The wait for Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club was incredible. Originally showed off with a pitch video early this year just showing off the idea of a moe-esque show about boys swimming, eventually revealed as the full sports-drama show we know it as today. I was part of the group up people that were constantly asking for the “Swimming Anime” to be come a real thing, and it’s time to figure out if it was all worth it in the end.
Free!‘s story is nothing special. It’s about five boys with girly names, four of them having a past history where they swam in the same relay as kids, and what happens when they meet again in high school. The main character, Haruka, is a person obsessed with water who adores swimming. He only swim freestyle because he wants to feel “free” in the water, hence the name of the show. He attends the same high school as Makoto and Nagisa, his childhood friends who decide that they’re going to start up the school’s swimming club once again.
While it remains simple throughout the twelve episode run, there is some genuine emotion and drama to the story at times. It’s certainly not consistent and it’s not really something the show exhibits a major strong focus on. Even so, you’d be surprised how much Free! manages to squeeze out of its premise and characters, especially towards the end of the series. It’s like the show wishes it had more to work with and the finally just breaks out and does all it can with what it got. Thankfully, it mostly works out just fine.
Visually, Free! manages to end up all over the place. While Kyoto Animation have clearly tossed a lot of money at the show, some of it has fallen straight into the water. Bad CG trees, overuse of background-shots and some real weird animation hiccups are obvious at even a quick glance. But when the show is at its best, it shines. During the relay scenes or almost every scene where the characters are swimming, the direction is put to great use to both create a stylized cool look while still having some really well-detailed animation.
I’ve been in love with the soundtrack for Free! since the very first PV came out. Looking at the show as a whole, I feel it was a well-fitting sound and it was certainly one of the most memorable soundtracks of the year so far, even if it’s not as interesting and unique sounding as some other ones. The opening theme “Rage on” by OLDCODEX and the ending theme “SPLASH FREE” sung by the VAs are great as well.
Speaking of voice actors, let’s talk about the boys behind the voice. Haruka is voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki who delivers a good but not that special performance. Part of the problem is that Haru speaks in a very calm and absent tone that doesn’t really allow for Shimazaki to give his full range. Mamoru Miyano plays Haru’s childhood friend and rival Rin and delivers the most emotional performance of the boys, letting out some great stuff in the last few episodes.
Tsubasa Yonaga plays my favorite character, Nagisa, who has the most memorable voice even if it’s not really all that special. The performance is good but never goes beyond anyone else’s, which is a shame as I would like to see him get a bigger focus and more lines. Satsuki Yukino plays Makoto and does a fine if un-memorable job, while Daisuke Hirakawa does quite a great performance as Rei that is unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that he doesn’t get any good lines until the last two episodes.
While Free! obviously is targeted towards a fujoshi crowd, I do feel it’s good enough to be viewed by people who are just mildly interested in a show about swimming and school life. It’s not the male K-On! of swimming some fans hoped it would be, but it’s certainly not the death of anime that people terrified that they wouldn’t get any more cute girls in their anime series tried to warn the internet of a few months ago.
Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club is simply a good but not fantastic show about boys who enjoy swimming and get really really worked up about it. And that’s really all I wanted out of it, so I’m happy with it. And with more Free! promised for next summer, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Haru and friends next water time.
But for fucks sake, what is a theoretical dolphin kick?