Watson Watches: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club

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Watson is a New Zealander in his 30s. He knows what anime is, but never watched it growing up and has still seen few titles to date. And a little while ago, I sat him down to watch the first four episodes of Free!.

This article is the fourth of its series – the first, second, and third were Watson Watches: Azumanga Daioh, Kuroshitsuji, and AnoHana respectively. As usual, Watson knew nothing about the anime before watching other than the title, and the following questions were given to him to answer afterwards.

Free! was never originally intended to be a full anime. However, the project gained a huge fan following on Tumblr after a 30 second promotional commercial (which contained no name for the project or any information about the characters) went viral. A petition was then created in order to entice anime studio Kyoto Animation into creating a proper series, which was released less than half a year later. What do you think about the idea of fans demanding and receiving an anime seemingly based on popular demand?

My first reaction is that it seems like an overpoweringly bad idea. Any business has to have customers, to be sure, and at first this might seem like a way to be sure that a customer base exists for a product before taking the risk of creating it. But too many cooks spoil the broth, and many creative endeavours benefit from a firm directing hand on the controls. In this case there are as many cooks as there are fans, all pulling in a different direction on the levers. And if you think this metaphor is getting confusing and unhelpful, spare a thought for how it would be for the creative team trying to satisfy the many-headed hydra masquerading as the ‘vision’ for the piece.

Another concern would be the difficulty in taking any creative risks. Perhaps the anime community is significantly different in this respect, but in general audiences want more of what they have liked in the past, and regard deviations from this as being unacceptable. We have seen it time and again, how an idea that might have been a thing of beauty is beaten into a horrible caricature of itself by trying to appeal to a larger audience – and, in so doing, losing the very things that made it attractive in the first place.

Thinking about it a bit more, however, I suppose it could work. Two possibilities spring to mind for that. If what the fans want is simple and clear-cut, or if they’re willing to let the creators work unhindered, then you could end up with a good product. Others would know better than me how likely this is, however.

Alternatively (and more cynically), the creators might have a list of things they know fans will like, and decide that as long as they include enough things from the list, they can produce pretty much anything and still get a good response. As a bonus, this would also help in dealing with criticism; there will inevitably be dissatisfied viewers, but now they will be arguing among themselves over who “forced” the developers to include the things that are irritating people. I don’t know if this could happen in the anime business, but I’ve certainly seen it in other creative industries.

In short, I don’t regard the idea very favourably. It could work under the right circumstances, and Free! might be a rare example of exactly that. But I think it’s more likely that it’s going breed formulaic pap that stays within the established strictures and is careful to avoid offending too great a segment of the market. Still, if that’s what people want, who am I to say it shouldn’t be done?

Perhaps as a backlash against the largely female-driven fan following that it spawned, Free! has gained plenty of hatred and derision from male anime fans who believe that Kyoto Animation – a studio well known for their male-targeted shows such as Lucky Star and K-On! – should remain faithful to their usual primary demographic. Do you believe this backlash has some validity, or do you see these male viewers as simply being sexist?

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I suppose the entire point of these articles is to provide the perspective of an uninvolved party, so let me dive right in to an argument that I know nothing about and which pertains directly to an extremely sensitive subject. In any case, I think there’s a logical mistake in that question – the fallacy of the excluded middle. I’m reluctant to label those people as sexist, although that doesn’t mean the backlash has validity.

I get the feeling that Free! has been pretty popular, and Kyoto Animation will have noticed that. They’d be silly not to be including that data point in their plans for the future, which fact is presumably as obvious to anime fans as it is to me. And, despite their reputation as shy and retiring types, I also get the feeling that anime fans can be pretty passionate about their fandom. If a group of dedicated fans perceived a threat to the future production of the shows they cared about, do you think they might lash out at whatever they blamed for that threat?

That’s what I suspect happened in this case. Now make no mistake: I still think that the fans are wrong. Kyoto Animation ought to be able to make whatever they feel like making, and if that happens to involve a show that’s popular with females then I don’t see any problem with that. But just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean they’re being sexist, even if the target of the backlash is something a lot of women do like.

