Why ‘Free’ Should Have Just Been Yaoi or It Would Have Been More Honest to Just Make It Porn

Before getting into the meat of my post I should share that I was a competitive swimmer for ten years, five of which involved participation at the USS (United States Swimming aka Olympic prelim) level. I’m used to seeing teenage boys traipse about in swim trunks or less in the name of sport, and I once had a ‘paper suit’ (special competition material that was super tight) that was so sheer when dry you could see my underage cleavage (yes, there will be loads of search engines hits from that phrase…). I don’t fundamentally have a problem with how bodies are displayed by swimmers. HOWEVER…

Free Logo

Free is a relatively new anime based off a series of light novels inexplicably called High Speed (makes me think it’s about NASCAR or Formula 1 personally) about a group of high school boys who form a swim club to re-experience the bond of competing together. It’s also quite possibly one of the most unintentionally, hilariously homoerotic shows I’ve ever watched with way more butt and crotch shots than you’d expect from a show about solely male swimmers and open muscle fetishization (okay, it’s through the eyes of a female character, but it’s still, well…awkward). I’m not the first person to recognize the potential of the show (check out Octopimp’s incredible parody 50% Off at his YouTube channel; for the record I totally want a “Thug Seme” shirt even if it’s inappropriate for me to wear!), but I may be one of the few who finds it vaguely uncomfortable to watch even as I laugh hysterically. I feel wrong objectifying animated teenage boys even if they do wear next to nothing, gyrate erotically in the first ending theme, and practically dress like stripper characters in the ending theme for Eternal Summer (seriously, Rin is doing suggestive pelvic thrusts while wearing a police officer uniform), especially because the show isn’t supposed to be about sex! I also don’t think that the characters were necessarily created for my gaze, although who can tell since the main cast comes across like a character list from a yaoi game!

I have no problem with guy-guy relationships or yaoi (guy-guy stories that are actually written for women). My first introduction to the games was an older Spray game called Gakuen Heaven

Gakuen Heaven Logo

which became an obsession despite it having no voice actors, so I had to read the entire thing (thank goodness for auto-skip of previously read portions on play through). While it had explicit content, and the characters were way too old looking HS boys (okay, Kazuki isn’t actually in HS, but it’s better to ignore that fact to get around the creepiness of his lifelong devotion to Keita, the player character who is only sixteen). On my first play though I was shocked when I got the poor innocent player character violated with a pen in the PE equipment shed when I ditched the student council president I’d been courting for his VP because I thought the pres was too stupid to compete with in the strange campus MVP tournament (I never said the plot made much sense; it’s mainly a vehicle for hooking up with one of the other hot students). After my first shocking misstep I learned how to maneuver the world of Japanese dating sims, found a distinct taste for ‘megane chara’ (glasses characters), and dove headfirst into the world of Japanese adult video games for women.

As a result I can see how Haru (cool, quiet type who probably has a hidden secret; sadly everyone knows that Haru can be bribed to do almost anything if he’s promised swimming), Makoto (boy next door type who is just generally nice and reliable), Nagisa (shouta (underage boy) type complete with more subversive personality than you’d expect from his demeanor), Rin (rival/bad boy type who really just needs the right person to unlock his softer side), and Rei (the megane chara who is super smart and super focused; probably a closet sadist) all fit neatly into the character boxes for these games, but Free is touted as a sports anime. Admittedly, the swimming sequences are excellent, and the climax of season 1 is more realistic than I would have gambled on for anime. However, I struggle with feeling like a dirty old lady leering at underage boys as the show repeatedly turns their athletic prowess into something that objectifies them as mere pieces of meat.

I have no idea who the audience was for the light novels, but the anime series toes the line between serious sports show and porn so closely that I actually wish it just had gone all the way. At least then I could feel a little less creepy about all the animated man flesh and excessive male bonding flashing across my screen. Straight up yaoi would have clarified the matter; the pretty little boys are meant to be ogled by women as they happily explore true love/hawt sexy times with one another.

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About jlscaife

30 something year old animal rescuer, aspiring writer, and all around geek
This entry was posted in humor, opinion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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