It’s not just Yaoi, or Shounen-Ai fodder, It’s a reflection of friendship.
This article starts my take on the anime review, I call it, HERE’S THE PITCH. A Pitch, in entertainment jargon, is ” a concise verbal (and sometimes visual) presentation of an idea for a film or TV series generally made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio executive in the hope of attracting development finance to pay for the writing of a screenplay”. It is inspired by a chapter of the Late Brandon Tartikoff’s book “The Last Great Ride”, where he shares the greatest pitches he heard from personalities like Marlon Brando to his grandmother.
Here, I am going to do a pitch for an anime series that I like, in the hope that I could convince you to watch it, (hence, you are going to be in the shoes of a TV executive considering my pitch). I will give you the salient points, the positive and, sometimes, the negative. I will also look into its marketability, its “audience factor” and all other aspects that a television programmer also considers. Consider this as a review-slash-prodding from me to watch the series that I liked “For Your Consideration”
Now, let me start my pitch.
A few days ago, I was in an anime event and met some few friends that I knew. They suddenly noticed my button pins that I wore on the sides of my backpack. Two of them came from Free!. My friend asked me “Why are your button pins from a shounen-ai anime?”
I answered back, “Free! is NOT shounen-ai!”
Yes, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club has been known for its being a shounen-ai or Yaoi fodder. Yes, fangirls are having a field day over their bishie faces, their sculpted bodies, and the shipping and the pairing that comes with it. I honestly think it’s natural for an anime which started as a simple tease and now called as the infamous “swimming anime”.
Before Free! was formally announced, fans created, using only the teaser made by Kyoto Animation, their possible storylines, characters, even pairings. Yaoi fangirls were having a field day with the characters, until Kyoto Animation released the official names and the main plot of Free!, which was based on the light novel by Koji Oji, called “High Speed!”
When I heard about the storyline being an anime about friendship, and because I was all too curious to see it, or how will it pans out. I watched the pilot.
And I stuck with it until the season finale.
I stuck with it not because of the characters, or the pairings, or the everything that could be considered as shounen-ai or yaoi fodder. I stuck with it because of the development of the story, which was already airtight since the pilot episode, which I had jotted down on my “Free Notes”.
The character development, aside from being bishounen, is also well done in the series. The director, Hiroko Utsumi, made sure that each character has their own unique personality, its own quirks, struggles and even emotions. It is also one of those anime series that I had watched that surely made the focus not only on the character designs, but also on their personalities. Haru, for instance, is the shy, emotionless lad which eats mackerel and only mackerel for food and would swim on any (take note: ANY) body of water, whether it is on an aquarium or in the bathtub. Makoto is the bestfriend who serves as the straight man (no pun intended) and the mind of the group, who always cares about his friends. Nagisa, while considered to be the youngest among the team, is the more straighforward, pushy, and tactless teen, while Rei is the more calculated, calm and composed but when it comes for the beauty of things, he gets way overboard. Rin is the “contravida” type of character you would want to strangle at first, but later you’ll definitely understand, and like, because of his experiences.
The backstory, which is the important element in the series, was handled well. It resonates with the theme of friendship amid all the challenges. They started out as an elementary school swimming team until Rin decides to go to Australia to study and train to become the best swimmer there is. From there, the backstory goes intertwined in the successive episodes which builds up the story.
I could confidently, and assuredly tell you that the first five episodes of Free! (the Pilot week if it is aired on M-F) is a gem in itself. The premise is clearly defined in the Monday and Tuesday episodes, while the Wednesday and Thursday episodes will provide the light-hearted feel of a sitcom. Friday’s episode will surely be a one for the recordbooks as No teleserye will ever do that kind of cliffhanger that viewers would like to wait until the next Monday’s episode.
The finale episodes (the last 3 episodes) are, by far, the best finale episodes that I have seen in my years of watching anime, or even any other series. I watched the finale the same time the finales of “Ina, Kapatid, Anak” and “Juan Dela Cruz” were on my TV screens and I had to say. NO TELESERYE DIRECTOR CAN EVER LIVE UP TO THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE FREE! SEASON FINALE!. Highly-charged, emotional, climactic, a fitting finale for a 12-week run in Television (and a great springboard for a renewal season!)
And, yes, there are so many scenes that could be ready materials for station-produced product placements! (I could say there could be a Nescafe ad placed there, or even an ABS-CBNmobile ad here, possibilities are endless!)
Now, Why you should Consider it?
Free! is not just an anime that is simply “full of shirtless teenage bishies swimming over the water in their swimming trunks that would make your mouths drool”. It’s about friendship, It is a tale of growing up and coming of age. We all have our coming-of-age experiences one way or another, and when you watch Free, you will see that some of the experiences the characters have would, in any way or another, be just like what you have experienced before. Your friends, one friend leaving you, your friends having disagreements and the like.
Free! tells us that these anime characters are not simply just “characters”, they reflect who we are inside, as evidenced by a Facebook post that I made right after I watched the finale. “They’re not just characters, They’re your friends, and they’re your Kabarkada who will be there when you’re up or you’re down. “.
I would only suggest to whoever Philippine TV network will get this anime that there are many scenes in the series that are all too emotional to handle, and would take a great deal to do. The Original VA’s of Free did a fantastic job in bringing to life the characters on screen, which makes it even more emotional. The voices of Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki (also the vocalist of OLDCODEX, the band who sung the Series’ Opening theme) Tsubasa Yonaga, Mamoru Miyano and Daisuke Hirakawa made myself believe that these were the voices of the characters themselves, not of the actors doing these characters. The supporting roles also should never be made second-best, as the supporting characters help the main characters plot their lives, like Miss Amakata, Gou Matsuoka and Goro Sasabe (which I suggest, in the Fil audio dub, be called as “Mang Goro” or “Tatang Goro” ).
So, I put it as a challenge to the Dubbing director to make the series’ Filipino audio dub as more believable and as more nearer as the original, so as not to remove the key emotional elements of the series.
Now, Here’s The Pitch
To sum it all up, Free! is an anime about friendship, about swimming, about a teenager who wants to look beyond his feelings for his hurt bestfriend. It’s about a group of young swimmers who, aside from chasing their dreams, find time to create a long and lasting friendship. Everyone resonates with these characters. You may have experienced, one way or another, what they have experienced. Even as a non-swimmer, I resonated well with them because, hey, I know a thing about friendship. I connected with these guys.
Now, my pitch, is this. It’s a tale of four teen swimmers, searching for each other’s dreams, while discovering the friendship of a lifetime.
Would you consider watching Free! Iwatobi Swim Club?
© Kouji Ouji ・Kyoto Animation / Iwatobi High School Swim Club
The opinions expressed on this post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Anime Pilipinas, its Editorial Team, and its Friends & Partners.
DISCLOSURE: Red Mendoza is formerly an “Anime Brainstormer” for ABS-CBN Channel 02, and he left the network on September 2013. He now works for an educational publisher.