On the other hand, if this really is a case of a bunch of sexist guys not wanting to let girls in on the fun, then they can go and fuck themselves.

Traditionally, anime bishounen (i.e. pretty boys designed specifically to appeal to female audiences) have been given extremely willowy figures, while the character designs of Free! are considerably more muscular by comparison. Do you feel that this change in style is a positive one?

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Yes, insofar as changing from one improbable body type to another is a positive step. Sure, I understand that swimmers at such a highly competitive level would have to be toned and muscular, so it’s not necessarily unrealistic. And generally speaking, I feel that the more body types we can see as major characters, the better.

But one of the big problems with anime (and visual media in general) is how often the characters don’t seem to resemble actual people. I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest this has been linked to self-image issues, and this can affect all sorts of people. For example I’m in my 30s, male, and about as resigned to my body shape as I’m likely to get. Even so, I’m a little uncomfortable being presented with main characters like that. Maybe this is because I have a character design that with the best will in the world could not be described as either “extremely willowy” or “considerably muscular”.

Yes, yes, I know “comparisons are odious”. I don’t want to overstate the importance of the point, and it’s possible that this is an issue more to do with my particular psychology than anything else. It’s certainly a good thing that the women (and gay men?) in the audience have a greater selection of designs to lust over. Overall I do think the style change is a positive one – it just doesn’t go as far as I’d like. But then again, I’m starting to get the impression that anime in general is a pretty conservative medium.

In particular, Free! has earned a lot of praise for its bright and crisp artwork, smooth animation, and excellent camera work. Do you think Free! is genuinely better looking compared to other anime you’ve seen to date, or are viewers being blinded by the generous amounts of bare flesh?

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To be completely honest, I didn’t even notice the artwork or any of that other stuff until you mentioned it. Having gone back to take another look… hmm. Comparing it to, say, AnoHana, it does look noticeably crisper and brighter. The water is also surprisingly well done (if anyone is waiting for me to make a joke about how ‘fluid’ its animation is, you can just keep waiting). So yes, I do think that it is genuinely a bit better looking than the other anime I’ve seen.

Of course, that doesn’t mean some viewers aren’t also being blinded by the amount of skin on display. I certainly noticed a lot of time in each episode is spent on that, to the point where it was obvious that flimsy excuses were constantly being manufactured to make the characters start stripping off. It was getting pretty ridiculous at times, and made it pretty clear that ‘manservice’ was one of the major objectives of the show. If that’s what you’re there for then I’m not going to judge you, but that’s not the same as the artwork being actually good.

In terms of the general story and writing, do you think that Free! – officially labelled as a sports anime, but also regarded as a comedy and high school slice-of-life series – would be able to stand on its own if the ‘manservice’ was taken away?

I suppose it’s possible, but I’ve got my doubts. I feel like Free! is in a bit of a weird place plot-wise, and without the ‘manservice’ propping it up there might not be enough left to make something worth watching. Let me explain.

From what I’ve seen, anime generally falls into one of two categories. There’s the episodic shows like Azumanga, where each episode exists more or less completely independently, and there’s the story-driven shows like AnoHana where each episode is part of a greater whole that develops over the course of the series.

With the episodic shows, it doesn’t matter if there isn’t really anything going on – indeed, they benefit from it, because each episode is complete unto itself, and an overarching plot would just get in the way. There may be some vague sort of continuity established, but it’s very much a backdrop to the events of the episode (will Miss Sasaki be bitten by the cat this time? Spoiler: yes, she will!). The story-driven shows on the other hand have to, well, tell a story. There may be the occasional ‘filler’ episode, and the significance of events may not be clear at the time they’re shown, but generally speaking, everything is contributing to that goal’s eventual achievement (what is Menma’s wish? How will it be fulfilled?).

