For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  sixth monthly topic, “Team,” I decided to incorporate what would have been a “Cafe Talk” about my high school swimming experience, along with my thoughts on the anime Free! into one big post over sticking with a team to the end.

While the prompt was more intended as dedication to “Pride Month” and all of those who support the LGBT & Queer communities both in real life and in anime, the generosity and flexibility, as well as the promoted creativity that OWLS is known for, allows me to bend this topic back to its home nature: companionship found in teamwork. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

haru


A brief discussion on the 12-episode summer 2013 anime “Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club,” and its 13-episode summer 2014 sequel “Free! – Eternal Summer,” both produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Hiroko Utsumi, based on the original story by Kouji Ooji.

“After High School, You’re Ordinary”

This was what Haruka Nanase was told long ago and, nearing the end of his own high school experience, Haru is still unsure of what to make of his future. Swimming as early as elementary school and winning races and a tournament with his childhood relay mates—all boys with very much girlish names—Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin, Haru has always loved the water. When they all went their separate ways for middle school, Haru dropped swimming entirely. Now he’s about to enter the real world, all dried up for a life of normalcy.

Image result

That is—until the boys reunite in high school. Only desiring to race Haru after all these years, however, Rin could care less about the old team being together—he only wants to find out that HE is indeed the better, faster, stronger swimmer.

Without Rin, the three boys form a new Iwatobi High School Swim Team, and it turns out that their first challenge is not training and practicing hard, but actually recruiting a fourth member so that their relay can face off against Rin’s team later in the season! Eventually, these boys, bound by friendship, the spirit of competition, and the love of the sport, will discover what swimming in a relay means to each of them!

Image result for free iwatobi swim club haru and rin race

And Just Like That, We’re Off the Blocks! 

Free!, like a well-trained athlete, balances episodes of training and technique with bits of fun, slice-of-life ventures and some emotional turmoil inbound. By using races and competitions as peaks of interest (and a way to execute the boys’ hard work), everything flows smoothly and as such makes time fly by. By the end of the two seasons, all relationships and story developments feel comfortably resolved—and that’s all I can ask of most adapted works these days!

Image result for free eternal summer ending

If it’s not apparent to you yet, the boys of Free! are very beloved by its fans in the community, and for good reasons, too. They all have such great . . . chemistry, and truly, they’re more than just friends—they’re family, the kind that look out for each other before themselves, as well as value each others’ strengths and weaknesses alike. Each so unique and diverse, they all have their own personal demons, but rather than facing them alone, they fight each battle as a team, causing their bonds to develop even further. I’d dare say that Free!’s characters form one of the most heartwarming squads out there; if not the best, they’re at least favorites of mine!

Name a Better-Looking Sports Anime. I Dare You.

Looking back, Free! was the first Kyoto Animation show to leave its signature mark on my viewing experience, and boy is it delicious. Not the muscles, well, maybe the muscles. I’m talking about the water—to quote Haru, it’s as if it’s ~alive~. Their attention to how water actually flows in real life is incredible. You could almost call it “liquid smooth.” KyoAni has a splendid color palette, which is bright, airy, and cheerful, not to mention that their eye for the cool, modern aesthetic is top-notch. Color and tone values help to distinguish between scenes of comedy and rivalry. I almost feel as if I’m cleansed when I watch this show, if that makes any sense at all.

swim.gif

swim2

Image result for free iwatobi swim club swimming gif

But the boys, oh yes, they are youthful, breathtaking creatures with beautiful physiques. I said it. No regrets.

The seaside OST also provides a flowing atmosphere from scene to scene, specifically those “go out and do something wonderful” tracks like “Rhythm of Port Town” and “Revelry of Student.” What the show’s probably known for music-wise is its energetic openings “Rage On” and “Dried Up Youthful Fame” by the wild OLDCODEX. And then there’s that ending “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE, a group composed of the five lead seiyuus (loudly sings 50% OFF ver).

