Bishowiming (or Insert Homophobic Slur Here) – Anime Critique: Free! ~Eternal Summer

Title: Free! Eternal Summer
Format: TV series
Genre: sports, shonen, shonen ai, bishonen
Series Creator: Kōji Ōji
Series Director: Hiroko Utsumi
Studio: Kyoto Animation, Animation Do
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 2 – September 24, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs

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Synopsis:

Following the events of Free! ~ Iwatobi Swim Club, Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei find themselves driven to compete as a stronger rely team. As they try to overcome their individual weaknesses in the poor, they also have to contend with what to do after high school as well as reach the national swimming championships in order to justify their club. Parallel to this, at rival Samezuka Academy, Rin is working to achieve his dream of competing on the world stage whilst dealing with the pressures of being made team captain, when a childhood friend returns to see that Rin doesn’t get distracted from reaching his dream.


Review:

Am going to start off by saying how much it pissed me off to see all the homophobic reactions to this & the first series -with fansubber group Commie even putting “Gay Swimming” into the titles. You know what? Fuck you all for having such attitudes. Just because a series doesn’t pander to your pathetic & limited heterosexual needs by having a pair of underaged tits bounce across the screen every 5 fucking seconds doesn’t give you the right to slam it because it’s more slanted more towards female and homosexual fandom groups. Fuck you & your pathetic narrowminded attitudes. You’re not the fucking target audience so fuck off & have a wank over your paedo-bait waifu, you pathetic pack of self-entitles little syphilis crusted cumstains!

You know you love it!
You know you love it!

OK, that being said, Free! ~Eternal Summer is the direct sequel to Free! ~Iwatobi Swim Club from 2013. Following on a few weeks after the ending of that series. The four members of the Iwatobi Swim Club have promised to do better so they can race together at the next big swim club meet (after they were disqualified from the last rely they entered by having Rin, a non-member, race with them). They attempt to become a better team as well as recruit new members. At the same time, Rin & the members of the Samezuka Academy swim team are coming to terms with their new roles as well as the inclusion of a supposedly powerful swim & Rin’s childhood friend, Sousuke -who has a heavy agenda of his own to enact.

Where the 1st season of Free! was about rediscovering one’s passion, the 2nd is more about finding &/or one’s dream. Now that Haruka, Mokoto & Rin are now all 3rd years in High School, they have to think about what they want to do in the future. If they have their ability to follow their truest dreams & if they really have any dreams at all.

This is a pretty standard narrative trope for the teen & shonen sports genres but unlike series like Haikyu!! or Slam Dunk, Free! is far more focussed on characters & their relationships rather than having them as padding to the sports centric narrative. The characters are all given fairly well developed backstories & relationships, which drive their actions & agency rather than simply being motivated by getting stronger & stronger. In Free! strength of the body is secondary to strength of will that is needed to push through any physical or mental blocks & gain a greater sense of self. Teamwork & functioning as a cohesive unit also takes precedent over individual victory & glory -since it’s about being a rely team rather than individuals pushing through in their own events (though that is part of the series).

They're keeping your attraction to them a secret.
They’re keeping your attraction to them a secret.

Despite the ensemble cast, the real focus is still on the swimming prodigy, Haruka (called Haru by his friends because Haruka is basically a feminine name) & his rivalry/friendship with his former friend from childhood Rin (who is drawn with shark-like teeth, which was a running gag in the 1st season). What’s between them -besides obvious boiling sexual tension- is a symbiotic form of competition; where they feed off each other to get better. Not out of some drive to be superior but because they bring out the best drive in each other. Haru is obsessed with water, believing it to be alive & symbiotic to his own life, but his swimming suffers the moment he thinks that he can no longer be free to swim how & when he wants. Whereas Rin wants to achieve his deceased father’s goal of swimming in the Olympics but he can only find his motivation from seeing Haru doing so well. They pull each other up to greater levels rather than the typical trope of pushing each other in heated contests but Haru still remains obsessed with only swimming “free” (which everyone assumes means freestyle) & his relationship with the ethereal medium of water.

Speaking of that, I honestly think that Haru might actually be a non-savant autistic because he features several markers of low spectrum autism. Including poor communication skills, the inability to make basic eye contact with people, obsessive likings & habits (such as always eating mackerel) & having very focussed skills/talents in limited fields -namely swimming & his obsession to always be doing that activity. Which is reflected in his sitting in the bath for hours on end, wearing his swimmers, so he can just be close to the water. These possible autistic traits aren’t really commented upon by the characters but if you look at the series through that lens it can go someway to explaining much of Haru’s odd behaviour. But Haru isn’t the only character with odd quirks.

Look at that. Hot!
Look at that. Hot!