Getting back to Free!, it feels like it’s caught between both of these. It seems as if it wants to be a story-driven show of some sort: it’s laying down the framework of characters, their relationships and history, and all the other things one would expect. At the same time however, it does all that in a rather half-hearted fashion and never seems to get very far towards using any of it. Once you take away the time spent looking at high school boys in their swimsuits (hello again, implicit-paedophilia! I’ve been expecting you!), there’s surprisingly little left that propels the story forwards.

I think that if it was forced to stand on its own merits, it would have to have more content – either by increasing the amount of attention given to the plot (of each episode or the series, whichever), or else by the amount of “cute boys doing cute stuff”. But that in turn would require the creators to decide what they want the show to be, and I get the feeling they’re not entirely sure about that. Until this impasse gets resolved, I don’t think Free! could stand on its own.

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You’ve now seen four episodes of Free!. Will you be watching any more of it at some point?

You know, I’m not sure. It’s pleasant enough – good humoured, nice art and all that. So far, so good. But as I’ve alluded to above, there just doesn’t seem to be very much to it. The scantily-clad bodies don’t do anything for me and the story is taking its sweet time about going anywhere. There doesn’t seem to be anything important at stake: “Oh, I really want to go swimming!” “Cheer up, Haruka! You can go swimming!” Not exactly gripping drama, is it?

I suppose I might give it another couple of episodes to see if it picks up, but if it doesn’t then I won’t shed any tears about dropping it and spending my leisure time on something with more to offer. Credit to the creators, I guess, for coming up with a show based on the exploits of a swimming club. But for me it isn’t making much of a splash.

Question of the post: What do you think of Watson’s reactions, and do you have any other questions for him? (As per usual, Watson himself will reply directly to anything aimed at him.)

44 thoughts on “Watson Watches: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club

  1. As my original Free! friend group viewing experience contained a Serious Live Action Television viewer who all but literally spit cobra venom at the screen, seeing it as an affront to the entire entertainment industry, Watson’s reactions seem significantly more level headed than theirs! He remains a Cool Dude in my book.

    The implicit-paedophilia comment is intriguing, as that wire never really crossed my mind all that much while watching the show myself. Sure, the top level manservice content is more than apparent and not at all subtle in the least, and I know the purposes for which it is there. But I think my brain filed that away under similar techniques used for Boy Bands, Teenage Movie Surfer Guys, or the like and what they / their agencies make them do for their target demographics. Even though, yeah, at the end of day these fellows in Free! would still just be high school aged guys and thus illegal in many jurisdictions.

    I do think if one swapped the male and female characters though, even keeping everything else about the swimming show the same down to antics and angles, we would have a much different and far creepier show on our hands. Which is interesting, at least to me, so I do wonder what Watson would think of that.


    1. This is something that people are going to have differing opinions about. For what it’s worth Artemis discussed that with me when I submitted the article, to be sure that I actually meant to use that phrasing. I think that the technical definition of paedophilia involves pre-pubescent subjects, and in that strict technical sense these shows probably wouldn’t qualify.
      In the end, however, I decided to stick with it. One of the things that has really jumped out at me about anime while watching these shows is just how often they sexualise under-age people, and that was the best-phrase I could come up with to convey how uneasy I am about this.

      And I think your comment about the “merits” of a hypothetical sex-swapped version are quite insightful. I mentioned in the Kuroshitsuji article that people seem much less concerned about sexual creepiness when it’s happening to males, which might be why Free! gets a pass so often.
      As you say, however, if the character sexes were reversed I think the show would be received very differently. Sauce for the goose is inevitably also sauce for the gander, so I think there’s a bit of a double-standard at work here.


    2. On reflection, I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that these articles are written after I’ve watched the the first four or six episodes or whatever. I don’t get the questions until then, so I have time to think about them and temper my reactions a bit.
      My initial feelings are sometimes closer to those of your Serious Live Action Television viewing friend. With Kuroshitsuji, for example, in the second episode I expressed my displeasure by shouting insults at the screen. It’s probably just as well no-one heard what I had to say about some other things the first time I saw them…


    3. Personally, although I think this series would definitely be thought of in general as much creepier and pedophilia-ridden if the genders were swapped, I also think nobody would be particularly surprised by such a show. Disgusted, quite possibly, but shocked, probably not.


