Free: Glorious People’s Summer

I’m not sure if you’re watching Free: Endless Summer, the latest barrage in the endless fight against the malevolent bourgeoisie, but you absolutely need to be if you aren’t. It would be irresponsible of you to be watching anything else … anything suspiciously capitalist … anything about the privatization of music and entertainment perhaps …

You may be startled to learn that the greatest contemporary bastion of revolutionary rhetoric is an anime, and one about half naked boys playing around in water. But that, of course, is the point. How else would those strong in morals and dedication get their message out in a country dominated by the powerful hands of the capitalist zaibatsu?

So it is only natural that the show is an allegory. The simplest binary in the show is between Iwatobi High School and Samezuka Academy. Iwatobi is naturally the allegorical representative of glorious people – ruled socialism. Everyone has their part to play. Merit is rewarded, as when the swim team is celebrated for their wins. However, even those without supreme talent are recognized for their contributions on club day, when all students (citizens) gather to enjoy the performances and feats of every organization, no matter how trifling.

Samezuka, on the other hand, is a private academy that rewards merit only with more toil. Those at the top reap the benefits of increased prestige even while forcing students (citizens) to labor until their bodies give out, as when Sousuke damages his arm permanently for the enjoyment of his shark-toothed captain. I need hardly point out the traditional association of capitalists and sharks, both dangerous predators full of teeth and exploitation.

The allegory goes further still, of course. The preceding would only serve as evidence of the universality of the struggle of the proletariat,  guaranteed to emerge from all art as, in past eras, the tale of the cultural hero emerged from every story big or small.

But the cast itself can be identified with allegorical figures in the vein of Mother Victory. Haruka is the struggling proletariat,  coming to terms with his identity in a system that is bent on exploiting him at every turn. He resists the clarion call of fame and fortune because the labor — swimming — is its own reward.

Rei was already contributing to the welfare of the people when the swim team approached him. He struggled at first, but by the second show he learns all the different techniques expected of him despite his initial difficulty and reluctance. Rei is a polyvalent figure, almost over determined in meaning. He represents, from one angle, the willingness any successful social organism has of recognizing talents in individuals. Rei was already a talented runner, and had he remained on the track team his contribution to the school (state) would have been significant. However, he had greater potential, and his success serves as a warning to the all-too-common problem of socialist states determining the roles of its own citizens, delving backward to the bad habits of capitalists, who govern their own workers rather than facilitating their own shares of the endeavor.

Rei is also representative of the questionable role of the artist. Artists of course have a place in a people’s republic, but it is lamentable true that not all who aspire to art may pursue it. Rei is a sterling example of that skill all citizens should practice: exercising art and artistry in other fields. Rei sees the beauty and art in the act of swimming. He excels at showing others those things he sees, catching them up in the visions of beauty inherent, though difficult to see, in all work.

Makoto naturally serves as the teacher and supervisor. He is skilled in teaching others, which will always be a valuable skill in any communistic endeavor. But even with his peers he still exhibits similar skills. He supervises them even when their coach and manager do not, “leading from the front” as people say. He performs the same work as his colleagues, enabling him to offer advice from an experienced point of view.

Nagisa, last team member, is the usual dedicated citizen.  He enjoys several hobbies and leads a fulfilling life while adding to the universal welfare. He struggles to find acceptance from his parents, who may be representatives of the older capitalist order or who may simply be the gentrified older generation who believe only certain tasks add to the merit of a citizen and the welfare of the state. He comes to terms with them once he learns to articulate his desires; it is another lesson of the complicated character of Rei and his relationship with aesthetics and work.

Finally we come to Gou, who like Rei serves several functions in the narrative. She is the brother of the arch capitalist, Rin, who sullies the noble work of his childhood with capitalist dreams of competition and monetary reward. Gou serves the people instead, demonstrating the truly thin line between crass commercialism and socialism. Her desire for the muscular men surrounding her draws her away from her brother’s influence. The desire itself is for the strong,  the worker – she had no time for the flabby or the scrawny pencil pusher making money from the toil of others. Only those whose own bodies and whose own work are the only things they rely on interest her.

And once Gou escapes the desires of capitalism she, too, serves the collective welfare. She learns all she can about training regimens and nutrition, serving as the vital support for the workers of the Iwatobi Swim Club. She is a much-needed reminder that every job is not only valuable but necessary. She keeps the “front line” workers healthy and well trained. Without her their successes would be few and far between.

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