; Free is definitely no exception. It doesn’t matter whether the characters are all moody badasses: if there is no apparent chemistry in the interactions between the characters, then it would all be pointless and the plot will lose some of its value; thankfully, I don’t have to dock points for Free. One of the factors that give this show its heart is definitely the characters, and Free has done a great job in making us feel for ALL the characters.

 Aaaaaaaw, he’s so cute when he’s trying to admit his feeeeeeelings //laughs in a corner//

Animation: 8.9/10

Coming from KyoAni, the animation for Free! is nothing short of extraordinary. The character designs, first of all, are impressively crafted (AND NO, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THEIR MAJESTICALLY SCULPTED MUSCULATURE). While not necessarily the most unique designs, the characters’ styles have enough defining features that differentiate them and add a little bit more flavor to their personalities. Besides the character designs, the production team do a great job in creating the show’s setting. Based off actual locations in Japan’s coastal areas and islands, the different places featured in Free were all superbly detailed, right down to the last cherry blossom of spring. The OP and ED themes are also worth mentioning, as both were masterfully animated, with the OP being one of my favorite opening themes in terms of style.

 oh……..oh my……//nosebleeds//

Did I miss anything?

Oh.

Right.

THAT.

WATER.

The very first thing you’ll probably notice with this show is how terribly gorgeous the water looks like. It’s a very, ahem, “refreshing” take at how water is usually animated, and it looks freaking amazing. Not only that, but the way the actual swimming is animated looks very, ahem, “fluid and natural, almost flawless and majestic, that I personally couldn’t help but pause and admire how beautiful it looks. Besides the occasional decrease in detail, Free’s animation is definitely top-notch and is easily one of the best parts of the show.

 Look at that sexiness…I WAS TALKING ABOUT THE WATER //blushes//

Sound: 8/10

Free’s soundtrack is, to be quite frank, fairly above average. Besides doing its sworn duty of filling up that void of silence that would make the show boring, Free contains a pretty decent soundtrack that knows when to pop in and when not to. It does a good job in invoking the needed emotions when needed: hope, excitement, anxiety, even melancholy at times. The soundtrack fits its purpose with a little bit extra sprinkled in (that “extra” being dubstep, something I quite enjoyed). Besides that extra flavoring, there really is nothing else to say about the sounds of the show…

…apart from its AWESOME opening and ending themes, that is. With an action-packed pace and wonderful animation, Free’s OP theme, “Rage On”, fits that sports-aspect of the show perfectly. Free’s ED theme, on the other hand, is pure fun in a song form; both in terms of its style and animation.

And, of course, that dance sequence had me fangirling for days on end.

 Shots from the ending theme. Now you see what I mean.

There. I said it. Problem?

Enjoyment: 8/10

Despite what a lot of people I know say, I enjoyed Free! very much. NOT BECAUSE OF THE “FANSERVICE”, MIND YOU. I liked Free!because it had an okay plot, but a beautiful animation style; a slightly above average soundtrack, but a ridiculously fun opening and ending theme as well; YES it had fanservice, but I found the fanservice funny and, well…natural. It’s those little extras that KyoAni put into this anime that made me enjoy the show. Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was one of my first seasonal anime, and I do not regret those moments where I had fun watching it.

Afterword:

In essence, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, contrary to what a lot of people may tell you, is not Ikkitousen/Maken-ki for women. Sure, the initial episodes MAY suggest to you that this show is gonna be all abs and biceps and fanservice, but, in actuality, if you just look away from all those for just a moment, you will see that it actually contains a comprehensive plotline that is interesting and fun to watch. The competitions and swimming matches are pretty fast-paced and exciting for what they are, and the slice-of-life aspect of the show was well-done, in my opinion. That, coupled with gorgeous animation and a group of amazing characters, makes Free! easy to, ahem, “splash” into.

I hereby award Free! Iwatobi Swim Club with an overall average score of 78 Retarded Butterfly Outfits out of 100

 I…..I don’t even…..

As per usual, leave a comment down below pertaining to your thoughts on this review, on the show itself, or if you would like me to review anything.  And, speaking of liking, give the review a thumbs-up if you enjoyed it.

With that, I’m done for now.  This has been Kenji, and I’ll see you guys in the future.

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