For the Team: My High School Swim Club Story

My 8th grade summer ushered in a whole new set of problems: high school was right around the corner, and I was a) waaaay out of shape and b) wanted to fit in. So I was just like anyone else, right?

That’s when I told myself to do a sport—my first one ever—that no matter what happened or how bad I looked, I’d do it just for the sake of doing it. I was considering track for pole-vaulting since a close guy friend of mine did it. Then I looked at tennis.

Tennis couldn’t be that bad, right?

Then summer got real hot. Like, sure, it was 90+ degrees each day, but, early on during my anime experience when I was unfamiliar with simulcasts, I ran into a 30 sec trailer for something hot.

Really hot.

It was other peoples’ phrasing, not mine!

But there was NO WAY I’d “wear a speedo.” Heck, I didn’t even know if my high school had a boys swim team. So I rummaged the yearbooks and did a little online looking and sure enough, there it was.

As the summer drummed on, Free! kept calling be back to YouTube each week where someone would upload the episodes. Not the best streaming service, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, the way their club started off so small and so closely knit, and then the fact that they were STUNNING to look at—I had to do swimming, I just had to.

Season one ended leaving me in high spirits and hopeful that whatever came that coming winter (cause that’s when swim season was here), I’d be more than ready.

Flash forward, the school announcements read off an early interest meeting for the sport. I was overly nervous, of course, but I showed up, and just like a lost freshman EVERYONE knew each other already. Like 20 guys that all were buds with each other. I was already lost, and ready to give up.

Then the first practice came, oh god, the first practice. I received swimming lessons from a countryside town growing up, and so I thought I was a champ at it. But in fact I sucked. Really bad, hahaha!

The next practice came and five or so of the team didn’t show up.

They quit. Each with their own excuses.

Wat.

There were so few members on the team that we were all considered “varsity” swimmers, so at least that was neat. Little ol’ me was varsity as a freshman!

I somehow finished that year improving times meet after meet with the other first years. But my eyes never stopped wandering off to our lane four relay. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, there were four of them: one for each of the strokes, one for each of the boys in Free!

Image result

I wanted to be like them. So I worked my ass off at morning practices and afternoon practices day after day after day.

I was even awarded the “Most-Improved” on the team! Still got the medal displayed in my room.

Then they all graduated. Except for one, since he was a junior, but yeah, they all had left me. They left the team, leaderless.

My sophomore and junior years ushered in new issues. New coaches, new members joining then quickly dropping for all the same things, but the core members of the team never left, and now they’re some of my greatest “upperclassmen” friends. Facing the facts, the others just couldn’t take the heat of practice.

But I could, and I did.

Related image

Senior year came. Three other seniors joined me, but then those same three quit the very next day. By the end we were eight strong, but became eight of the closest guys you could ever imagine. We were all swimming Free!.

But there was this one freshman in particular. He was good. Very good. Like crazy good enough to make State qualification times in our first meet.

*gulp*

Then there was me, who had actually peaked his junior year and suffered all season with a young hot-headed coach who didn’t even know what “mercy” meant.

I suddenly felt unqualified. Alone, if you will. Days grew longer, my body grew more tired, and yet my times never improved.

I even remember crying myself to sleep one night, swearing to myself that I’d quit at practice the next day. “Who even needed to say they swam for four years during high school?? It’s not like I’d remember any of it a decade later!!”

Image result

But then I thought about me—myself, that scared little guy who, during his freshman year, witnessed several of his upperclassmen leave the lanes for good. If it weren’t for those four boys, our A-Team relay, I probably would have—

I WOULD HAVE QUIT A LONG TIME AGO.

That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t staying there for me anymore. Heck, I didn’t need swimming, or an in-shape body anymore—it’s senior year.

But what kind of message would that have sent to them, their families, this community, that a team of only freshmen and sophomores were left senior-less after they all quit??

Nope. I was there for them. For the team that never left me when I was a first year.

For the team. 

So I whipped myself back into shape, my psyche ready for any challenges that came my way, because I wasn’t swimming for my own times anymore—it was for the relay, for the team!