The connecting thing for the 5 main male characters is that they all have feminine names, so people often tease them by adding chan, so Nagisa often does it anyway. Mainly to show his free spirit & affectionate nature but also because he’s the show’s main twink so has to do all the cute fairy-like things; despite being the cute, childish one, Nagisa is tenacious to get the club going because he wants to swim with his friends & will do almost anything to keep it going; he also swims the breaststroke leg in the rely. You then have Rei, who is the glasses wearing pretty boy who is obsessed with all things beautiful, loudly rejecting anything that he thinks is ugly; originally he couldn’t swim but joined the swimming club after witnessing the beauty of Haru’s swimming style; he’s since mastered the butterfly & has secretly trained with Rin to be able to do the other main strokes (*giggle*). Makoto is the mature, almost mother figure of the group; he cares deeply for Haru but is unable to bring himself to push Haru into the future that he thinks that he deserves; he swims the backstroke but is equally good with free style too.

Goh's sthenolagnia in full bloom.
Goh’s sthenolagnia in full bloom.

In reverse to the males with feminine names, you have Gō (also spelt Goh), Rin’s doting sister & manager, who has a serious case of sthenolagnia; basically being unable to do anything in the presence of nice muscles. She also believes that everyone else loves muscles as much as her, so she always tries to promote the swim club by getting them to show off the muscle groups that she thinks each individual member has. Gō is joined by club supervisor, Miho, who used to be a bikini model & despises anyone mentioning her past or even finding out about it; she often uses weird quotes to sum up arguments or offer encouragement. Their group is rounded off by former swim coach, Goro(-chan), who makes a greater appearance then he did in the 1st series as assistant coach to the club & owner of the rebuild public swimming pool where all the boys (minus Rei) first swam together. Rin’s swim team equally have their quirks but will spoil things too much to go into them.

Though the new to the 2nd season character Sousuke brings a new dynamic to the series. Initially telling Haru to stay away from Rin because he feels Haru’s lack of serious dedication to swimming will only drag Rin down. Yet he isn’t some 2nd dimension antagonist; he has his own reasons for joining Rin’s team & wishing to see his friend achieve his dreams. All which make him a more rounded, interesting character.

Sakura swimming
Sakura swimming

Like to many other series this season, Free! ~Eternal Summer is exceptionally beautiful to look at. It’s bright, almost luminous as you see light reflected off water. The water physics is also spot on, with how bodies move through it on the surface, when they dive, how to shifts & surges. So much detail is paid to getting it right. Just like the detail put into the character designs; with all the boys being pretty & the girls generally being cute. Everyone has fairly unique designs (although it can be hard to recognise Rei at a glance with his glasses off), with a lot of detail going into their bodies. Which a lot of idiots online seem to complain about. Honestly, how can you have a shower if you can’t stand seeing a male body? Fucking idiots.

Look at the light & those bubbles.
Look at the light & those bubbles.

Anyway, it’s clear that the creators loved swimming it also shows that someone in the creative team loved something else just as much: Australia.

In one episode, Rin & Haru travel to Australia -where Rin went to try to be a professional swimmer when he was a kid- & the detail that they put into trying to get Sydney right was pretty good. They naturally showed the Harbour Bridge & a few other landmarks around the place but they got the interior of Australia domestic homes rights & showed the little idiosyncratic designs of the hostels around the area known as The Rocks (a place I used to know well from working around the area) just right. They also seemed to have hired a few Australia voice actors (& some Yanks to do bad Aussie accents) because some are spot on (the female voices mainly). & the seiyu who plays Rin, Miyano Mamoru has exceptionally competent English skills in his scenes in Australia.

There’s also the recurring image & theme of a hawk appearing through the series. Yes, hawks have nothing to do with swimming but they do symbolise masculine power & freedom. Being unfettered by chains & weighed down to the Earth. Which is pretty much the core theme of the series: breaking free of what constrains you & doing what you love most in life with all the passion that you can. Even if you have to struggle to find or do what you love most.

In the end, I do highly recommend both seasons of Free! for their uniqueness in terms of characters & plots as well as pushing subtle homoeroticism on mainstream television in a still very homophobic country. Honestly, if you have an issue with this kind of thing, shut your fucking mouth & don’t watch it! But if you aren’t a narrowminded scumsucker & really enjoy great characters, pretty animation & quirky gags, this is a top tier series to watch. Pretty much banzai! woman & homosexuals being able to get their fan service in a show. I’m neither a woman or gay but I still support them getting their share of the service if it means reducing it in other shows in exchange for better plots & enhanced humour.

