Certain sports seem like obvious choices for an anime series. Baseball, for example, has a team-first atmosphere that meshes with Japan’s cultural value of putting the group before the self, and has enough breaks in the action for lengthy conversations between characters on the same team. Boxing, being all about two dudes trying to punch each other into submission while taking a breather every three minutes in which the focus can shift to the hero’s internal monologue, also makes for an easy translation to dramatic animation.
Swimming, on the other hand, seems like a hard fit, as the athletes’ actions are fundamentally repetitive, and being underwater precludes any snappy dialogue. But what the sport does have going for it is slim, toned, almost naked competitors, and anime studio Kyoto Animation has ridden the fangirl fever-inducing cast of swimming saga Free! to critical and commercial success. Next up for the franchise: a brand-new theatrical feature that’s scheduled to be released before the end of the year.