There are so many genres of anime out there, but in recent years, one of the rising stars has been sports anime. Sure, we had old manga and shows like Slam Dunk, but they were all about the action, the adrenaline, the competition. These days we get that – in addition to a group of young men with dashing good looks, a buff physique, and all the talent. It’s the era of eye candy, and why is it so popular? Who is it popular with? Would we rather be watching Free! or the Olympics? (Rhetorical question. Rhetorical.)
The vast majority of Slam Dunk readers/watchers today will either be old enough to have watched it on its release in 1993, or anime connoisseurs with a taste for the retro. Hanamichi Sakuragi is a thug, infamous for his temper and desperate for a girlfriend. Because of a fateful meeting with one particular girl at school, he gets into basketball after proving himself to be inhumanly good. Thus begins his journey through a sport that he had previously hated. Sounds heart-warming. It’s a simple kind of plot that is still very attractive, something that’s made Slam Dunk survive the ages. Despite its appeal, this show is vastly different from its modern counterparts. While Slam Dunk has a dedicated fanbase, modern sports anime have become something of a craze for the ladies.
Forget violent thugs or trying to impress girlfriends now. If any male character got a steady girlfriend in Free!, the fans would be out for blood. (The number of Boy’s Love fan fictions for sport anime are off the charts). Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is the polar opposite to Slam Dunk. First of all, it’s a Kyoto Animation child, so automatically that makes the characters moe, moe, moe. Seriously, they’re all gorgeous and adorable in their own ways. No way would any of them be a violent thug.
Free! is about a group of old friends (all guys) who used to swim together in elementary school. When the group is reunited, they form the Iwatobi Swim club in order to compete and reignite their passion for swimming. We’ve got teenage boys who are 90% of the time: topless. They’re swishing their wet hair around, hugging and being affectionate with each other, the epitome of man candy. The sport plot is a springboard for the real story, which is about friendship and rivalry (and KyoAni showing off how well they can animate water).
These two shows couldn’t be any more different, yet they’re still both about progressing within a sport and being the best. We love Free! because of the gorgeous ‘friends’ being rather close with each other and the bonds they share as a group. We love Slam Dunk because of its status as a classic, its intense drama and intense action. Moe eye candy has now been incorporated into sports anime – and that’s just a sign of the times. Big sparkly eyes and cute personalities are a must in most shows of the past 10 years or so, and sports anime are no exception.
So shows like Slam Dunk and Free! are having to coexist in this age where moeblob artstyles are increasingly becoming the standard, where the potential for saucy fan fictions play a big part in a show’s popularity. And no, that’s not a bad thing. The industry is progressing. Slam Dunk is laid down with our list of true classics, and Free! joins the swathes of gorgeously animated hot guys to excite the teenage fandoms. Neither is better than the other. It just depends on what you like. But there’s no doubt that our cute moeblob swimmers are more of the norm than big thugs like Sakuragi.