If You Like Shirtless Anime Boys, Watch Free!

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Earlier this year, four shirtless anime boys appeared in a commercial—a commercial that became so popular that a full anime series about them was ordered. That is how Free! was created. And, as you might expect from those beginnings, Free! is a shameless cash-in—though that doesn't make for an unwatchable show.

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Free! is one of those anime that it quite difficult for me to review since I am, as a straight male, most definitely not the target audience. So in lieu of the normal reviewing format, let's take a look at Free! in two different ways: as a sports anime and as a fanservice anime (for those among us who like their animated men pretty and shirtless).

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As a Sports Anime

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As a sports anime, Free! is just about par for the course. A group of championship-level swimmers who, for various reasons, have quit swimming, decide to create a swimming club at their high school and aim for the national championship. Along the way they encounter numerous problems to overcome as it seems the whole world is against them—lack of funds, no place to practice, not enough team members, etc. Together, they overcome these trials and go to the big swimming meet, but will their pertinacity be enough to win?

Illustration for article titled If You Like Shirtless Anime Boys, Watch emFree!/em
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Of course, as with all sports anime, there is the rival character. As you might expect, he knew the main cast when he was younger but has since come to despise them. He is determined to beat his rival—the main character Haruka—at the big swim meet and prove once and for all that he is the best.

When it comes down to it, Free! is pretty cliché when viewed as a sports anime. It does next to nothing truly original but the execution is well done enough that those who like sports anime will find it watchable. It certainly isn't terrible, but it is terribly average.

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As Fanservice

Illustration for article titled If You Like Shirtless Anime Boys, Watch emFree!/em
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But let's face it, it wasn't the promise of a sports anime about a swim team that turned Free! from commercial into TV series. No, that would be the shirtless boys with swimmer's bodies. Free! is completely unabashed with its fanservice—with the main character stripping at the drop of a hat and constantly lounging around his house in nothing but a swim suit. It’s no exaggeration to say that the main cast spends the majority of the anime's run time shirtless.

Each of the swim team boys is a different cliché type: Haruka is soft spoken yet passionate; Rei is overly serious and wears glasses; Nagisa is small, cute and hyperactive, and Makoto is a strong, reliable, kind leader. The rival, Rin, is the arrogant bad boy with the tortured past—just to make sure every possible fetish is covered.

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Though really, all the boys have some sort of tortured past—or at least some negative quirk that causes them trouble. Of course, these human frailties are included to elicit an emotional response from the viewer: If only you were there to soothe their emotional aches.

Illustration for article titled If You Like Shirtless Anime Boys, Watch emFree!/em
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What's interesting—though, hardly surprising—is that while there is a female character that just screams potential love interest (their manager), Free! chooses to go for the boys love angle instead. While there is nothing as overt as a kiss or a declaration of love, there are numerous personal confessions. The characters simply love telling each other how much they mean to each other in tearful scenes. Then there are the cliché romantic situations, like playing truth or dare or setting up the “kiss” resulting from CPR. Thus almost every scene is designed in some way to excite your boys love fantasies.

Final Thoughts

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In the end, Free! really is nothing more than a series of fanservice moments tied together by a sports anime plot. As a sports anime, it is painfully average—it has a competent enough plot but does nothing innovative to make it stand on a level with the sports anime greats. But as a fanservice anime for those who like quirky, shirtless boys and sappy emotional moments, it excels. If you are excited by this type of fanservice, by all means give Free! a watch. If not, there are far better sports anime out there that are worth your time.

Free! aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be watched in the US for free with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

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Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

To contact the author of this post, write to BiggestinJapan@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @BiggestinJapan.

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DISCUSSION

rachelfogg
Rachel Fogg

I will forever love the rage about this show....it will never not be funny. And best all, it's STILL happening even on this forum...

Free! Basically gave dudes a taste of their own medicine, 'Hey look! Here's a well done anime about dudes shirtless/queerbait moments! Look at how freaking attractive they are! Oh look, cosplay? Yeah, you have to be fucking FIT to pull off the Free! Cosplay effectively. What?! Some guys are feeling self conscious? What?! Girls can have sexual desires and be just as pervy as dudes!? Wait GUYS ARE BEING SUBJECTED TO THE FEMALE GAZE OBVIOUSLY AND THEY DON'T LIKE IT!?'

WELL WELCOME TO BEING A FEMALE IN JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING, IT SUCKS DON'T IT!

Because at the end of the day, Anime still has a woefully small amount of quality shows/products geared to for the female eye in comparison to the relative quality deluge of shows/products toward the male eye and if you can't see that....congrats! You're one of the butt hurt fanboys bitching about Free!

I loved Free! It's not revolutionary as a anime but it WAS pretty revolutionary on showing how strong and passionate the female Otaku are, KyoAni said 'All of my Yolosssss' and made a well crafted and thoroughly researched show and I thank you for that...that and my Rinharu at the final episode. It was like you guys KNEW me.

The show sold like crack on pancakes, eagerly awaiting for the next season.