Sunday, October 13, 2013

Anime Review: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

In case people didn't see the message yesterday, due to trying to get everything watched in time for the anime round-up (nearly 10 shows in three days wohoo) I got a bit off schedule and I'm switching around the anime and the tv series reviews for this week. Since I alternate between shorter tv shows and longer ones this shouldn't be a problem again, especially since Manga November is coming up.

So, this was the show that got everyone's preferred form of underwear in a bunch back in January when a PV was released incensed the dudebros of the internet when it was announced as a real show for the summer. I was amused by it for sure but didn't think that I'd stick around much beyond the first episode or two. But yet, I tried a lot of shows over the summer and very few held my interest yet this was one of the ones I ended up truly liking....

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Summary: When they were kids, Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rin were members of their swim club's swimming relay team but went their seperate ways during middle school. Now they're all in high school and fate seems to be conspiring to bring them back to swimming again, but can things go back to the way things were back then?

The Good: Kyoto Animation took their standard "cute girls do cute things" show set-up, replaced it with a guy and it turns out that it worked pretty well, hurray! Well, by worked well I mean "these guys don't feel like real highschoolers half the time because of the tropes involved but it was still fun to watch, hurray!" but that's fine, it's a rare anime that has a realistic depiction of middle/high schoolers anyway. And it's a rare example of a show that has quite a bit of fanservice but it's never creepy. Yes this is a show aimed at people who like guys and has them running around shirtless in close fitting swim trunks a lot of the time. HOWEVER, with the exception of one or two weird cuts (that were close ups of one guys crotch that no one seemed to like) the guys were never put into any compromising positions or made to feel like they were stripping just because of the camera, they felt like characters, not cut-outs just for the audience to stare at. And that's an important distinction, if you can do fanservice without fetishizing the character involved then you actually know how to write and make something that appeals to a much larger audience. I really do think that's why this one has attracted as large an audience as it has (I believe the preorders for the first DVD/BR were between 25-29k), even if cute guys aren't your thing but sports anime is you can truly enjoy it and not feel skeeved out every other scene.

The Bad: I found a lot of the elements of the last episode to be overly melodramatic. Yes this is a goofy, silly, campy-dramatic show, all sport shows are to a degree, but I felt like they started exaggerating one character's traits to an extreme to create more tension when none was needed. And then the other characters rewarded that drama-llama-ing, I felt like they could have reached the same conclusion without having to mess with the tone of the story so much and it did mean that I was grumpy at the finale which is the exact opposite of how you should feel about the end of a show. Other than that, I felt like there were one or two things the show didn't fully address but, since they've practically promised another season next summer, for the moment I won't be as harsh on it and just hope the next installment changes that.

The Production Values: I'm not sure I want to know how many hours of swimming footage the animators must have watched to make this show, I've seen a couple of blogs out there with actual swimmers (or friends of actuals swimmers who showed them the footage) who said it all looked rather spot on too which was pretty crazy. Yes some episodes look better than others, it's clear that they did spread the budget around a bit so that the big events got more money but through and through the show looks pretty great (there's also a lot of visual continuity in the details that I liked, like the character's shirts and setting changing in unison). Both the opening and ending songs grew on me (even the endings ridiculous graphics), although the voice actors for the boys did sound a little too old at times which was a bit jarring.

So for being fun I give this show 3 out of 5 stars and a recommendation if you like sports anime or if you just like staring at well-drawn men in anime, I'm not going to judge. The show is streaming on crunchyroll but somehow has not yet been picked up for a North American release, I'm betting there's an intense battle going on behind the scenes between the remaining American anime companies since, even though I doubt it'll be a huge huge hit (unlike Attack on Titan), I do think it will do well and it would be strange if none of those companies were even interested. 

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