By James Daly
Something very sad happened yesterday. It was the first time in three months that Crunchyroll didn’t have a new episode of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club because the series ended last week. Having severely enjoyed this anime, I could not handle the series being over, but it is so I have no choice other than to get over it.
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club follows friends and former elementary school swimming champions Haru, Makoto, and Nagisa as they reunite and establish a high school swim team together. The three encounter Rin, the fourth member of their elementary championship relay team who has turned sour towards them. Rin has just returned from Australia where he attended a swimming school to pursue his dream of competing in the Olympics. Following a race between Rin and Haru, the newly-formed Iwatobi Swim Club decide to partake in official contests following a heated exchange between Haru and Rin where the fire of competition is reignited within them both.
Shortly after, Haru, Makoto and Nagisa are joined by Rei, a former member of the track team with a penchant for logic who teaches himself swimming by researching the theory behind it. With a full team of four, and a new coach and manager behind them, the series focusses on the bonds of friendship and the intensity of competition swimming, cut with plenty of humour and sentimentality for the viewer to form a healthy relationship with the characters.
As far as sports anime go, Free! runs pretty much par for the course. There is less attention on the details of the sport then their is in an anime like Eyeshield 21, for example, but as their is only thirteen episodes in season one it is understandable that Free! takes a slightly more casual approach to the practice of swimming. Instead, Free! explores the concept of swimming.
It also means more screen time is devoted to the characters themselves, which serves to deepen the appeal of the characters. The affectionate way the main characters refer to each other with the suffix “chan” gives the viewer an understanding of the type of friendship the characters share. This feminine address is based on all of the characters possessing female names, which hints to the nature of characters all being based on the main characters from Sailor Moon. As a result, ‘Free!’ runs rampant with OTP potential and re-watchability.
It is easy to see why this anime is guaranteed a second series based on fan reactions alone, but the fact of the matter is that it is so well written. Episodes are well-paced and packed with enough content to satisfy yet tantalise audiences. Character development avoids over-encumbering viewers or tediously stagnating.
The animation style, it’s simply flawless. The character motions border on poetic, and the animated water is a sight to behold, all made better by the great use of 3D. The art style is wonderful too, sporting a creative blend of optimistic colours and casual realism, cleverly incorporating “real-world” clothing items into the character designs to add depth (as well as potentially boost some sales of Mizuno jammers).
Overall, though this anime is definitely not for everyone, it’s downright perfect for most anime fans.