Plot: Haru, Rin, Makoto and Nagisa used to swim together when they were kids. However, Nagisa went to a different school after a while and Rin moved away to a swimming school in Australia to train to be an Olympic swimmer. Haru quit competitive swimming after that, and now he’s only able to swim in summer in the ocean.
Three years later, Haru and Makoto meet up again with Nagisa, and Rin has moved back to Japan, albeit not at their school. They meet by chance in their old broken down swimming club, but Rin has changed drastically. Gone is the happy, laid back and playful Rin. He has been replaced with a cold and rude Rin with a clear animosity towards his old friends, particularly Haru.
Breakdown: Free! was always described to me as basically a gigantic load of pretty fanservice. And yes…..yes there is a lot of that.
Free! is a sports show about swimming. And friendship…And…that’s….about it.
Not much happens in this episode. I suppose they do a decent job at introducing the characters and the story, but there’s not a whole lot going on. Haru, Makoto, Nagisa and Rin, who are all known for being guys with girly names (and Rin’s sister, Gou, is likewise known as a girl with a guy name. By the way, not kidding about this. Gou points this out, and for Haru and Gou, it’s a recurring joke that they hate their names) were best friends four years ago. They swam at the local swimming club together and even won at least one competition.
Rin and Haru seemed to be particularly….not sure I’d say ‘close’ but ‘connected’ in some way. When Rin moved away to Australia to a special….swimming school – do they really have those? Because they state there are at least two of them in the world, and I can’t believe that for a second – Haru quit swimming competitively.
We never learn why, but it seems like it might have something to do with the aforementioned competition.
Three years later, Makoto and Haru are still close, but Nagisa had gone to a different school until he recently came to their high school. He tells them that their swim club is being torn down so they should go there and dig up their old trophy, which they buried because they couldn’t decide who should keep it at the time. They convince Haru to go there with the promise of being able to swim.
Let me stop right there and address two things:
1) Can you see the glaring, incredibly obvious flaw with this? Convincing Haru to go to a pool that is days away from being torn down by promising he can swim there?
If you said ‘There’s obviously not going to be any water in the pool, and, if there is, it’s probably disgusting’ you’d be right! Why it took until Haru and Rin were about to jump in to notice is anyone’s guess.
2) My only real exposure to Free! before this, outside of some AMV clips, was the abridged series, 50% Off!
In it, Haru is…an idiot, but also ridiculously obsessed with water. It’s supposed to be an exaggeration.
But it’s really not.
Haru’s not an idiot, but my god he is way too obsessed with water and swimming. How is he not constantly pruny? This guy is so obsessed with merely the feeling of water on his body that he regularly sits in his bathtub for hours on end in his swimsuit. And, as you can tell, he can easily be lured anywhere with the promise of swim time. When you mention swimming to him, he basically goes googly eyed.
Even when it’s clear he can’t just go in and swim somewhere, he’ll start undressing then and there – and he always has a swimsuit on!
Sports anime are kinda polarizing because they have a nasty habit of making the sport out like it’s the air we breathe, the blood in our veins and the light in our soul. They tend to go overboard with how great the sport is and make it seem silly. Haru and, to a degree, Free! are perfect examples of this. No one is this obsessed with swimming. It’s kinda creepy.
They meet up with Rin at the swim club, because coincidence of all coincidences that he not only recently moved back to Japan….to be in a swimming BOARDING SCHOOL – seriously, this is a thing? – but he also happened to be skulking around the old swim club at the exact same time AND dug up the trophy before them.
….Also, they recognized him because Rin used to snap his goggle strap on the back of his head before races and when he walked up to them he snapped the strap on his baseball cap….Who does that? Ever? No one. Because not only is it pointless, but it also makes you look like a douche. The goggle thing I get and have seen done. It’s just something to make them sit more comfortably. But not the hat thing.
Rin is a douche anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
There’s no reason given as to why he’s a douche now, but people change.
He challenges Haru to a race, and, like I said, it takes them until they’re in their swim suits, standing on the starting platforms before they realize there’s no water in the pool and the pool’s a broken down hunk of garbage. This is played off like a joke, but you see it coming from a million miles away.
When they learn Rin’s going to this special swim school, they hitch a ride on a train and head down there, luring Haru along with another promise of swimming. They swim, Rin shows up and Haru and him face off. The end.
See? Nothing really happens. But dammit, swimming is the bees knees.
……………..back to the fanservice. It’s everywhere. And they’re so blatant about it, too. It’s ridiculous. Not only do you have the pretty as hell artwork and the super detailed bodies, but you also have several shots of them undressing, usually Haru, numerous panning shots of their half-naked bodies and even hair flips, sparkles and slow motion.
It’s clear that this show is aimed more towards anyone with a terrible drooling condition triggered by pretty half-naked dripping wet anime guys instead of swimming aficionados. There’s still a heavy slant towards swimming, obviously, but the hook is the eye candy.
Does that mean that Free! is bad?
No. Like I said, it does its first episode duties just fine. It’s just a bit of a boring episode. You do wonder why Rin became such a jerk and why Haru quit competitive swimming after Rin left (Also why Haru seems to know and/or is not surprised by finding out Rin’s an ass) but it’s nothing to write home about.
The good news is, I have heard positive things about this show as a whole with the worst usually amounting to ‘it’s kinda boring/it’s below average’ and the core four characters do have a good chemistry between them. I can see this being a show I’d watch on the fly just to enjoy some laid-back stories of friendship and sports.
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