Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the second season, Eternal Summer, yet, so no spoilers, please. Thank you.
Back when the first season of Free aired, many people complained about it. It was “fujoshit” and “the death of KyoAni”. Needless to say, the latter was not only an extreme exaggeration, it was also incorrect. Free did quite well for KyoAni, better than any of their other 2013 shows. And if Free is “fujoshit”, then I’m rotten to the core, because I’m firmly of the belief that Free wouldn’t have been nearly as good had the main characters been girls.
Actually, that requires some explanation, because had Free been created on a tabula rasa in a vacuum, the gender of the main characters should have no impact on the direction. But due to the history of anime being what it is, a show about an all-girl swimming club would have been a very different show. The jokes would have been different, the characterisation would likely have been different, and the relationships would’ve been different. Sure, if I had to bet on anyone breaking the mould regarding fanservice and anime tropes, I would bet on one of the directors over at KyoAni, but it’d still probably be different. The way Free ended up being felt, to me at least, completely normal. It felt as if the show was comfortable with its identity.
But enough rationalising over why I think Free was better the way it was than with a genderswapped cast, because the gender of the characters was not at all the main point of the show. Free was very much a sports show, and out of all the shows I’ve seen in that genre, it’s one of my favourites. Part of that is due to the story, but my favourite thing was the animation. The show is absolutely gorgeous in a way that none of the other sports shows I’ve seen are. Ping Pong is beautiful in a stylistic way, but Free just looks crisp and lifelike. I can’t wait to watch the second season soon.