I first heard about Free! after a couple of posts popped up about how it was garnering a lot of hate from some male anime fans. I watched the first episode to see what the fuss was about, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. On the surface, it appears to be a sports anime, directed by Hiroko Utsumi and produced by Kyoto Animation and Animation Do, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Free! is the story of four classmates who all love swimming. The main character, Haruka Nanase, is obsessed with swimming. Give him any excuse and you’ll find him heading into the water. Despite the fact that he’s an incredibly good swimmer, he doesn’t like to swim competitively, preferring instead to swim “free”. Joining him is Rin Matsuoka, his friend and rival. Rin also loves swimming, but is incredibly competitive about it. Makoto Tachibana and Nagisa Hazuki are the two less passionate swimmers of the group, but they do enjoy it and help round out this interesting group of friends.
Fast forward a few years to find three of the boys, Haru, Makuto, and Nagisa, in high school. Except for the fact that Rin moved to Australia many years ago in order to improve his swimming, not much has changed. When the three boys hear that their old swimming club is about to be torn down, they decide to go say one last goodbye. Little do they know that someone else is also there, having returned from Australia to also say goodbye to the past.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Free! is not your typical sports anime. It’s aimed at a mostly female and gay male audience with its handling of the characters and obvious fanservice, and this is why certain male anime fans are up in arms about it. To anyone whose upset about this, you really need update your outdated sensibilities. Anyone who’s watched anime knows that there’s more than enough fanservice aimed at the “male gaze” so why is it a problem for the ladies and gay guys to have a bit of fun as well?
Controversy aside, I’ve watched the first four episodes and even if fanservice and homosexual tension between certain male characters isn’t your thing, it’s still a pretty good show. The animation is pretty damn amazing in places (you need to see the effort that’s gone into animating the water in this show) and it’s pretty funny. If it manages to capture some of the elements that make sports anime great then this show will one of the better ones this season. However, it’s still relatively early in the story so only time will tell whether Free! sinks or swims.