So some of you may know that Free! has regretfully ended. The epic saga of 5 swimming boys started with that commercial revelation in April interspersed in Tamako Market, then it became a full-fledged anime of its own in July. And now, after 13 heartwarming episodes, it has come to its conclusion. People around the world are sobbing, crying for it to come back and fill the empty void that has sprouted in their lives.
I kid you not, none of this is exaggeration. I’ve had a guy post on Facebook, “oh no, what shall I do with my weekly Free! watching now?” and another girl said she wailed watching the last episode. Of course many girls really love Free! for the muscular guys and the yaoi action hints, but what about the guys? Almost all of the guys I met said they liked Free! for the storyline more than anything else. But what’s it with the slice-of-life story of some guys obsessed with relay swimming? What magic has KyoAni worked on its male audience again?
I hazard a hypothesis that Free! is sorta like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. If you don’t know, the teenage male fanbase for My Little Pony is staggering considering it is a cartoon about some girlish (though of course there’re male) horses in a magical rainbow land. Guys still love the action of Iron Man and the adrenaline rush of Fast & Furious, but it’s the same as expecting all women to watch only The Notebook. Everyone wants some variety. Throngs of girls flock to watch The Avengers too, so why can’t guys appreciate good storytelling in the form of romances or platonic bromance like Free? Arguably, guys would empathise with the male characters more than girls anyway.
So are guys becoming softies? Or are they just more honest with themselves and with the world now? Or maybe we’re just inserting unjust labels on anime like Free! Who’s to say that Free was meant to cater to girls to begin with? Sure, it had the sparkly muscles, but it also had the adorable Gou. Swimming is a sport, so it gets guys’ hearts pumping too. Just because we can easily fit Free! into a particular genre doesn’t mean it must encompass all elements of that genre.
About Free! in particular, since we talked about it, I think it has all the common male stereotypes. I like Rei and Nagisa very much, and I guess Haruka does have his charms. Rin would be wonderful if he ever returned to the Pimp style portrayed in the commercial, but his friendly side is pretty acceptable too. Nitori still seems far too gay for my acceptance — even his hairstyle is way too tacky. I’m still sorely disappointed with Makoto for being just a bit too gentle and adoring with Haruka. Speaking of adoring, which is your favourite pairing out of all the possibilities KyoAni wove?
I wonder if Free! has encouraged more people to take to the pool, but it’s autumn now, so do enjoy the water before it gets any colder! And do buy good-looking swimming trunks and goggles. They should’ve done some more obvious product placement in there, shouldn’t they?