Related image

This past spring, we finished seven strong with one of our guys leaving us due to his parents moving away. But we never forgot him, and we never forgot about us.

And it was that fleeting member who got us to compete at State. Relay times are generally left permanently for the team, which is why, when he left, we met consideration time. It was just a few aching days after that we found out that our qualifying time got us in.

We stayed overnight in a fancy hotel, exploring the town together with our coaches, shopping, laughing, making those kinds of memories.

The kinds you’ll never forget.

And then we swam at state. That one really good freshman OF COURSE placed in the top ten. Our relay . . .

We didn’t make it to the second day, hahaha! But we were lucky enough to even be there in the first place, right?

When our splits (individual times) were captured by our coaches and the timing mats, my own time came in:

I swam a 24-some-second 50-yard freestyle in our relay. That is, to date, the fastest I had ever swam, and I nearly cried. We were all yelling and screaming and cheering so loud that we nearly lost our voices, but we didn’t care at that point, cause we all for the most part had swam our best when it mattered most, and ya know,

That means the world to a Team Captain.

Image result

Like Free! tries to tell us, you can be the best swimmer or the worst swimmer, but if you don’t work together as a team, you’ll never win what truly matters: friendship, companionship, brotherhood—they’re all synonymous at this point.

We go about our lives thinking and acting like we have to carry our own weight, and to an extent, that’s true. But like a relay, everything we do is ultimately for the team, for some group, tangible or not, that is bonded together through incredible triumphs, pitfalls, or just good memories.

And if you find yourself losing passion with something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then BE that wonderful person for the team. Do what I did and work your butt off, sweat your tears away, and devote everything you’ve got just to say that YOU never left them when it mattered most.

Cause ultimately, you, too, are part of a team, their team, and you should do things just like that:

Image result


 This was a very long post (laughs) and I apologize, but there’s a lot to be said about Takuto here. A lot indeed. And if you read it all, from beginning until now, I can’t honestly thank you enough! Free! may be male fanservice to everyone’s eye, but to me, it’s a beautiful and inspirational coming-of-age story filled with compassion and teamwork that inspired me to take on a seemingly impossible journey—impossible alone, that is. It’s about growing up and finding out who you really want to be; about dedication, self-motivation, and life after graduation. Through Free! I made friends and fell in love with a sport, but more that I made memories to last a lifetime, and that’s irreplaceable.

As such, both seasons of Free! are awarded solid “Caffe Mochas” ratings, and should be watched on Crunchyroll or Funimation’s sites for FREE (hah) at one’s earliest convenience. That is, only if you’re craving something really hot.

Image result

This concludes my June 5th (now 6th, apologies) entry in the OWLS “Team” blog tour. Being the first one to kick off a tour of this magnitude is quite a heavy weight, but hopefully I did a decent job, and now we can carry that together, right? Please tune in to Remy Fool (The Lily Garden) as he discusses the poor perception of male crossdressers in Japanese media this Monday, June 12th.

To all the guys I swam with throughout my four years, from the team that inspired me to the one that I, myself, hopefully inspired, thank you for all of the laughs and the memories—this one’s for you. Stay silly my guys. 

And to you, my favorite readers, an even greater thanks! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, once a team captain, now just another blogger

Rei

 

Happy New Year! I’m Going to Try Harder in 2017!

WOAH, who’s this guy? “Takuto . . .” Wasn’t he some self-named “aniblogger” who we stopped hearing from back during the fall of 2016?

Well, you’re not wrong. I kind of dropped the ball–Just like New York did.

