It’s hard to ignore a show on Tumblr when practically everyone you follow is constantly posting gifs and AU fics and gorgeous fan art so after months of debating I have decided to dip back into the world of anime starting with the drool-worthy Free!
Now I’m not one to pretend I watched this for any reason other than, from what I’d seen in gifs and edits, it’s about a bunch of attractive dudes who swim competitively. I was never on a swim team but I have eyes and I’d like to think I have spent most of my life appreciating the swimmer’s body. I was not disappointed. Tall, lean, toned men in minimal, skintight swimsuits. What a time to be alive. What I did not really expect was the deep connections between the characters and the heartfelt attempts at emotional growth.
While this is not the most compelling series to ever exist it was entertaining as hell, even if most of that is due to the staggering amounts of eye candy. Since I’m not into “reviewing” things here is the jist: Four boys that used to be in swim club together separate after middle school and reunite years later but for some reason tensions are high and they use swimming to reform their friendships. It’s simple and sweet. There are a couple of sincerely sappy moments that brought me to tears and there are some insanely hilarious bits, mostly involving Go- the boy crazy team manager who I not-so-strangely related very closely to.
This show was made for shipping. Like, 100% tailor-made for fangirls to lose their shit over. And with that being said, they do it flawlessly. If you’re not shipping Haru-chan with at least two other characters I don’t think we saw the same show. While for some people that might be a total dealbreaker, it’s usually not that big of deal for me. I’ve watched and read my fair share of shoujo, and I honestly love that stuff. Typically, I like there to be more than just a romance driving a story but I did read over a dozen volumes of Mars so I can’t really say shit.
Free! manages to capture the importance friendship has on one’s soul, especially when those bonds are formed at an early and impressionable age. How easy it is to isolate yourself from those who care about you and how quickly and quietly you can build walls so high people forget what once lived behind there and how sometimes, against all odds, people refuse to quit on you. Sure, there are no explosions or epic mystical beasts or illogically beautiful katana-rifles but there is more than enough emotional tension to keep me interested.
I completely understand why my Tumblr dashboard was blowing up with nonstop talk of Free! last summer. You can’t help but fall in love with Makoto’s pure heart, Haru’s Batman-style brooding and heavy-lidded eyes, or Rei’s completely delusional love of math and beauty. Nagisa is so adorable you want to wrap him up in a million hugs and every time Go loses her shit when surrounded by the smooth muscles of swimmers you can’t help but think, “Same, girl, same.”
I have yet to mention Rin because everything about him would lead to some sort of spoiler but from that first shot of his pointed teeth you know he’s the shark they need to watch out for. He’s only dangerous when aggravated or when he can sniff out weakness. He feeds on it. What was once a feisty, temperamental child grew to be a vessel of bitter rage and unyielding self-hatred. What a goddamn character to have in an anime about wet abs. While you feel yourself getting more and more frustrated with Rin’s absolute one-track abhorrence you still feel sorry for him. You want to know how and why he turned out to messed up.
The first season ended exactly how you think it will end but that doesn’t make it any less satisfactory. I practically sighed in relief because while part of me was disappointed by how predictably it ended, if the showrunners actually did throw me for loop and shit went loco I would have been devastated. And I’m uncontrollably excited for the second season to start in a couple weeks. I’ve stopped myself from looking up what’s supposed to happen which has taken A LOT of willpower. The one thing I was unable to avoid was the addition of Sosuke, Rin’s other childhood best friend who will no doubt upend some ships.
I’m glad this was the first anime I finished in years (Sailor Moon doesn’t count, of course) since I knew I would like it and it was exactly what I thought it would be. I’ve been hesitant to rejoin the world of anime and manga because when I was a young Japanophile it was innocent and easy. Barnes & Noble had only just started carrying manga and all my friends liked it too and we were so busy trying to read and watch as much as we could we weren’t interesting in pushing our favorites on each other. By not telling anyone that I want to watch anime I was able to organically find something I really like without the pressure of people awaiting my reaction.
Just like swimming and friendship did for these boys, Free! took this immeasurable weight off my shoulders and let me just enjoy something. Thank you, for breathing life back into the hungry beast and for the countless scenes of chlorine-splashed abs.