©2017 おおじこうじ・京都アニメーション/岩鳶高校水泳部TYM

Free! is an anime about dudes swimming. The Free! -Take Your Marks- film features all the dudes, but a lot less swimming.

Take Your Marks takes place after the original two seasons of the Free! TV anime. The third-year students of Iwatobi High School, Haruka and Makoto, are about to graduate. This in turn leaves their underclassmen, Nagisa and Rei, in charge of finding new members for their swim club in the spring so the club doesn’t get disbanded. Their childhood friend Rin, who was the captain of the swim team at rival school Samezuka Academy, is also about to graduate and go to Australia to train to become a professional swimmer.

The film is split into four episodes, each with a different title. Despite being cut into four “short stories,” the film is quite long, clocking in at close to two hours. In this considerably long runtime, we are given a look at how each of the groups of swim club members deal with the changes coming their way.

The first episode focuses on Haruka and Makoto looking for an apartment for the former in Tokyo. The second is about Rin’s underclassman and new captain of the swim team, Nitori, looking for a way to celebrate the seniors’ graduation. The third looks at Rei’s struggles to take on the responsibilities of swim club captain. The final chapter is about the members of the Iwatobi and Samezuka swim clubs setting up a surprise going-away party for Rin.

Because we’re not focusing on the act of swimming, there’s a lot more time to focus on the characters’ personal relationships outside of swimming. In the Free! TV anime, personal relationships were all based on swimming itself, so it’s a fresh feeling to see Haruka and the other high school students acting just like that: high school students.

We also get to see Nitori and Rei—two characters given less focus on their emotional struggles in the television anime—given time to deal with their new club responsibilities. Nitori, while unsure of himself, is noticeably stronger in terms of personality and confidence compared to the TV series—taking the lead when needed despite his shyness. On the other hand, it’s interesting to see how far Rei has come. At first, Rei didn’t have any interest in swimming at all. Now, he’s come to realize that not only does he love the sport, but he treasures all the friends that swimming brought him. Moreover, he wants to convey that to a new generation.

The New Scene in the Second Free! Film Left Me in Tears

While the stories and themes explored in the film are enjoyable, the fan service used in the movie is a mixed bag. Shirtless guys is a given with an anime about male swimmers, obviously. Animation of the boys’ swimming is just as fluid as ever. The cameos from the characters from the High Speed! film were appreciated, and the Iwatobi kids filming the anime’s first ending theme song sequence taking place in the desert with a genie as the club’s new recruitment video was a particularly nice nod to older fans.

However, there’s one joke in the film that is so forced, it’s actually kind of awkward. At one point, Samezuka club member Momotaro asks Rin “Which are you? The top or the bottom?” While he was referring to bunk beds, the wording he used is a common phrase that fujoshi (Japanese women who enjoy boys love) used to determine which character is the sexually dominant one in a homosexual relationship. While Free! is most definitely made with women in mind, it never went so far as to acknowledge the sexual fantasies of its fans outright. As someone who is not interested in this aspect of the fandom, it was fairly cringe-worthy how pandering the joke was.

Despite this, the film gives us a look into the lives of the characters away from the pool, and serves as a prologue to a new story. And that’s a good thing, since we’ll be getting a new Free! TV anime in summer 2018. I’m intrigued as to how the characters will grow, and how they will handle themselves as adults in the real world.

Free! -Take Your Marks- premiered in Japan on October 28, but there is no word on an English release for this film, the prequel film High Speed!, or the two compilation films. Season 1 and Season 2 of Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club are available on Crunchyroll.

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