Fall is here and winter is right around the corner. With cooler days and colder nights here on the east coast, it’s easy to forget the joys of summer and it’s seasonal sport: swimming. Thanks to our friends at Funimation, I was able to watch season one of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club and enjoy the sun and surf.
Haruka Nanase has one mantra which guides his life: he only swims free. His mantra is put to the test though when he befriends his new classmate, Rin Matsuoka. Together with Nagisa Hazuki and Makoto Tachibana, the boys swim relay and win first place. Separated in middle school, Haruka and Makoto reunite with Nagisa at Iwatobi High School. Filled with nostalgia, the trio heads to their old elementary school where they find Rin, who is back from Australia.
Their happiness at seeing their long lost friend is not reciprocated, and Rin immediately jumps into challenging Haruka in a race. Rin beats Haruka, causing both of them to find their reason to swim competitively again. For Haruka, it’s a reinvigorated love of the water. For Rin, it’s to properly beat Haruka again.
While Rin joins his high school’s swim team, the boys of Iwatobi get to work on creating the Iwatobi Swim Club. With Rin’s younger sister Guo as club manager, and their lit teacher Miho Amakata as advisor, all they need is a fourth member to be a school recognized club. Thanks to a little (okay, a lot) of persistence on Nagisa’s part, the group finds their fourth member in Rei Ryugazaki. Now with a full team, the Iwatobi Swim Club can finally start competing!
Okay, maybe it isn’t that easy. While training, each member overcomes a huge psychological obstacle. This culminates into a final emotional standoff between Rin and Haruka. Can they both compete “for the team” and rekindle their friendship? Or are they stuck only swimming solo?
Free! follows a fairly linear plot line, with drama in conflict in all the right places. The only downside to this is the ending of the season is fairly predictable. Despite that, it was an enjoyable viewing experience that I would probably repeat a second or third time.
One problem I had with Free! is that it felt like the only important characters were Rin and Haruka. Nagisa, Rei, and Makoto all felt like they existed to ensure the plot moved along. While each of the supporting characters has their own supplemental conflicts and stories, it felt like they weren’t fleshed out enough.
Despite that, one thing I really enjoyed about Free! is that the male characters have and express emotion. The guys have angst; they express their hurt feelings, and even cry. While I know this show may not draw as many male viewers as female viewers, it’s still important and deserves recognition. As a woman, I was always told growing up that a woman can cry, but a man can’t. It’s so incredibly important that this narrative and expectation is broken. If the first step towards this happens to come from a sports anime with fanservice undertones, then so be it.
The packaging for the first season is Free! is pretty stellar. The DVD discs and Blu-ray discs each come in their own case, which is then stored in a chipboard box. This allows the discs to be more easily transportable as you don’t have to bring the whole set with you if you’re watching it somewhere else. I’m not sure if people still bring DVDs to their friends’ house; if not, I will bring that trend back starting with this set.
The box set also includes three fantastic OVAS, along with a textless version of the opening and closing themes, and some trailers for upcoming anime.
Kyoto Animation and Animation Do did an awesome job on this project. The animation of the water and of the guys swimming is fantastic and looks fluid and authentic. It looks like they drew some inspiration from their earlier projects, such as K-On and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. This is especially seen in the animation of the eyes. The animators also really went out of their way to make sure the swimmers had as many muscles as possible. I studied biology in college, so physiology isn’t my strong point. Still, I think the guys had a few too many muscles.
The soundtrack was surprisingly good. A lot of the songs had a techno or dubstep beat to them and were used in the practice or tournament scenes. I found that it really enhanced my viewing of the scenes as I was getting just as pumped up as the guys.
Free! has an absolutely stacked cast of voice actors. Todd Haberkorn (Hetalia, Soul Eater) voices protagonist Haruka Nanase. I didn’t recognize his voice, but I did recognize the voice of Johhny Yong Bosch, who voices Makoto Tachibana. Fans may also recognize Greg Ayres (Fairy Tail) who voices Nagisa Hazuki, and Vic Mignogna (Full Metal Alchemist, Ouran Highschool Host Club) who voices Rin Matsuoka. J Michael Tatum (Black Butler, Ouran Highschool Host Club) voices our last main swimmer, Rei Ryugazaki, while Jamie Marchi (Death Parade, Assassination Classroom) voices Rin’s sister, Gou.
I was extremely impressed with the cast of this show. They managed to voice teenagers well, without sounding whiny or entitled. There was an authenticity to their acting. The only problem I had was I recognized J Michael Tatum’s voice so well that I can only picture him as Otori from Ouran, and it would draw me out of the scene. It’s my own problem, and I’m working on it.
Overall, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was a fantastic show that I can see myself enjoying again and again. The story was good, but a little predictable. The animation was great, and the voice acting was authentic. Fans looking at add Free! Iwatobi Swim Club to their collection can purchase it here from the Funimation store.