I do not like Free!

Even though there’s loads of half naked men…

I find Free! to be particularly problematic. It doesn’t sink (pun not intended) well with me for two reasons:

1) the anime feels like a capitalist exploitative venture in order to grab as much fujoshi cash as much as possible. Let us remind ourselves that Free! was not even originally conceived as an anime, it was a short commercial in order to display kyoto animation’s prowess at… animating things. It was solely due to the amazing response and feedback by audience that Free! has gotten the green light to develop from a lowly commercial into a full-fledged anime.

Firstly, there is little to no plot to speak of; the characters feel like typical anime character molds that has been lifted straight off tvtropes.com, there is no character progression, no plot complexity and just loads of gratuitous stripping which brings me to my second point:

2) It feels like an anime that was created in order for girls to gawk at a) delicately drawn muscular nudity and b) the bl pairings that was crafted so deliberately, it seems out-of-place and awkward to begin in the first place.  In this sense, I’m reminded of Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze: basically in film, women are objectified because men are in control of the camera, in ways that are voyeuristic and scopophilic (more on the male gaze on another topic.)  Wikipedia gives a good introduction: “(The male gaze) may linger over the curves of a woman’s body, for instance.The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: as an erotic object for both the characters within the film, as well as the spectator who is watching the film. The man emerges as the dominant power within the created film fantasy. The woman is passive to the active gaze from the man. This adds an element of ‘patriarchal‘ order and it is often seen in “illusionistic narrative film”. Mulvey argues that, in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.”

What is particularly interesting was that Mulvey mentioned that men can never be a subject of the female gaze, since the gaze is always already male. The females always look at herself through the eyes of man, which is why when she looks in the mirror, the female that she wants to be belong to the beauty standards that men wants. Man never wants to be made an object under the gaze, insists Mulvey. I wonder whether Free! would prove her wrong. In the name of capitalist profits, anyone and any gender can be made into a sexual object as long as there is a healthy demand in the market because I swear, few would watch Free! for the spectacular plot.

But if watching gratuitous shots of half naked men is your thing, go ahead. Free! in this case, seems to belong to a long-forsaken term that fujoshis want to move desperately away: yaoi. Yaoi originally stood for yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi which meant, no peak, no fall, no meaning. It’s used to describe a subcategory of BL manga, usually of low-quality, which depicts scenes of men having buttsex with each other just because. Manga that depicts actual relationships, actual plot and actual characterisation are called BL manga in Japan. Thankfully, Japan has largely moved away from the production of yaoi to BL but anime like Free! just crops up once in a while I guess.

11 thoughts on “I do not like Free!

  1. I understand and respect your opinion but, the creators were going to make it into an anime anyways. It’s just that people started overreacting. And the fact that in anime today, women get no service aimed at them. There is a light novel for this so at first it seems there is no plot. In fact the novel is kinda dark compared to the anime so as it progresses, we will get some major development. And the half naked men thing. Again, I respect your opinion but, it’s a swimming anime. People don’t swim fully clothed so….

    • we’ll see how the anime progresses, though generally once the anime has passed a 3rd episode mark, it pretty much sets the tone and mood for how it will turn out at the end. but it’s a general rule and there can be occasional surprises…

  2. 1) As much as I and many others would love to take credit for the birth of the Free! animation, it’s been said that there’s absolutely no way KyoAni pulled this anime in little more than half a year from the onset of the commercial to July’s first episode. And there’s a novel basis: High Speed! In any case, it’s a comedy. Trying to find all the rest in a comedy (from four episodes, no less) is like looking for a high-speed chase in a historical drama. Though I get it if you don’t think it will ever come to fruition.

    2) I can understand the dislike of Free! for the objectifying angle it definitely goes for, for the sake of making money, but I, personally, can’t see it as a bad thing. For one, there’s nothing like Free! on the anime market.


    Sure you can point to some BL titles (actually, No. 6 comes to mind, but even the author of that didn’t really want to portray Shion and Nezumi as having an official relationship), but when it comes down to animation (especially), inside jokes, adorable comedy, and simply being low-key- no. This is for the fujo/danshi out there, and they are unrepentant about it.

    And with that… to touch on fanservice, which I find definitely to be a good thing. If a show doesn’t have fanservice towards men (and I’m talking the whole damn world over), it probably doesn’t have fanservice. And Japan, I feel, is quite adamant about females not having a sexual appetite, unless forced to by a male suitor, and even then she won’t admit it. You can see that in heteronormative-based BL whenever there’s a sex scene and the uke or whatever says ‘no’ entirely too much while blushing. You see it when we even talk about a pairing and call one person an uke or seme.

    And we see it when we say there are ‘obvious’ pairings, crafted for our sake. Because two people of a certain nature cannot be just rivals or friends, but will eventually fall desperately in love with each other because that’s how the heteronormative world works, despite them not having any sexual attraction to each other or interacting with each other outside of a hobby. Not to say that there isn’t service for pairings, but there is definitely a play off those with the inability to see something as is, and to read more into it than it’s going for, while the play knows full well that it doesn’t exist.

    What I’m hoping is that this cash grab isn’t a fluke and it opens the door to more and more risque cash grabs for fujoshi- whether they are well-made BL or yaoi or bara. Because while they needed a push to make a comedy like Free!, about five or six tentacle loli-raping hentai have been finished in the duration of this reply.

    • Thanks for your reply; it’s always a great pleasure to read them.