      1. That’s my feeling as well, although I don’t have the same background and experience to make such a judgement. I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about what that lack of surprise might imply.


  2. Haven’t watched the anime, only a parody abridged version on Youtube, so I can’t comment on much, but there’s one thing I’ll say about the animation… I’ve been a swimming instructor for the past 3 years, and the attention paid to the swimming strokes is astonishing. To be fair, I’ve only actually seen the freestyle, but the movement through the water, the head turn, the pull, the bent arm recovery… the animators really got that spot on and I was pretty impressed.


    1. That’s something that came up in conversation with a competitive swimmer for me as well. It looks like the creators really did their research with respect to the swimming scenes. The water looks fantastic, and the character animation is really good too.


    2. The competitive swimmer being myself. XD But yes, I completely agree – the actual swimming in this anime looks absolutely fantastic, and thankfully not just the freestyle either. I can say without any sarcasm whatsoever that I honestly find it beautiful to watch.


  3. Ah, the summer fling of anime shows – unbelievably fun in motion and easily left to lie once there’s no more of it. Though at some point its popularity has made it, not exactly undeservedly, the whipping boy and poster child for anime’s ‘look what GOOD FRIENDS these boys are wink wink nudge nudge buy our merch. …..seriously, no homo though.’ I’d say that’s about as much the appeal as the lovingly rendered and impossible musculature. Actually, now that Watson (you’ve been a great sport by the way my man, and it’s always fun to hear from you!) has watched this and Kuroshitsuji I’d be interested to know if it’s something he picks up on – or if it’s still remotely subtle enough that it takes a more (jaded) long-time fan to know it’s being pulled.


    1. In many ways, Vrai, I am still innocent in the ways of the anime world. So no, that wasn’t something that had occurred to me before you mentioned it (although now that you have, no amount of wishing will erase it from my mind’s eye).
      I absolutely noticed it in Kuroshitsuji, however. The scene where Ciel is being laced into his corset is about as explicit an acknowledgement of that as you could hope to find. Weirdly enough, though, I found that less annoying. I think that’s because the relationship seemed based on other things than how gorgeous a hunk of manflesh the characters involved were.

      In the case of Free!, I think the light reflecting off all that manflesh blinded me a bit. It was so obvious, so transparently clear that the characters were there solely to provide titillation for the viewers, that it didn’t cross my mind that there might be several kinds of titillation being provided. I’m not sure I want to get to the point that I’m jaded enough for these things to be obvious, but it does prove that there can be more than one thing going on at once, I suppose.

      And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and procure some mental bleach.


  4. Great series! It’s interesting to see how anime looks to a non-anime watcher. Any chance of having him watch a dark show? Like Death Note, Darker than Black, Shingeki no Kyojin, etc. Most of the shows in this series are pretty light hearted (with the exception of Ano Hana), but nothing I’d really call dark yet.


    1. Yup – getting to see how some titles appear to a viewer who’s new to the medium and doesn’t have a lot of assumptions or preconceived notions about anime is basically the point of this series of articles. I’m glad you find them interesting. 🙂

      I’ve actually already got the final two shows planned out, although I won’t be telling anyone – Watson included – what they are until it comes time to watch. However, I will say that one of them does tend to be seen as a ‘dark’ show by viewers, so hopefully that will help to balance things out a little.


      1. I have a bad feeling about this. Please let it be the second one I’m thinking of, and not the first…

        Scratch that, it’ll probably be fine either way, or with anything else I didn’t think of. Watson’s been a gracious viewer thus far. I’m sure he’ll handle anything you throw at him with aplomb.


        1. Yup, Watson seems to be a pretty chill kind of a guy. Then again, I don’t usually see his reactions to these anime titles until after he’s had time to think about his question responses, so his more immediate reactions are perhaps a little less… measured, shall we say. XD


  5. I’m finding this series of posts really enjoyable so far! It’s interesting getting a non-anime-watcher’s take on things, and Watson gives very thoughtful answers. Keep up the good work you two 🙂


    1. Thank you for saying so! I’m really glad you find this series as interesting as I do to write up. Hopefully Watson feels much the same… and hopefully I haven’t scarred him for life along the way.


