Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I've had a tough time keeping up with all the simulcasts I'm following this season, and I blame it on the warm weather. Not that I'm going outside, of course. It's just that there's so much for a car racing nerd like me to watch this time of the year. The Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and on it goes all summer long. Life can be so very difficult when the majority of your hobbies involve the voracious consumption of media. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Free! Iwatobi Swim Club
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Shelf Life Reviews
The Free! license has been shuffled around quite a bit here in the US, which means Funimation only just recently released their version of the show's first season. Gabriella's on hand to check it out and see how the show has held up since its initial premiere.
Girlishly-named Haruka Nanase really, really, really likes water. Like, a lot. He's always wearing his swimming trunks under his pants, and he'll even strip down to jump into a home aquarium if you don't watch him. The only thing that he likes more than water (maybe) is friendship, but even that ties into his beloved fluid. In childhood, his best friends were the members of his junior swim team. Together, they spent countless days at the pool, awash in the pleasures of their fleeting youth, unaware of anything beyond this happiness. However, by the time that Haru reached high school, he was already forced to look upon this as an irretrievable past – the team has split up, and he eventually quit competitive swimming himself. Of their gang of four, only the maternal Makoto remains by his side. The team baby, Nagisa, is still in middle school, while Haru's rival, Rin, trains to become a professional athlete in far-off Australia. But when these old friends return to coax him back into the game, Haru is forced to confront his true desires, his future prospects, and even unexplored baggage from his past. Also, they take off their shirts a bunch.
Putting aside my melodramatic summary, Free!'s first season has a pretty typical Kyoto Animation “ah, sweet memories of youth” narrative. That is to say that it's a strongly written – if overwhelmingly conventional – story about fantasy high schoolers accomplishing something. K-On!, Hyouka, and Sound! Euphonium all share this same basic conceit. Free!'s claim to fame among these is that it stars pointy-chinned, long-backed teen boys rather than blob-faced, shiny-kneed girls. That's right, this is a fantasy boyfriend show – anyone who's been involved with anime fandom over the past few years should know that well enough already. Free! remains a phenomenon, only recently dethroned from its pedestal as the fujoshi show by recent megahit Yuri!!! on Ice. As is requisite for the genre, the boys are all intensely shippable with one another, although romantic feelings are never made explicit. It's still clear that the KyoAni folks knew exactly what they were doing when they linger on Haru and Rin poised in a confrontational almost-kiss or Haru giving Makoto mouth-to-mouth. Honestly, it's kind of weird coming back to this after Yuri!!! on Ice, which broke convention by making the same-sex romance actually explicit. It's just strange to think that this level of manservice plus heightened chaste friendship with good production values for a change felt like a revelation for fangirls just four years ago.
KyoAni certainly has a reputation for producing some of the lushest shows in the business. Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is no exception, featuring fluid motion, strong color work, and downright precipitous stacks of abs. Seriously, these boys are like 80% torso. If ultra-smooth character animation of dudes rolling their shoulders is what you're into, you'll be in heaven, but be advised that options may be limited when it comes to other parts of the male anatomy. What they do indulge seems to work well enough for a lot of folks, though.
This review covers Funimation's Limited Edition release. The case itself is lovely. It matches the one for season two and has this cool partial lamination effect meant to imitate a splash of water. Extras include three short OVAs. While my grievances with the English dub casting still match what I said in my first review, the scripting has improved to more closely reflect the Japanese version's straightforward dialogue. Overall, this dub improves on the second season's while also inheriting some of its issues.
Free! is a good show and solidly popular. You don't need me to tell you this. It's one of those shows that I feel will come up fairly fast when people ask about the definitive anime hits of the 2010s. It's also an early trendsetter in the ongoing fujoshi renaissance, while remaining a pretty good show in its own right. Especially if you like shoulders. And abs.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Timothy:
First, there's one key difference between my collection and what's seen in most Shelf Life photos: these were taken in my family room, not a bedroom or library. When house guests come, this is what they see! I'm an otaku, and proud of it!
The four shelves each measure a full 15 feet, and I mounted them myself. Standard DVD cases are on the top shelf, Blu-ray below, then DVD box sets below that. Also, there is a polished wood ledge on two of the other walls in the room, where I keep the figurines. The plushies are on the floor and the subwoofer.
A few items of note…
First, I keep the Vocaloids where they belong—next to the speakers. The framed picture of Stocking Anarchy is autographed by several PS&G's English voice actors, and was a Christmas gift from family. The Book of Clow beside Sakura and Tomoyo contains all the Cards—and just to tempt fate, I keep The Windy on top… The Japanese coins come to a cool ¥942 (a whopping $8.47 as a write!) L to R: 500, 100, 50, 10, 5, and 1 yen. And, of course, Tomoko Kuroki is off by her lonesome.
I sometimes wonder if the figurines go all Toy Story on each other after I go to work. But if that's the case, given that Alucard, Revy, Big O, Escaflowne, the Elric Brothers (and Anarchy Sisters!), Sebastian, Ikaros, and Shana are in residence, it's amazing the living room isn't a smoking ruin…
As for the plushies, I keep the Sohma family together, where Kyo and Yuki can argue all they want. And I can only imagine Chi (“Play, play!”) getting on Grumpy Cat's nerves to no end (“NO.”)
Lastly, since shelf space is at a premium, I undertook a project to consolidate shows in fewer cases—Azumanga Daioh went from six cases to one, and Heaven's Lost Property (both seasons and the movie, five Blu-rays total) also went into a single case. It took a while, but I eventually got back ten feet of shelf space!"
Only the bravest of souls keep their anime collections front and center in the house. Great stuff, thanks for sharing!
Want to show off your own anime or manga collection? This is the place! Send me your photos at [email protected]!
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