HAH

It’s been another crazy-busy year in the personal life of Takuto the host. For that reason (and a lack of blogging enthusiasm), you probably noticed me vanish off the face of the blogosphere several times. Let’s look back on the few achievements sprinkled here and there in 2016, shall we? I’ve linked each header to the related posts for those who like archive browsing like I do. 🙂

yuri-eye


EVA-Week Takes 2016 by Storm

During the past new year festivities and up through the spring, I was ON FIRE. To celebrate the long-held-off U.S. English release of the third block in the Rebuild of Evangelion movie series, Evangelion 3.33, I hosted “EVA-Week,” a week-long journey through the franchise’s other entries besides the main series Neon Genesis Evangelion, beginning with a throwback to Valentine’s Day 2015 when I began my life-altering quest and ending with concerns and cupcakes dedicated towards the latest installment. Boy, was that the time of my life. Many of you already know and some can relate, but this franchise really, really means a lot to me. 2016’s high came early, the 3.33 release easily topping anything that came after it–and that was in FEBRUARY!

Escaflowne, my First Kickstarter

This was one of those unnecessary but fun events to partake in. Though much controversy surrounds the project, I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed participating in a bit of anime history. Ignore my taking the measly $15 pledge, however, for after careful consideration I upped the ante so that I myself could actually hold that piece of history.

IRL Meet-up at Naka-Kon

The highlight of my spring for the past couple years has been attending an anime convention called Naka-Kon in Overland Park, KS. What made this year so special was getting to meet blogger buds Crimson (Crimson Blogs at Night) and Kausus (Otaku Gamer Zone) IN THE FLESH. Our time spent together was brief but nonetheless legendary, and I hope that we’ll be able to reunite again this year. Looking back, I had to include my announcement post (here) because it contained the countless comments (pre-Twitter days) regarding a conversation between myself, Crimson, Kausus, and Lyn (Just Something About LynLyn) where basically they were trying to track my location in the universe. 70 comments of hilarity, and I remember every bit of it!

Watching the Oldest Anime I’ve Ever Seen

I don’t think I can classify myself as a “well-rounded, knowledgeable anime fan” until I have dabbled in a little of every genre from all ages. So, representing shoujo minds of the late 70s/early 80s is The Rose of Versailles. Don’t let its antiquity fool you, for its glittering beauty is eternal, a masterpiece of romance, tragedy, and historical fiction.

Defending Fairies in the Spring

March marks an impressive month for this cafe. After finally being fed up with all of the bashing against Sword Art Online‘s second arc, the “Fairy Dance,” I decided to take flight to the original light novels and compare them to the anime adaptation. Safe to say that in SAO‘s case, the books are better than the movies. Not by a long shot, haha, no, but they make pretty entertaining (and less disgusting) reads. “In Defense of Fairy Dance” remains my most ambitious project yet, spanning over 10,000 words across five distinct parts–Not that more words means better writing, but I think you understand that it was quite the undertaking. This series of posts strengthened my voice in writing and helped me to use graphics in a more effective way. I’m glad I took the time to visit ALO.

Space Cowboys w/the Fam

Do you watch anime with your family? Not many do (and I totally understand and respect each person’s choice in the matter), but here at my place anime was something we all shared growing up. From the ridiculously long speeches about a children’s card game in Yu-Gi-Oh to the lands where creatures and man share the world in Pokemon; from the magical realms of escape in Studio Ghibli works to the even more magical and sparkling city where a young girl recalls her legendary past in Sailor Moon; from the arenas dominated by flaming, spinning tops in Beyblade to the conflicted domain where two worlds collide in Bakugan; my siblings and I (as well as our parents whenever they feel entranced by our joy) have stood by each other’s side, and though I lead the herd, I dare say I’d be nothing without my followers. As part of my 2015 Winter Movie Theater, we fled for space in Cowboy Bebop, a show that my dad remembered watching when he was younger. Though we didn’t finish it until spring the following year, it was a delight to watch this classic, and to witness the end of a journey through the blues that my own dad started many moons ago.

Finding Strength in Hero Week

The third and what would be final big project of 2016 was somewhat a failed one–“Hero Week.” While the intent was to write a review for four shows I was watching that happened to have a hero trend going, there ended up being a day or two of space between each post with a recap about 2 weeks later–2 WEEKS! That’s not good. I don’t regret my actions, for they sort of gave me strength and a view of the big picture in regards to specialized reviews. ERASED, One Punch Man, Yuki Yuna, and My Hero Academia all taught me that no matter how hard things get, we must dust ourselves off and hang in there as best as we can.