  6. I find this to be a wonderful concept. And I am outright jealous of how well this comes together. I’ve watched anime with those that I would say are outside of the fandom before, but it doesn’t usually lead to much. Actually, depending on the anime I may just get a great big “f*ck you” from a friend. Damn you Hideaki Anno! I tried getting the wife to watch Free before, but she just watched one episode and just could not stop laughing the entire time. It was a lesson in how fanservice has a very fluid and varied effect on people.

    Great job to the both of you. This is a well thought out project, it’s almost an experiment. I may have to check out more of these posts.


    1. Thanks for your comment, and welcome aboard! I won’t speak for Artemis here, but I certainly see it as an experiment. I’m very pleased to hear that you think it’s working well, and I would encourage you to check out the other articles in the series if this one has piqued your interest.
      One of the things I’ve learned from this is what differences there are between an ‘expert’ and an ‘uninformed’ view of anime and the things you commonly find in it. The discussions have been quite enlightening, and I hope future articles continue to get such a good response.


    2. I likewise think of this series of articles as a kind of experiment – which I guess is why I’m not so bothered about getting Watson to watch anime that are generally regarded as ‘good’ by most of the fandom, and instead am aiming to focus on picking anime that I can elicit interesting responses from in various ways. I daresay that if my goal was to try and convert Watson to Otakuhood, then my chosen anime would be quite a bit different. As it is, I simply don’t have to worry about whether he’ll like the anime or not – which in a way is quite freeing, I think.

      In any case, thank you so much for commenting. I’m glad you like the concept. 🙂


      1. Actually, I know this is kinda comment-necromancy, but I’d be quite interested in what you might choose if your goals were different? I can think of a few if you were choosing from feature-length items (the old favourites like Akira, GitS, etc.) but I wonder what you might suggest for series-based anime?


        1. You mean if my goal was to actually try and convert Watson to otakuhood? In that case, for TV shows, I’d probably go with a couple of classics like Cowboy Bebop and/or Samurai Champloo, and I’d definitely put him on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as well. And of course, if I were seriously attempting to make anyone love anime, I’d be making suggestions based heavily on their own personal genre and theme preference.


  7. Not much to say in argument, but just want to throw in how much fun I had reading these articulate criticisms. Your response about what happens when a studio tries to please a fanbase was all it took to make me Watson Fan (in a platonic sense, no manservice required).

    As much as I’ve heard people say “this is so fresh, so new! So unlike every other anime!” I think you’re right in that the medium does stay rather conservative when it comes to character designs or formulas that aren’t terribly inventive but that they know will sell. Free! was one I enjoyed (especially on days I didn’t feel like thinking much), but had it have not been for friends being really excited over it, I wouldn’t have bothered–and it was certainly more enjoyable than a lot of titles that the Japanese Free! fanbase is also into, which are sort of gag-worthy regurgitations of the same elements in different costumes. For the amount of substance Free! does have over the others, it still screams, “we’re doing this because we love our fans, and we love that you will purchase every piece of merchandise we release.”

    If more fans were to demand more thought-provoking anime instead of just good material for merchandise, that is something I’m sure would be a train wreck because you can’t please a lot of people who think too differently–this is why I tend to prefer manga for intriguing stories, because it doesn’t require as many hands in the soup and there is more flexibility for marketing unique material to the right fanbase. At least the Free! fanbase had similar tastes, so I’d still call the anime a huge success in those terms.


    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! I think we can all agree that it’s best for everyone if I don’t start providing ‘manservice’ here, so you don’t have to worry about that.

      I think we can also agree that anime does seem to be fairly conservative a lot of the time. This criticism is hardly unique to it, of course – it happens in most of the media I consume, and I think it’s directly related to the point about sure sales. It seems that being too successful can be just as much of an impediment to creativity as not being successful enough.

