Haruka Nanase has a love for water and a passion for swimming. In elementary school, he competed in and won a relay race with his three friends Rin Matsuoka, Nagisa Hazuki, and Makoto Tachibana. After claiming victory at the tournament, the four friends went their separate ways. Years later, they reunite as high school students; however, Rin couldn’t care less about returning to the way things used to be. Not only does he attend a different school, but the sole thing important to him is proving that he is a better swimmer than Haruka.
After the bitter reunion, Haruka, Nagisa, and Makoto decide to form the Iwatobi High School Swim Club, but they will need a fourth member if they hope to take part in the upcoming tournament. Enter Rei Ryuugazaki, a former member of the track team whom Nagisa recruits. As the time to compete draws near, the four develop a close bond while training intensely to come out on top and settle things between Haruka and Rin once and for all.
Free! is being tagged wrong as a sports anime, but what I believe it is (a slice of life and drama with sports as background) it does it extremely well. While it doesn’t have the passion and intensity I crave, or at least the first season didn’t with many shots of empty places, people walking, the gang having fun. Plus also 50% of the scenes are indeed drama and full of angst, hence me labelling it as not a sports anime.
But let’s clarify what a sports anime is for myself, everyone has their own gauge, so it’s fine if for you it IS a sports anime.
A sports anime will focus 70-80% of the air time on the sports, things happening DURING said sports, if there’s character grow you will see it through the sports itself as they grow and mature, suffer and cry. Good examples are Ace of Diamond, Yowamushi Pedal, etc.
A sports anime will have slice of life scenes in between matches in order to alleviate the tension and stress before a big game, so it can rev up the engine all over again.
A sports anime will have angst scenes, or drama, or flashbacks, during the sports 90% of the time, so that instead of taking AWAY from the sports, it will ADD up.
Now, if I rule Free! by those, it is not and shall never be a sports anime for me. But that’s fine, like I said, what it does is still interesting and a good show.
Free! does not do the drama, angst, flashbacks and slice of life moments during the swimming itself, the swimming is more of a coming together after those scenes, where they’re at peace and succeeding (or failing) as humans. It’s a different type of growth, so maybe it’s me that is too far closed minded. It’s a huge possibility, and so you can consider this as just me wishing there was a very intense swimming anime, which in this first season it was not.
Now the reason I keep saying it’s not a sports anime is this:
People that come to Free! expecting a sports anime might very well get BORED, find it tedious and either ignore or hate the show and call it overrated. Which is fair, because it is being targeted as one thing, though I do believe it’s a good friendship with teammates and drama show.
Of course this is all my viewpoint of someone that watched Season 1, which has only 12 episodes, but I find even their attitudes towards swimming is not as intense as in other sports shows. I can’t say there’s one person in the show that has an intense passion for it, they either like it (Makoto and Nagisa), they admire Haru and so they got enchanted to swim (like Rei), or they’re nonchalant about it because all they care is being in the water (like Haru). Even if we go to the less main cast, Rin, we find that his love for swimming isn’t about the swimming itself.
So what do these characters value? They value friendship, teammates, having fun, being free, being together, enjoying their teenage years having one thing in common: swimming. If this had been a book club, it’d be the exact same way and wouldn’t change the story at all, and that’s why it isn’t a sports anime to me.
To me sports anime without the love for the sports is boring, without the passion is boring, without the singular drive to make it at all costs is boring. So did I find Free! boring? NO. Paradox? I think not. I just went into the show knowing full well it WASN’T a sports anime, that it was slice of life feat drama with a huge dose of angst, and that’s exactly what I got + naked bishies like it was promised in the posters and promos of the show, bless ❤
You can find where to watch this on Because Moe, and I’m sure you’re savvy enough to find it somewhere else too /winks