Come get some, son! You know you love that man-love shit!
Come get some, son! You know you love that man-love shit!
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A film for some of the fans – Anime Critique: Persona 3 ~#1 Spring of Birth~

Persona_3_The_Movie_1_The_Spring_of_Birth_Promotional_PosterTitle: Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth-
Format: feature film
Genre: supernatural, game adaptation, action
Director: Noriaki Akitaya
Studio: AIC ASTA
Reviewed format: blu-ray download

 

 

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

Makoto Yuki is an orphaned teenager who transfers to Gekkoukan High School at Tatsumi Port Island and much to his confusion, finds himself experiencing strange phenomenon on his way to the dorm. Arriving at the Minatodai Dormitory, Makoto is greeted by a boy named Pharos and signed a contract the boy has prepared, before being drawn into a strange battle with entities known as Shadows. He joins with S.E.E.S. who venture into the Dark Hour to fight the Shadows, Yuki must wield the power of Persona and the Arcana to save the people of Tatsumi Port Island.


Review:

Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth- is an adaptation of the Playstation 2 (& Playstation Portable) game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, which in itself is part of the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise. As the more canny regular readers out there no doubt would have already guessed, this is connected to Persona 4 Golden which I had previously reviewed on this blog but unlike Persona 4, they adapted Persona 3 into a series of movies rather a series.

There in lies the 1st fault.

Because Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth- is a film it tends to rush the plot, skip character development but still stick to the calendar date formula of the games & Persona 4 anime series.

This conceit works well when you have time to play with it & develop, such as with a series, but it gets confusing when the film just skips to seemingly random dates because it leaves you, as the audience, wondering what’s gone on between those dates because the plot just often appears to continue on with the previous scenes. This means there is no development of characters or situations, just a void between scenes in which nothing obviously must’ve happened.

Yes, there is no time in a film of 140 minutes to show every little thing like the game does but Persona 4 did show how well the conceit can work in serial format.
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The other issue it brings up is that the characters get ZERO background & development. You get some token pieces from some; Junpei being jealous of Makoto’s ability & Yukari’s own guilt over her self-perceived weakness as well as the societal enforced guilt over her father being part of what created the Shadows & the Dark Hour. The other side characters don’t really get much of a look in, with the exception of Fuuka, but that is more plot driven development.

The biggest issue with the lack of development lies in the central protagonist Yuki Makoto, who -like Narukami Yu from the now oft mentioned Persona 4- is meant to be a Tabula Rasa but since he lacks a true Raison d’être, he doesn’t have any real growth outside of the token.
persona3moviefilm_610
He is silent, aloof & does what he is told without questioning why. He doesn’t fear death yet he does not truly live. He has no connections to others nor does he long for them. It is only when confronted by the horrors of possible loss that others may suffer does he act.

This in & of itself should be enough to push a sense of agency upon Makoto but I personally feel that it falls flat because it happens in jumps rather than being woven out properly through interactions & understandings. It all plays too much like a deus ex machina than genuine progression.

Other reviewers like Richard Eisenbeis from Kotaku & Elliot Gay both sang praises for Makoto’s development from an ambivalent cold teen to someone willing to risk themselves for others, yet I do not in any way feel the same.

Maybe, as I shall again harp on & on, if it was a series it would’ve felt more natural but felt like it was all a bit of a cop out. Especially since Makoto isn’t meant to be the main focus, rather his interactions with the various support characters from whom he gains his powers & emotions.

Another thing that will affect people’s viewing of it is the constant suicidal imagery within the film.

That is what originally got the game banned for release in many countries & it may also affect international releases for the films.
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In order to summon their Persona powers, the characters stick gun-like devices called Envokers to their heads. Pulling the triggers causes their Persona to appear but also makes their heads jerk violent, like they have actually been shot. & this animation is played over & over again in the almost pointless fight scenes between our heroes & the Shadows of the Dark Hour.

If you have a sensitive disposition you may find these scenes & actions disturbing.

& it’s not really helped by the characters not actually explaining the need for Envokers or what the Persona ability is.

A mixed thing within the film is the return of all the music from the games.

If you are familiar with the soundscape, they do act a bit like spoilers for what the scene represents but are actually orchestrated well from their video game origins.

There are also other little Easter Eggs for fans, with Social Link characters appearing in various roles or just in the background doing what they do but without context as to why the protagonist is interacting with some of them, it does feel a bit needless & fan servicey (new word, deal with it).

The plot is also so slavish to the formula of the game that only fans will get much from it.

Such as the battle with the Big Shadows once a month (every full moon), which means the plot tends to skip to those dates without concern because they are the big marks to hit. After the introduction of the dungeon-like tower of Tartarus & some basic rules of the Dark Hour.

In the end, this is a film for fans that is coming a bit too late, since the original games are already 8 years old.

Yet it is something that can’t be let go of, with releases of new games that crossover Persona 3 & 4 on the way. As well as a new Persona 4 Golden series being made, based upon the changes made in the PSVita game.

If you are invested in the series, you may get something of the film, but personally it just made me want to get a new battery for my PSP so I can actually finish the game.

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