Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Free! - Iwtobi Swim Club Review

Since the day I started reviewing one new series per season, we’ve seen two romance series and a psychological one. The summer season had a lot of interesting shows, and my Impressions gave me five for the season: Sliver Spoon, Danganronpa, Watamote, Blood Lad, and this series I would like to talk about today. Why did I pick Free!, you may ask? Let’s just say I needed some hot shirtless men this time.

Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club is an original 12 episode Sports series from studios Kyoto Animation and Anime Do and was directed by Hiroko Utsumi. Free! aired during the Summer 2013 season, with a light novel released just a week after the premiere episode. As of this review, Free! has not been licensed, however it is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll.

Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rin, before graduating from elementary school, participated in a swimming tournament. After winning in the relay, they parted ways. Years later, Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa reunite when they enroll into high school. Not long after, Rin, who was thought to be in Australia, turns up and challenges Haruka to a race and wins. Afterward, Nagisa mentions creating a swimming club and cleaning up the run-down outdoor 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. Rin's victory over Haruka means nothing to him as he realizes that Haruka has stopped swimming competitively and is not in top shape. He claims that he cannot get over the fact until Haruka competes against him for real.

How can you not like the ending theme?!
First a little know fact about this show. Did you know that, originally, this was supposed to just be a splash image which spawned a commercial which spawned a viral hit which spawned a lot of fan fiction which then spawned this show? Yup. Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll actually get into the series (Sorry for wasting about two minutes of reading time). Kyoto Ani has the current reputation of creating all of the moe series we tend to see now a days. From the holy trinity of Air, Clannad, and Kanon to recent works such as Tamako Market which I looked at last winter. And then the ever so popular K-On and Haruhi Suzumiya. The animation here is certainly top notch for a sports anime. Granted I don’t tend to watch a lot of shows from this genre, with the only ones I’ve seen being Prince of Tennis and Hikaru no Go (if you actually count that as Sports), but I’m surprised a lot of money went into... Well... the important things. Sometimes the animation has trouble fitting in with reality like, for example, a super tiny cat sitting next to a really tall Makoto. But this is only a minor problem. One of the biggest surprises from this series is actually the theme songs it chose. The opening is more of a rock tune that becomes really catchy, however not as catchy as the ending theme. The ending theme decides to give itself a theme and play that out as a sort of mini play (Yay theatre major!). Coupling this with the song Splash Free, and you have one awesome ending theme. Also the ending theme is my ringtone. DON'T JUDGE ME!

And then all the fan fiction was born!
The story is really really simple to watch. There’s nothing complex or “deep” about it. Free is just full of heart and the power friendship that you really can’t help but just go with it. You would think that a simple premise wouldn’t work for a man service sports series, but this is Kyoto Animation we’re talking here. They are pretty much known for making everything they touch into something heartwarming. It’s a little slow to start, considering we don’t “officially” meet Rei till episode three and the first swimming tournament is around episode eight. What it does with it’s time is throw in filler episodes to give the boys some bonding and character growth. When we do get to the important episodes, after all the bonding, you may find yourself at the edge of your seat and cheering on the boys as they swim in tournaments. I know I certainly found myself doing that. By the end of the series, I ended up tearing up because the friendship between these characters is very strong, continuing to drive the friendship theme even more. Also, at the end of the series, Kyo Ani dropped a slight bomb on us. Is it true or not? Well, I guess we’ll have to see next summer won’t we? But there is one thing I need to mention that may seem a little negative to some viewers. The scripting and dialogue of this series can at times be a little on the homoerotic side. If you’re not personally comfortable with this, then I apologize and you may go on your merry little way. If you’re perfectly fine with this then I will probably end up seeing some of you writing some Haru/Rin or Haru/Makoto fan fiction in the near future.

S*** just got real, man!
So, we have six major characters in this series: Haru, Makoto, Nagisa, Rei, Rin, and Rin’s sister Gou. A few of the male characters end up going through some sort of mini personal story arch during this series. From Makoto’s fear of the ocean to Rei’s first attempts at swimming, each piece that is placed into these characters is a welcome fit to them. And then there’s the series rivalry of Haru and Rin. Throughout the entire series, both of them are trying to gain back that friendship that they had years ago, but it becomes difficult because of that rivalry; even hindering their swimming from time to time. In the end, what plays out, is an understanding of what they really desire and this can be seen done very well with the last two episodes of the series. However, if we’re really talking about character development then Rin and Rei are the two boys that have so much growth and depth to their characters that you relate to them really easily. This can be partly because they relate to each other to the point where one of them fully admits that they see themselves in the other person. The one slight downside for this series is actually in Nagisa’s character. Sure he was the one who started the Swim Club, but there isn’t really a whole lot there after that aside from the happy-go-lucky guy. IF the rumors are indeed true, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more development in Nagisa’s character. Either way, having this much character development in a man service show and for it to actually work is really amazing! The last time I saw a man service show with really good character development was Ouran High School Host Club, but that also may be because we don’t necessarily see a lot of male heavy shows. At least the Free or Ouran kind.

See? Totally fabulous!
As I mentioned before, Free! has yet to have a license, so we all know where this section of the review is going to go. Overall the Japanese cast does well for the kind of series this is. Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, and Tsubasa Yonaga as Haru, Makoto, and Nagisa are all fun characters with each having a different personality in their voices. Mamoru Miyano’s Rin is a lovely blend of cocky yet troubled soul that the viewer comes to enjoy. There’s also voice work from Akeno Watanabe as Gou and Satsuki Yukino as the club adviser Amakata. Both ladies give wonderful performances. And then there’s Daisuke Hirakawa as Rei. Let’s just say he makes the role fabulous from time to time..

You think I'm kidding? I will cry if this doesn't happen.
By the end of the relay, Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club is just so much fun to watch! The story is heartwarming, the humor is fantastic, and the characters are likable for more than just their abs. If you have not seen this series, then you really need to. Even if you’re not into heavy amounts of man service, Free! does have something that everyone can enjoy. And if it doesn’t get a season two, I will probably cry.

Final Rating- 8/10
A fun summer day at the best pool ever!

Next time, we take on another recent show and fight for Humanity’s survival. Until then, otaku on my friends!


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