Step 1: Have a stellar bod that should technically be illegal for a fifteen/sixteen-year old.
Step 2: Have talent, or not. Doesn’t matter.
While I’m not totally serious about step 1, I actually have been thinking a lot on how Free! approaches the idea of talent and hard work. I actually think the whole part about the breakdown and re-establishment of friendship is the subplot — for me, the series is primarily about how this scrappy little swim team, made up of four swimmers of varying skill, will fare against the powerhouse of Samezuka Academy and Rin. I realize this is a “no duh” statement, since Free! does belong to the grand tradition of the sports genre, where it’s essentially expected that the unlikeliest team will be the one gutsy enough to take on the team everyone’s expected to win.
So you have these four guys. Haru’s the strongest, the most naturally-talented swimmer, but he has a bit of an attitude problem and he only chooses to swim freestyle. Makoto’s a good leader, well-liked by everyone, but he’s an average swimmer, if that. Nagisa makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in height and skill. And Rei, their newest member, didn’t even know how to swim til he joined and can barely do the basics. It should not be a surprise to anyone that they didn’t go far in their individual events, even at the regional level.
I think that’s what I appreciated about this series; it proves that winning is difficult, and that training and motivation can only take you so far. Luck and timing, though such minor factors, can change the outcome of the entire game.
Moeblob hate aside, I think that KyoAni’s depiction of the Iwatobi Swim Club is more believable than its depiction of Hokago Tea Time. Haru and Yui are both lazy as fuck, but Haru actually has learned his skill as a child and swimming has just become part of his lifestyle. I can believe that Haru is a great swimmer because he would swim anywhere, anytime– even if its appropriate or not. The boy doesn’t even remove his swim trunks, just in case he would get an unexpected swimming opportunity! Do I believe the same for Yui? Not really. Sleeping with the guitar beside her doesn’t really count.
Okay, so in the spirit of being fair, how about comparing Yui with Rei, as they’re both newbies to their chosen craft? Rei may have a slight advantage even from the beginning because he’s already athletic, but it still doesn’t mean that being good in one sport will automatically mean that he’ll be good in another. Rei really struggles in swimming. It’s funny to watch him study the theories of swimming, but fail at the actual attempts. I had so many moments of projected embarrassment for him when they were all trying to teach him how to swim. I know it’s for comedy, and god knows that I am the meanest person who will be the first to laugh at her friends when they try to do something and fail gloriously, but for the show, there’s something on the line. It’s one thing to suck when there’s no reward/punishment involved but it’s another thing when the swim team needs Rei to be able to swim so that they can remain viable as a club.
(Also, I think I need to write another entry in the vague future about how strict Japanese school clubs can be. In high school and college in the US, you can just drag random people into the club and still get funded. Nobody really checks on who’s going. Japanese school clubs are so hardcore, man.)
Anyway, getting back on point — Rei is such a great character because even though he knows he sucks compared to the three other guys, he still shows up, he still keeps working hard. If I’m embarrassed on his behalf, can you imagine how embarrassed he feels? Haru swims as if on auto-pilot, and he has to splash around with that stupid kickboard. But he still comes to practice, he still trains hard in the pool, and he’s not afraid to ask the others for tips on how to get better.
In a way, I was saddened with how things ended up in the last episode. I know, I know… the original foursome needed to experience how it was to be free and in doing so, would be able to get closure. But didn’t Rei deserve to experience that too? Iwatobi SC would’ve placed last if he did swim in the finals relay, but how amazing was it that they even made it there? Their success hinged on his presence and participation, and it seems unfair that he had to give up his rightful slot on the team for somebody who didn’t even go to their school!
I’ve strayed so far off my original point for this post and I knew I started to ramble four paragraphs ago… but I wanted to post about Free! and now I did. End.