|Get it? FREEstyle? Ha-ha! Ahem. Moving on . . .|
Probably one of the most popular anime of the summer, Free! certainly gave the ladies (and gentlemen, perhaps) something to look forward to every "water time."* Does the anime deserve its popularity? Let's find out, but let's start with history first.
*At the end of the preview for the next episode, a still image of the characters would show up with the caption "see you next water time . . ." which basically means "see you next Wednesday . . ."
Kyoto Animation, being the awesome company it is, one day decided to show off how good their animation skills have gotten. So, they released a video showing off one of the most difficult things to animate: water. The video is so hot, it went viral, creating a massive boom of fan-made biographies, fan art, and fanfiction on the net—heck, even petitions were made for the studio to make a series! With so much pressure, on July 4, 2013, an anime series of Free! was made—
—and this review became destined to be written. Oh, and also, watch that viral video of Free! below—like, NOW.
The story to Free! is actually quite simple, although there are some, er . . . memorable(?) (and may I say kind of cliché?) sub-plots, like: tragic backstory, beach episode (though, surprisingly, everyone's skin is almost completely covered by clothing—which is pretty tame compared to most anime), tournaments, succeeding a parent, etc., etc. But the basic story can be summed up to this:
Free! starts with four boys—Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin—before graduating from elementary school. They had all participated in a swimming tournament and gained victory but later 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. The members of the revived Iwatobi Swim Club later enter a swimming competition against Rin.
—Courtesy of Wikipedia
Well, it's a sport-genre anime, and, honestly, having never watched a sports anime, this is a new territory of anime I've never been in, so I was keeping that in mind when I began watching this—but, to my surprise, it wasn't as difficult to understand as I'd have thought it to be. The characters explain to the viewers what certain terms of swimming are and, even if they don't, you can figure out some of them on your own quite easily.
With a lot of sub-plots, there are, surprisingly, not a lot of characters. Not that this is a bad thing, of course: I'd rather watch an anime with a small, well-developed cast than one with a large, stereotypical cast. So, with only twelve episodes, I'm glad Free! didn't try to squeeze in so many characters. Our main cast can be simplified to five people: Nanase Haruka, Tachibana Makoto, Hazuki Nagisa, Matsuoka Rin, and Ryugazaki Rei (who doesn't appear until a few episodes later in the series). Now, if I were to choose what the best thing about this anime is, it would be character development. Each of the main cast grows throughout the anime, most notably Haruka and Rin. So it's very nice that we see the characters grow from the first episode to the last episode.
The characters may start off as stereotypes, but if you keep on watching, they'll become more and more realistic.
|Sigh. If only they were real . . .|
As mentioned before, Kyoto Ani did the animation for Free!, and, as expected from the company that brought us shows such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Clannad, they did a hell of an awesome job! The animation on the water is just stunning and beautiful! I don't think water has ever looked as good until now! All I can say is that the animation for Free! is that it's just gorgeous, gorgeous, GORGEOUS! (Plus, the bods of the guys are very pleasing to the eye. *wink, wink*)
Like the animation, the soundtrack for Free! is just gorgeous and very pleasing to the ears. I very much enjoyed the opening and ending songs of the anime (not just because the main cast sings it *cough, cough*), and I also adored the background music of Free!. If you ever get the chance, listen to some of the soundtracks on YouTube or, better yet, the actual album.
Overall, Free! is an awesome anime that'll leave you smiling and giggling like an idiot. Long story short, this was my reaction right before I was going to watch a new episode:
The Bottom Line
I hereby give this anime the score of ★★★★☆, with each section rated the following:
Because of its rating, this anime is deemed "Good," and I recommend it to anybody who loves sports (especially swimming), bishōnen guys, better than great anime shows, good-looking guys, gorgeous animation, good-looking guys, and—did I already mentioned good-looking guys? For alternate recommendations, I point you to the basketball anime Kuroko's Basketball. Both shows have entertaining characters and great animation, although Kuroko is more of a sports anime than a slice of life, unlike Free!. If you want a more slice of life anime with sports in it—although this one's a bit of a stretch—I recommend Chihayafuru. While it doesn't have pretty boys like Free! does (excluding the two main love interests), Chihayafuru is a fun sports anime with that healthy dose of slice of life. Hopefully one of these shows will have what you're looking for. And with that, see you next water time, otakus! Or, perhaps . . . next summer. ;)