[A review/ ramble about Free! (anime)]
What I really liked about this show was that it did not take itself too seriously, and it wasn’t all about winning the competition. It did follow many other sports anime/ manga clichés though: The protagonist is an athlete with an exceptional gift. He belongs to an underdog team (the Iwatobi Swim Team) that struggles to overcome some strong rivals. With some intense training, eventually they become a match for their rivals.
That pretty much sums up this anime but I have to point out that it achieves this storyline in about 25 episodes, a considerable feat given that most sports anime seem to run for a long time (ahem, Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21). The short run time does have some implications on the quality of the storyline though. For instance, there are only four members on the Iwatobi Swim Team, and the character development is quite minimal. The story also rushes through most of the training and the matches, so while I like the Iwatobi boys, I don’t really feel anything about their wins and losses.
Then again, like I said at the start, this show is more about swimming together with friends than about winning a race. The Iwatobi boys seem more invested in the idea that they get to swim – something that they all love doing – with each other and their victories and losses seem secondary to the fun that they have. I think that is what being “Free” is all about, and what the protagonist, Haru, embodies – to do what you want to do, with people you choose, without caring too much about the results and the rules.
I will admit that I had some reservations going into the show. I did harbour fear that there would be some outrageous moves (as is the case with sports anime) and the last thing I wanted was a ‘Dolphin Kick’ or a ‘Tsunami Stroke’ that defies logic and all laws of physics. Fortunately, the worst thing I saw was the characters hallucinating about swimming with sharks, dolphins and penguins in the middle of their competition. I did not understand the hallucinations but at least, we were saved from weirdly named, illogical moves and the swimming generally remained sane.
Free! also had a good serving of comedy. The characters were diverse in both their design and personality, and their interactions created some ridiculous and hilarious scenes. The wonderful thing about this show was that everyone was friends with everyone else in some way or another (except maybe Haru and Sosuke), and there was no animosity between them. Even the people in the “strong rival team” were genuinely good guys, and as likeable as the Iwatobi boys. There was minimal arrogance, and there was a willingness to help each other, which created a very positive setting.
Of course that also meant that I had no real desire to see the rival team crash and burn, and some of the competitiveness was lost. I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, because while I liked this show, I also have fond memories of other sports anime, where the underdog protagonist team squishes the arrogance out of a very annoying opponent. I got no such satisfaction from watching Free!.
I wouldn’t say that Free! is the best sports anime I have ever watched (I have a feeling that’s going to be Haikyū), but it was the easiest to watch. Being short and to the point, it did not take up too much of my time. I also did not need to get emotionally involved with the characters and I definitely did not need to worry about whether they would win or lose. I laughed aloud at the comedy, and enjoyed the little bits of drama. There was nothing outstanding about this show, but there was nothing terrible about it either.
I suppose it simply is just a light-hearted and humorous story that I’m glad I stumbled upon.