A (Reluctant) Review of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club Ep 1-4
A (Reluctant) Review of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club Ep 1-4
Should I watch Free! Iwatobi Swim Club…? Let’s Find Out
You know, I really do think Bonafide-San has a sadistic side to him that not many people see or even know about; for him to assign me, the newbie writer, THIS show of all shows to review is borderline criminal. But, this is what I do. I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of Kyoto Animation’s Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club.
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, or Free! for short [or Free! ISC], is a projected twelve episode series, based off of a light novel called “High Speed!” by Koji Oji. The story follows four high school boys, Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei as they establish a swimming club at their high school… and that’s about it. Boys starting a swimming club. Can’t add too much to it, or take too much away. Boys…start…a…swimming club. Oh, and one of the boys, Haruka, has a kind of weird back-story with another character, a boy named Rin, who has a beef with him… but we’ll get into that later. I don’t want to jump ahead of the madness… it’ll all come organically.
If this story sounds like something you’ve heard before, then, my friend, you are not mistaken because it’s been done over, and over, and over again in different anime with different characters. The only difference with this show is that… well… I take that back, there IS no difference! With regards to plot, this show is pretty much K-On!, Lucky Star, Highschool of the Dead, Big Windup, and Bamboo Blade, except those shows are awesome with regards to the way they tell their simplistic stories and allow the characters to tell the tale. This is the mark of a great slice-of-life anime. Free! is clearly NOT awesome, relying on the rippling pecs, abs, delts, and whatever the heck else the animators can anime on its male cast to mask over the fact that the story is pretty much the same rehashed crap we’ve seen over and over again. The only thing this show has going for it, and the only thing that it seems content with banking on, is that female viewers will simply adore the hot guys and pay little, if any, attention to the story… or lack of a story. Granted, at the time of this writing, this anime has only been released up to episode four, but this series is only slated to be twelve episodes, and if there were any sort of special twists or nuances to the plot or its characters, it honestly would have and SHOULD have been done by now. There is absolutely nothing special or unique about the story that Free! tells.
Much like the story premise, the characters of this show are pretty much your stereotypical fare that you find in anime of this sort – nothing truly inspiring, and none of them I found really likable or relateable. Let’s start with Haruka Nanase. He’s your typical stoic-style character who doesn’t speak a whole lot, but has a secret love. IN this case, his secret love is swimming. Actually, he’s OBSESSED with swimming and/or being in the water. How obsessed? He bathes and cooks with his swimming trunks on and wears them all the time under his regular clothes and he also has been seen completely disrobing and jumping in pools and other inviting bodies of water, weather or location be darned. We also have our stereotypical healing character in Makoto Tachibana [Heck, even his name sounds like someone I’ve seen in another anime…]. Honestly, you could replace him with a female, and I wouldn’t really know the difference. He’s clearly there for girls who like the sensitive gentle type. Nagisa Hazuki fills the role of the stereotypical, hyperactive younger friend…right down to the hoodie he wears under his uniform. It’s almost a staple in anime that your hyperactive, cheerful character wear a hoodie underneath his clothes. Don’t believe me? Look at Chizuru Tachibana from Kimi to Boku or Masaomi Kida from Durarara!! Up next is our glasses-wearing character Rei Ryūgazaki. Rei is our intelligent, somewhat anti-social character of the group and, as some smart internet surfer was nice to point out, a dead ringer for Joe Kido in Digimon Adventure. Also in our male lead cast we have Rin Matsuoka, a former member of the swim club back in the day, and the supposed rival of Haruka. Yawn again. Go Matsuoka is the team manager [read “Equipment Manager”] and Rin’s little sister, but all she seems to do is just stand around and gush over the boys’ rippling physiques. Miho Amakata is the faculty advisor to the swim club, but… well… poor girl doesn’t have much going on upstairs, which can be said for a lot of the characters in this show.
The main problem with these characters as compared to other shows of this nature is that this show is CLEARLY trying too hard to make their main characters moe — that is, they force these pretty boys down our throats so hard and so fast, you can’t get any enjoyment out of the story because all you’re watching is the pretty boys. [Yeah, umm… maybe I should’ve picked better phrasing there… ah well…] So yeah, you could EASILY replace these characters with an all-female cast and it’ll still work because there’s nothing really special or unique about this group of guys. We’ve seen these characters done before… and, I have to say, done BETTER.
With regards to animation, this being a Kyoto Animation project, the visuals are quite nice looking. Kyo-Ani is one of the best in the industry when it comes down to nice looking animation. When they want something to look adorable, they do so without flinching. You need only look to previous projects like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Air and Kanon to see evidence of this. I have to admit, this is probably some of the best animation of this season. But seriously, this show goes a little too far with some of the visuals. In my anime reviewing career, I’ve taken many shows to task over their use of fan-service, and this time will be no different.
Seriously, it makes me wonder if the creators just gathered around and asked “How much can we show and still be on the air, yet make as many girls [and some guys] completely and utterly pass out?” I mean, it’s understood that, because this show is centered around swimming, that our characters will, indeed, be seen shirtless and/or wearing swimming trunks. I can accept that one hundred percent. I can even accept the fact that some of our characters will wear Speedo-style swimming trunks, and that their bodies would be extremely muscular. But all the lingering shots of the boys getting out of the pool, their absurdly ripped bodies glistening with sweat and chlorinated water gets tiring after a while. And it’s not like the creators are making this a rare thing; no, they almost go out of their way to make all our male characters disrobe and get in the pool, showing off their rippling muscles any chance they get. Episode ONE has two of our main cast members completely disrobing and going for a swim in another school’s pool. Why? Because it’s there, of course, silly. And just why does our rival character, Rin, have serrated teeth all across his mouth? Is he trying to knock off Soul Evans from Soul Eater or something? Are they trying to relay some sort of subliminal message that Rin is a shark and Haruka is a dolphin? [Nagisa actually compares Haruka to a dolphin due to his swimming ability and his love of the water…] Maybe that’s just something that will go unanswered? I don’t know, but suffice it to say, for an anime that is so detailed with everything else, one wonders why this somewhat unrealistic dental work passed muster. Ah well…
The opening theme for Free! is “Rage On!” by the group Oldcodex. I found it to be… okay. Nothing too inspiring, but tolerable. The opening animation paired with it is about what you would expect from an anime about swimming; our main characters in a pool or in water. The ending theme is “Splash Free” by Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Tsubasa Yonaga, Daisuke Hirakawa and Mamoru Miyano…the Japanese voice actors for Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, Rei, and Rin respectively. The song itself is, again… okay, but the animation that it plays over is nothing short of bizarre with a liberal dose of innuendo. Its something you pretty much have to see to believe, but suffice it to say that once you do, you ain’t gonna forget it anytime soon… for better or worse. The incidental music is alright, and I don’t have a problem with the acting. In fact, as near as I can tell because I don’t speak the language, the acting is very well done.
So, where does that leave us? Well, four episodes in, and I can honestly say that “Free!” is just a gimmick anime with nothing much going for it beyond that. It’s pretty much a boy’s version of K-On! except with swimmers instead of band members. I’ve read several comments online about this show to the tune of “This is an anime for women!” and “It’s about time! It’s our turn now!” Personally, if I were female, and if someone said this was an anime for my gender, I would be insulted that the creators of this anime would think that this unoriginal, uninspired anime with its clichéd characters ripped to high heaven was all that it took to make me a viewer. Take note, Kyoto Animation—it takes more than breasts and beefcake to make a great anime.
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is being simulcasted on Crunchyroll