Ever wondered why water is such a frequent sight in anime? A common scenery that we get to see in almost every anime is a character at the beach, by the river bank or by the pool. Especially important as an element for Japanese gardens, it seems like a part of defining time and giving life a deeper meaning.
The love for water
Japan has a lot of water sources and therefore they have developed quite a good water sports tradition. As they are blessed with many lakes, rivers and sea all around, water gets a lot of attention and is a constant in their lives. The omnipresent element of water makes it only natural that it appears a lot in the anime world as well. Japan became a source for many fun water related activities. For example, such as kayaking, diving, surfing, rafting and of course, swimming. There aren’t many water sports related anime, which is surprising, but then again understandable. Sports are not easy to animate and it would take a lot more than a good animation to keep the viewers interest.
To swim or not …
Personally, I’ve grown up surrounded by nature and water and for me going for a swim was always the best thing you can do in summertime. Having the opportunity to have rivers, lakes and seaside close at hand, made me love water. Whenever I would have a chance to go swimming, I would pack up and go in a flash. Aside from swimming, I am really not a sports person. Hence, never got attracted to sports anime, until recently. I still have a special appreciation of water in general, not just as something to cool myself in the hot summer.
Why watch a sports anime?
To be honest, you don’t really need to like sports or play them to enjoy a well written and animated anime. In fact, you can still pretty much hate a particular sport but at the same time enjoy the crap out of the anime. Factors that actually contribute to whether or not I will like an anime are actually the story, the interactions between characters and overall sensation of believability. The characters growth through loses and thrives is what often determines how good a particular sports anime will be. As someone who has recently discovered and started enjoying sports anime as well, I must say I have thanks to them, developed a sense of appreciation for professional athletes as well as for sports in general.
Water related sports in anime
Without doubt, the first anime that comes to mind is Free! with all the movies included. As a sports anime it presents a group of friends, champion level swimmers who for various reasons quit the sport. As they struggle to form a swimming club and lack funds, a place to practice, not having enough team mates for competing and so on, they form and rebuild lasting friendship. A bit older anime that presents swimming is Kenkō Zenrakei Suieibu Umishō. It only got one season with 13 episodes, but it’s honestly pretty average in regard to presenting the sport. The ending was quite open and left options for creating more episodes, but that has yet to happen. Another example is Amanchu!, which got one short season of 12 episodes last September. The story focuses on a bunch of high school girls who join the scuba diving school. Not exactly a swimming related anime, but it’s was a fun watch. There seems to be a growing interest in the water sports as this summer, another swimming related anime is coming out, called Dive!! It has a very similar vibe as Free!, but I hope it won’t be just a bad replica.
Maybe the reason why sports anime are not that popular, especially water related, is simply because most of us get to do any water related activities only in summer time. We don’t feel that interested or connected to the sport in our daily lives. On the other hand, such anime may focus a bit too much on the fan service, but not enough on the animation or plot. As much as I deeply appreciate it when it comes to Free!, it still delivered on all other fronts, making it the poster boy anime for all upcoming swimming related anime. I don’t really mind that, I think they set a high bar for others that will try to go down the same road. What makes it perfect is the balance between unabashed fan service of boys and their swimmer’s bodies with the overall story.
I only swim free
Free! may be a bit of a cliché and too simplistic to some, but it really does go deeper. It uncovers relationships and emotions that were born out of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Although it is set in a high school environment, it does not have a teenage feel to it, as the other above mentioned anime do. That’s something I always consider a plus, as many more viewers will feel connected to characters. Their internal struggles create characters that are relatable even to those who are not sports fans. As the main character only swims free style that’s the spirit that goes for the whole anime regarding sports representation. There’s nothing revolutionary in the way they present the sport. What really ties it all together is the friendship between them. However it was a fun show to watch and if you haven’t seen it yet – what are you waiting for? The same goes for Umishou or Amanchu!, as both offer a quick, fun and effortless watch.
Keep cool and swim a lot! 😉
Thanks for reading!