      I don’t know how it works in the anime community, but in other places people DO demand more thought-provoking elements and the result is often, as you have aptly described it, a train-wreck. Sometimes it’s an ongoing train-wreck, which you can watch unfolding even as more people are getting on board!
      There’s strong financial pressure to pursue the largest possible audience for such things, and I think that this is a big part of the problem because it directly militates against making something distinctive and which might not appeal to absolutely everyone. And the results are entirely predictable: we end up with a few things from the List Of Safe Choices, perhaps dressed up or arranged differently, but little that is really new.
      I have a strict policy of not attempting to solve the world’s problems until after I’ve had my morning coffee, so I’m not going to even try to suggest how this one might be approached. But it’s certainly a noticeable problem across the board.


  8. I really do enjoy this series. It is quite informative to read about anime from an outsiders perspective, especially one which is not opposed to anime. A lot of what Watson has to say forces me to think a little harder and deeper about things I tend to take for granted now. I was already an anime fan when I became a media studies scholar and so a lot of things sort of passed me by, things I really should have stopped to think harder about.

    Also I really enjoyed reading a male opinion on Free!, I couldn’t persuade any of my male friends to actually watch more than one episode with me.

    I certainly agree that the lines of acceptable sexualisation of pre-pubescents are definitely skewed along gender lines. A lot of what is done in Free! would probably make it marketed slightly differently had they been girls. That being said however, they way sex and sexuality is seen and depicted in Japan is very different from here in the West and I firmly believe that to try and apply our own moral system onto their culture is exceedingly Eurocentric of me (blame my Cultural Studies/Anthropology background). The fact that such depictions are now commonplace I think it is only fair that they not be limited to one gender.


    1. I’m glad that you’re enjoying this series. Making people think a bit more about what they’re watching was one of my goals with it, so it’s good to have confirmation that is happening.

      I agree that if we’re going to have sexualised depictions of minors then it’s only fair that it should involve all genders. I’m also aware that different cultures have differing views of such things. There’s a compelling argument to be made that the socio-cultural context of both the creators and intended audience ought to be taken into account if a fair media analysis is to be performed, although that was not the intention of this series of articles.

      But working out how far to take such matters is always a problem for me. Philosophically speaking I object to moral relativism because it tends towards incoherence and nihilism (I also have personal objections to it, but that’s a rant for another time). I don’t find it terribly helpful in a practical sense either, although perhaps that says more about me than the theory.
      Even if we assume a position of moral relativism, however, I think it is still permissible for me to talk about my experience of the show. A differing socio-cultural background doesn’t invalidate the reaction an audience has to a piece of media, and that reaction itself must be viewed within the context in which it occurs. As long as we do our best to avoid adopting a proscriptive position, I don’t feel that any great harm is being done by talking about what the show made us think or feel and it may even be useful to others.


      1. Oh don’t misunderstand me, you are perfectly justified in discussing it the way you did in relation to your experience of the show. I’m horribly post-modern in most respects so in a way I see a westerner as in essence watching a different text from a Japanese viewer. I guess my point was more that we Westerners need to be wary of holding our own moral code above others.

        Mental note, I am never replying on the tablet app again. It would have been faster to get our of bed, turn on my laptop and respond! Apologies for any randomness, I’ll try and remember to write what I originally typed before capslock and auto_correct reigned supreme. Seriously it corrects every word except the typos


  9. I believe there exists two types when it comes to fans (male and female) that dislike Free! The fact that supposedly Kyoto Animation is doing something different. Well excuse me but fans should know when have they ever had a perfect rigtht to decide what shows anime and other companies produce. Anime is a luxury not a right. There are also viewers who are just sexist. Have you seen the comments on Facebook for the announcement that FUNIMATION in North America had acquired Free! Eternal Summer. A lot of immature individuals who commented that is “gay”.

    I wonder when it became wrong to be gay. That is very close-minded and just offensive to human rights and choices. So chances from the norm and obvious sexism exists which is what believe is the true dislike for the Free! anime series franchise.

