Fandom, Fujoshi, and Free!

As much as I enjoyed watching it, it’s honestly no surprise that Free! ended up being queerbait—this appears to be true with most modern sports anime, as the internet is only too glad to convince me. Honestly, in watching the Iwatobi swim team go through their struggles to be seen as legitimate, it’s all too easy to forget that Iwatobi High is actually a co-ed school. Free!’s main conflict comes from the miscommunication between two of the male leads; however, this leads into a staggering case of gender disparity among the cast; a problem many anime—especially sports anime—has. Sports anime tends to hyperfocus on a group of teammates and their rivals, bringing attention to every little piece of their past, every small piece of drama within the group, and every lingering gaze they may give each other. The few classmates of theirs who are girls are typically relegated to roles of “unnamed, unobtainable crush”, “childhood best friend”, or “team manager”. These characters are sometimes somewhat fleshed out, but typically only in a way that serves to emphasize how close the boys are. This leads to a majority of ships in these fandoms being M/M (since they get a majority of the characterization), and the ladies getting further swept under the rug, sometimes with great, undeserved hatred behind it.

Wading around in the otome game fandom, and just the anime fandom in general, there’s a very real sense of hate and misogyny lingering in the background of almost every series. Especially in the otome game fandom, where it’s typically one female character planted between a bunch of dudes, the heroine is almost always criticized for being too passive, too bitchy, too emotional, too stupid, or just too annoying. Legitimately the list could go on forever. More than that, though, there always seems to be a part of these fandoms that resents the heroine for existing in the first place—for getting in the way of their gay ships (which, really, why are you playing an otome game then?). Following this logic, for a show seemingly exclusively created for a female audience, it would seem only appropriate that the Free! fandom would show this same vitriol for the show’s most prominent female character, Kou Matsuoka. Yet this wasn’t the case. In fact, Kou was one of the most beloved characters on the show, but I wouldn’t say this was due specifically to her being a good character. Rather, I’d fathom it was because she was a self-insert character for a niche audience: the fujoshi.

As a note, I’m speaking only from the core anime; I haven’t read or watched any material outside that.

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Hear the Call of the Free!dom or Why Free! Makes Male Otaku Cry

The popularity of Swimming Anime means that nobody ever gets to complain about how women are depicted in anime compared to men ever again (x)

This Tumblr post is the post that finally made me watch Free!, previously known as Swimming Anime. If you recall, I did an article previously on the Swimming Anime phenomenon, stating that I’d remain skeptical on an actual release, but here I am months later with my foot firmly planted within my mouth. And as much as I was hoping that an anime would spring from the hype, with my dashboard being flooded with gifs of the well-toned boys ripping off their shirts and lingering camera shots on their torsos, I couldn’t really form an informed opinion about whether or not the aforementioned Tumblr post had any credibility.

After watching the first episode, I can safely say that that specific commenter suffers from a terrible bout of mantears and they need to sit the fuck down. Consider this my summary of not only the first episode, but also on why that person is wrong.

Free! Swimming AnimeFree! Features a group of four friends—Haruka Nanase, Makoto Tachibana, Nagisa Hazuki, and Rin Matsuoka—who are all brought together by their love of swimming. In a flashback, we see that they won their junior high swimming championships by all swimming in a relay; however, most of them drifted away from each other afterwards. While Haruka and Makoto stayed together, no word was heard from Nagisa, and Rin traveled to Australia to become an Olympic swimmer.

After their first day back at high school together—suffering from ‘cool anime guy’ syndrome, Makoto skipped the first day—Makoto and Haruka discover that Nagisa is also a classmate. Nagisa brings with him some sad news: the old pool where the group won their championship is getting torn down. Along with losing something with such sentimental value, that pool is also where they buried their championship trophy (since they decided because it was a team effort, no one person should hold onto it).

In an effort to get that back, the three boys sneak into the abandoned (and potentially haunted) building to retrieve the trophy. It’s there that they meet back up with Rin, who seems to have turned into a grade-A asshole who only wants to compete with Haruka. As to be expected though, the old pool doesn’t have any water in it since it’s being torn down, so their showdown must wait.

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