I can already tell just by stating the title of the show that some of you reading this will either a) roll your eyes, or b) giggle like a schoolgirl. That’s just the way it is with this anime – Free! Iwatobi Swim Club – in regards to its audience.
Let me start off my saying that yes, I am a heterosexual young woman and that already makes me quite biased when talking about this particular anime. However, I’m not watching Free! Iwatobi Swim Club because of the “hot attractive guys wearing bathers”. I’m watching it because I actually enjoy it.
So, what is Free! Iwatobi Swim Club all about? It revolves around members of a high school boy’s swimming team. Four boys—Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rin—all participated in a swimming tournament shortly before graduating elementary school and later parted ways. Years later, they reunite when Rin challenges Haruka to a race and wins. When Nagisa mentions creating a swimming club, Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and then later on Rei, form the Iwatobi High School Swimming Club to compete against Rin in a swimming tournament.
Wait, who? Here’s a rundown of some of the main characters. One of the central players in Free! is Haruka Nanase. Fans know him as they guy who is obsessed with water. Having taken off his clothes at the sight of water. He even tried to jump into a fish tank once. He is silent and aloof, hardly ever speaking unless he wants to. He only swims freestyle as he reminds everyone, and his freestyle form is so strong that others are inspired to be like him.
Then, there’s Makato Tachibana, Nagisa Hazuki and Rei Ryugazaki – Haruka’s swim team friends.
Makato is Haruka’s best friend and often spokesperson. He is kind and considerate to anyone, but this makes him an easy target to be frightened due to his positive nature. He’s the captain of the swim club and competes in backstroke. Not much is known yet about his character, but many believe that he used to have a fear of water and that’s what made him enjoy backstroke.
Nagisa is a year younger than Haruka and Makoto, but attends the same school. He is extremely outgoing and is not afraid to speak his mind. He comes up with the idea to start a swim club and helps the team get its last member. He also swims breaststroke.
Rei is intelligent and strong, and use to pole vault for the school’s track team, but saw Haruka swimming and fell in love with the beauty of the sport. He cannot swim in the beginning and each of the team members take turns trying to teach him how to swim until eventually he found his calling in butterfly.
And, finally there is Rin Matsuoka. He use to compete together with Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa in elementary school, but decided to study abroad in Australia to train. His personality changed due to losing to Haruka at a race just before he left, leaving him distant to his former teammates.
So why is it popular? It is pretty much just like other typical high school anime, similar to that of K-On! However, instead of targeting a male audience with its massive fanservicing (offering something that pleases the audience); Free! targets the female audience. This pretty much means every other shot has the boys either half-naked or showing off muscles.
Unfortunately, because of this, the male demographic have become upset and generally don’t understand the appeal in such an anime – some calling it boring.
Yes, I do agree that Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is generally bland in terms of story and plot. But instead of constantly drilling in stupid jokes about big-breasted women and panty shots, the show makes jokes about actually funny things. I’m not saying other animes do not do the same, it is just less about women. From Haruka’s weird obsession with water to Nagisa’s blatant disregard for school rules – the show is comedic without being stupidly so.
However, the reason I keep watching it is because of its real theme – swimming.
Now this is just me, but I use to swim twenty-four times a day. I own a pool and now, due to this anime, I’m doing laps again. It does help promote good exercise and the sheer animation for it is brilliant. The meaning behind Haruka’s love for the sport is to just feel free and that is a nice way to look at something, no matter what the sport or hobby.
They are also a colourful array of characters, if not the anime cliche ones. However, instead of overpowering one of them, they all seem to have personality flaws that contradict with the other personalities. The soundtrack is also catchy, something many famous anime and manga series like to make important. Each character will eventually have a single sung by the voice actor of each, much like Soul Eater did on its album.
If you want to watch it, you can see it – with English subtitles – through Crunchyroll. However, I would like to point out that it is a show definitely aimed towards those attracted to men (you can obviously tell from above).