More Movie Theater Madness

Summer eventually reared its hot head, and as such the 2016 Summer Movie Theater was under way! The movie theater thing is something I hold for my siblings, but if you’re wanting more info on that, I wrote a Cafe Talk over it quite a while back. Some of the titles that “wowed the crowd” included A Lull in the Sea, Danganronpa, and KILL la KILL, all favorites of mine and excellent pieces that hold on their own!

Joining the Twitter Aniblogger Fam

When I had thrown out a “coming soon”post with bluish tinted wings in the featured image, I wasn’t expecting so many of you to think that a Takuto on Twitter was becoming a reality!! What that announcement ended up being was a teaser to my “Fairy Dance” series, and I felt somewhat sad for disappointing a few of you, haha. But never fear, for I finally got around to that Twitter and all I can say is “why didn’t I do this sooner?!”

Ice-Skating Boys Changed My Life

Yuri. On. Ice. Who knew that an anime about guys gallivanting around on frozen water would forever lift my spirits and revolutionize my winter season? I wasn’t even intending to watch this show, but the constant images of one boy yelling at another boy with the same name in a bathroom stall that flooded my Twitter feed after the season premiere  aired ended up being enough to convince me to boot up the first episode. I was blessed–I think we all were–and so I converted that raw inspiration into a post reflecting the series’ critical third episode. Eros and Agape. Without these two, my blog activity in the latter half of the year would have been quite sparse, so I thank Yuri!!! On ICE for all it has brought into my previously-low-motivated life!!!

Becoming the Change

I was recently recruited into the OWLS, the Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect. We are defined as:

A group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.

More information can be found at my pal Arria’s place (Fujinsei).


Of course, my typical reviews, updates, and other posts like hauls and Cafe Talks filled the gaps between each of these major moments, so please, check those out if you feel so inclined. They are the backbone of this fine establishment, after all~!

A Happy New Year to you all, and cheers to 2017 where I promise to work harder on the blogging front!

Like last year, I delayed this post because I wanted to be the last one on the anime blogosphere to wish you a Happy New Year! But, unlike last year, I had to write ALL of this lengthy post. Part of it is a self-motivation plan, another part is that I’m tired of not being around more. I want to be with all of you, followers of my Anime Cafe or not, because you make up the conversations being laid here–You, the reader, are here because we both share a similar passion, anime, and I want to talk about that with YOU! I want to get lost in the worlds of our favorite animated works and experience all of the joys and sorrows that our beloved characters feel.

My art teacher posted this on her dry-erase board sometime in November, and I couldn’t have summed up 2016 better. What happened to be my theme by the end?

Image result for sometimes good things fall apart so better things

This wasn’t my greatest year (of only 2 lol) for blogging, but I have zero regrets on the path I’ve paved thus far. December provided much self reflection, and it only made me realize how much I want to be here. There is such unique thrill in hitting the “Publish” button that no other hobby can satisfy for me. I need to keep creating content for me, for you, and for anyone else who stumbles across my little digital cafe in the vast sea of data, communication, and connection. My plan? Four posts per month:

  • Anime Review
  • Cafe Talk
  • Monthly Update
  • Another Anime Review/Miscellaneous (haul, analysis, other)

It sounds weak (because it is), but I need to do only what I CAN do. If I can do this much then maybe I can maintain my blogging motivation and [eventually and hopefully] write more!

yurifinal

I offer the warmest THANK YOU from the bottom of the coffee pot for sticking with me these past few months, both the active comment-leavers (you know who you are) and the quiet readers. Also, to any of you who recently walked through the door, HI, I’m Takuto, your host at my Anime Cafe. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my efforts, the wonders to come and the gifts I’ve left behind~! 

Let’s aim for a another year ripe with hearty conversations and memorable moments in this little cafe of mine 🙂 AS ALWAYS, until next time, I cherish you all more than words can express!! Good night!

– Takuto, your host