    I mean why else make this series such a big deal. Then. It could then just be seen as it is a popular series and no other fuzz would be raised but, of course, that is not what we have seen.

    For me personally the Free! muscular figures are pretty appealing but the old types as well. As a favorite probably would choose muscular.


  10. Stumbled upon your blog, saw a pic of those pretty mermen in it, but what made me read the post was the concept of ‘Watson Watches.’ Hope you continue with it, I think it’s interesting than most other reviews I’ve seen in a while.


    1. Thanks for reading! I’m happy you find this series of articles interesting. There’ll be 2 more shows for Watson to react to, probably in September and November respectively, before we wrap things up.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This is very interesting to read and I’m glad to see that the comments here are also very well thought out! It is nice to see such a thorough discussion and review. I have to say that I have found it a little odd many comments here have pointed out the sexualization of high school boys as if it is somehow unique towards males despite the vast majority of anime hyper sexualizes high school and middle school age girls. Keziah Wallis noted that “the lines of acceptable sexualisation of pre-pubescents are definitely skewed along gender lines. A lot of what is done in Free! would probably make it marketed slightly differently had they been girls.” It is marketed differently when the characters are girls, and perhaps anime is so over saturated with the sexualization of minor female characters that general audiences are too desensitized to recognize it.

    To become better at recognizing how extensive this phenomenon is targeted towards females, perhaps viewers should make a tally chart. First, keep track of the ages/demographics of the characters. Every time you see the camera focus on an underage character’s breasts, hips, thighs, underwear, or any other sexualized body part, strike a tally down. (Double points if there is a close up of said parts) Also, tally how many times a minor is put into some kind of weird, fetish tantalizing outfit or suggestive position! When you are done with the anime, total the number of camera angles or other fetish driven fanservice moments were targeted towards underage girls and how many were targeted towards underage boys. If you feel that the sexualization of underaged male characters is more prominent or accepted in mainstream anime, you will be SHOCKED by your results when actually taking the time to pay attention and tally up the fanservice moments.

    To be honest, Free! is the first anime I have ever watched which does this exclusively to the male characters while leaving the underage female character alone. Even then there are jokes in Free! about the female characters using their sex appeal to gain favors or access to things which will aid the team without the boys ever being offered up to use sex appeal as well. Personally, I interpreted the jokes as KyotoAni saying “Haha, we could sexualize the girl characters, too, if we wanted, but we’re only going to sexualize the boys this time!”


    1. I don’t think anyone is disagreeing that females are far more commonly sexualised than males (and not just in anime, either). I won’t speak for anyone else, but the point that I was trying to make is more or less the same as yours: “… perhaps anime is so over saturated with the sexualization of minor female characters that general audiences are too desensitized to recognize it.”

      As I said earlier, this is something that has really jumped out at me while watching, and it’s possible most anime fans either don’t notice or don’t care. More likely, given how common it is, they actually prefer it that way. But keep in mind Keziah’s point about westerner’s in a sense watching a different show; the target audience for these shows is almost certainly not you or I.


  12. I think the 2nd season did a much better job accentuating the show’s strengths and shoring up its flaws from season 1. Kyo Ani really seemed to know their audience with the 2nd season and molded their show accordingly. Sure, it still has abundant amounts of man-service but it never detracts from the story when it matters.


    1. The second season is certainly more serious and less comedic as a general whole, and as result the overall story does seem more coherent. Personally, I actually like the first season just that little bit more though. I think KyoAni seems to do comedy far better than they handle more serious matter – which is why even though I very much enjoy the likes of Free! despite its obvious flaws, I really didn’t like Kyoukai no Kanata.


  13. Getting a life can wait, at least for now. It’s time to watch Free! Eternal Summer from the first episode again. Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, Rei, Rin…thank you for those wonderful memories. Sousuke, Aiichirou, Momotarou…I’m looking forward to your character songs. Gou, Ama-chan sensei, Coach Sasabe…thank you for the comic relief (?).



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