      1) I’m actually wondering… Did KyoAni made that commercial based on High Speed! or was it just some random animation that they have done and once they have realised that the commercial had a great response, they grabbed the rights to adapt High Speed! into Free!? Because it is a little (more than a little, actually) weird for them not to have named the anime High Speed! if it was honest to God, a direct light novel adaptation just like Sword Art Online, DRRR, Baccano, Baka to Test etc. For that reason, I’m leaning towards the former.

      2) I think that objectification, when it comes to either male or female is bad in any sense. I don’t look at women and talk to them as though they are pieces of meat and I think that I apply the same standards for men. Objectification, when it comes to any gender, is always sociologically problematic, because it’s the first step in justifying all forms of nefarious behaviour towards that specific subjectivity, such as violence or contempt or indifference. In that sense, I don’t find it convincing that the production of Free! is justified because “there is nothing like it on the anime market.” That doesn’t make it ethically right. I was talking to a friend who said that even if females are gazing at men in an objectifying manner, the gender hierarchy is still unsubverted because men still holds all the power and they are in a dominant position. Looking at them in an objectifying manner does not disturb the power hierarchy one bit and I agree. It’s still problematic, but it’s not as problematic as the male gaze.

      I think that if shows like Free! is what makes you happy, and you don’t find it as much as an issue as me, that’s great. I’m not going to convince you to stop watching it, just like how I don’t tell people to stop watching SOA, Baka to test etc and all the other anime that I find to be really irritating in their gender portrayals. I’m just not going to cover it on my blog. 🙂

      • 1) I agree ~ Unless I’m reading it wrong XD

        2) Oh, I’m not in any way thinking that the objectification of men is subverting patriarchy..Although it really pisses me off that anyone feels men objectifying women makes the women less in power, and women objectifying men is just men using their powers to lure in women, as if women don’t have the power to find ANYONE/THING SEXUALLY DESIRABLE. (and shouldn’t there be no worry about violence/contempt/indifference, because apparently men hold all the power still?)

        And that’s the main thing for me. I don’t like the idea that those in the, let’s say, porn industry use their sexual assets for the pleasure of others, and anyone who enjoys such are automatically, simply seeing them as objects- and porn actresses don’t have any thoughts for themselves. This stifling constraint on sexuality and the expression of such is what I feel is really pushing objectification. The ‘if you’re not conforming to decent sexual modes of dressing/talking/animating etc. then you’re a sex toy’.

        And I sometimes wonder why don’t we use ‘objectification’ outside sexual expression. Isn’t it much more objectifying to make dakimura or putting faces on a candy bar, when your show main draw wasn’t fanservice or anything of the like, than a swimming commercial based on a show mainly about the beauty of men and swimming? Is it really auto-objectification/unwilled if it’s anything sexual?

  3. Despite there being lots of drawbacks to Free! and considering its Japanese (have to read subtitles) it is THE best yaio anime I have watched so far due to its unique approach to teen life and how hard work can get you far in life. One othet reason though has to be that every episode contains half naked boys as this shows off the true yaio side of the anime series Free!

  4. The novel have won an award in the annual contest Kyoani holds. Traditionally, the winner of that reward goes on to be animated (it had happened in the last 5 years). Also, don’t forget the crazy reaction was mostly here in the west – the Japanese fandom was actually rather baffled by the hype. Japan, as a rule, does not create it’s media with a look at the west (even anime, which they know is an important cultural export), so I doubt the tumblr hype had any affect whatsoever on the decisions Kyoani made. It’s possible they tested the water with the commercial, in order to see if there’s a crowd to gratuitous fanservice, but I think they intend to create a self-aware comedy all along.

    As for the objectification – I think it’s not that bad, because they have a valid reason for being such fine specimens. The’re athletes, they have athletic bodies. It’s not like women with unproportionally large breasts that ignore gravity.
    I do agree that Haruna’s random stripping at the sight of water is a bit much, though (funny as it is).

    Honestly, I think it’s harmless. The excitement mostly comes from the novelty of it, the ‘OMG it really is aimed at us!’ factor. It’s a fun, relaxing watch that makes women feel included. I think it’s a good thing, and a hopeful sign for progress.

  5. I’m in the pro-Free! camp. I think objectification is an ambiguous phenomenon: on the one hand we get the kind of sexual oppression that comes with it that you mentioned, but on the other hand I’m not sure if it’s possible to completely detach it from sexual desire… Besides isn’t there a way to turn it around? Isn’t it also possible to express your sexuality and your own will by making yourself into an object for the other? (fujoshi/fudanshi should be familiar with this sort of fantasy :P)

    In any case I think Free! is a good counter-weight to the infinite amounts of fanservice aimed at straight men. I also can’t help but admire how obscene they made it. It’s not just the usual idolization of men we find from shoujo manga but just pure naked skin! This exposes the dirty side of the female gaze. One might say two wrongs don’t make a right but I personally would allow women the right to this kind of gaze as it has been almost completely a male privilege.

    • I think I’ll be a total hypocrite if I say that I don’t enjoy objectification; I think it’s problematic, but I’m also going to state for the record that I do enjoy certain things that are problematic as well. I think that it is important to distinguish and identify that certain of my viewing practices may be complicit with certain Foucauldian webs of ideological power structures, but that’s okay as long as we call it out and understand what’s at stake.

      What I don’t like about Free!, is that it seems to be mindless objectification without any substance: the plot is weak, the characters are two dimensional and I hoped that it could have been a little more complex in its representation of male vulnerability and characterisation.

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