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Free! is a 2013 sports-centric anime series created by Kyoto Animation, based on a light novel by author Kōji Ōji. After a commercial related to the series was released in March 2013, the series gained a large fandom among female yaoi fans known as Fujoshi, especially on Tumblr.
The show was originally spawned from a light novel, titled High Speed!, by author Kōji Ōji, which was entered into the second annual Kyoto Animation Awards in 2011, where it won an honorable mention. The book went on to be published on July 8th, 2013. In April 2012, Kyoto Animation subsidiary Animation DO advertised a new project based on a swim team composed of 4 boys, and later followed this with a studio commercial released online in March 2013 (shown below). Fans who saw the video quickly dubbed it the "Swimming Anime", viewing the commercial more than 3.6 million times as of September 2013.
On April 26th, a 12 episode show was announced during a livestream event. The show premiered on July 4th, 2013, airing on Tokyo MX in Japan while streaming online with English subtitles on Japanese culture site Crunchyroll and Nico Nico Douga. To promote the series, an online radio show titled Iwatobi Channel began airing on June 17th, 2013, followed by the release of a series of CD compilations starting on August 21st, 2013. Additionally, a series of drama CDs were released the same day. This was then followed by a second season the following year, titled Free! Eternal Summer, which began airing on July 2, 2014, and ran for 13 episodes.
The series has a large presence among the Fujoshi fandom, on particular sites such as Tumblr, deviantART, Fanfiction.net and Fanpop, as well as a large anti-fandom on 4chan’s /a/ (Anime and Manga) board. Additionally, sites such as the Free! wiki, Anime News Network and TV Tropes keep up-to-date information on the series. There are also a number of fan-made videos about the series on both YouTube and Nico Nico Douga, and the Facebook fanpage for the show has more than 7,000 likes.
After the first commercial was posted in March 2013, it gained a large fan-following on Tumblr despite no information about the characters or name for the show. Quickly, fanfiction and fan art began to appear about the characters, based on the fan ideas about what the characters would be like. These headcanons led fans to ship the characters and create Ask Blogs and Twitter accounts for many of them. On March 13th, 2013, a dating sim Flash game was uploaded to deviantART, where it has been viewed more than 255,000 times as of September 2013. Prior to the show being confirmed in April, Anime streaming site Crunchyroll started a Change.org petition in order to entice Kyoto Animation into creating a show based of the project. It gained more than 19,000 signatures by the show’s premiere in July.
Japanese illustrators community pixiv has 2 tags for Free! fan illustrations. One is for normal illustrations, the other is to insulate homosexual illustrations for Fujoshi. More than 24,000 illustrations had been posted to pixiv during the airing period, and over 6,000 of them were Yaoi edition.
Despite the large fandom the commercial spawned, it also gathered a large anti-fandom from male Otaku, who believed that the project was too drastic a change for the company, who were known previously for their Moe shows such as Nichijou, Lucky Star and K-On!.
Free! Ending Parodies / Splash Free!
Free! Ending Parodies are a series of Anime Ending Parody based on the dance performed by the cast during the ending animation of the show. The parodies gained notoriety on Nico Nico Douga, with many users replacing the boys with characters from different series.