There are plenty of anime about sport, and indeed there could be more if Tokyo wins the 2020 Olympic bid (announced next month). There are series about soccer, American football, baseball, tennis, basketball, motor racing and so on. One baseball anime, Star of the Giants, has recently been reanimated for the Indian market so it covers cricket and is now called Suraj the Rising Star.
One anime currently being broadcast at the moment and being streamed online legally for English speaking viewers is Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club, and as the title suggests it’s about swimming. However, there is also something else which has come from it. Namely that fans watching it have become rather “fond” shall we say of the boys that make up the club. Both female fans and gay male fans have been attracted to the characters. Indeed, some argue that Free! could be the gayest cartoon made not to feature anyone who is actually gay.
The series starts with four schoolboys called Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rin who at elementary school won a swimming tournament together. Rin however then left the group to study and practice his swimming in Australia. Some years later Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa meet up at the Iwatobi High School and learn that Rin has returned from Oz, having joined an elite sporting academy. They all meet up and Rin challenges Haruka to a race. Rin wins, but he decides not count it as a victory because he learns that Haruka has not swum for years.
Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa thus decide to form their own swimming club at the school, using an old outdoor swimming pool which they repair. They are helped by their manager Gou, who happens to be Rin’s sister, and their teacher Miho is blackmailed into helping the club after it was discovered she modelled swimsuits. The club are later joined by a new member, Rei, an athletic student obsessed with beauty who after much persuading joins the club, despite not being able to swim. Together Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei attempt to form their own swimming relay team to take on Rin.
As mentioned, the main appeal of Free! is not the sporting aspect of it, but because the main characters are rather attractive. We have five topless well-toned lads, all in lycra-tight swimming shorts. That is enough to get quite a lot of people excited. There is one scene for example where Gou is watching the club members trying out different shorts and getting excited every time she sees someone in a new outfit.
Not only is there the whole romantic side for the women, but in the minds of viewers there does seem to be a bit of a bromance to put it mildly. The problem is that once you hear about this ever so slightly homoerotic angle you cannot help but take almost every single action in the series as being something untoward. The main male characters all have feminine names for starters. There is one scene in which one character is about to give CPR and as they are about to perform the “Kiss of Life” you do get a bit excited. You just can’t help it. The closing title sequence is also rather bizarre, because it features the five young men as Arabs in a hot desert, which just feels weird.
Free! is a fun series. If you are in it for the sporting aspect however you might be disappointed. But for anyone interested in the more bromantic side of things, it does have an appeal. Just remember that these are schoolboys, so don’t get too carried away.
The series is currently being stream on Crunchyroll. Membership to view all episodes of the series plus many other anime titles is £4.99 per month, with optional upgrades costing £8.99 per month. New episodes are released every Wednesday at 20.15.