When the first season of Free! dropped back in 2013 — a time when I was still a Tumblr user — you can be sure that I was all over that since it made such a… splash, for a lack of a better word.
And since we’re mostly all fans of sports anime here, whether it’s the flawless Kuroko’s Basketball, the uplifting Harukana Receive, the thoroughly engrossing rugby-focused All Out!! or the guilty pleasure of Keijo!!!!!!!!, there’s just about something for everyone to get into when it comes to this genre.
And one more to tick off my personal list is Wave!!, due partly to its surfing-centric plot — a subject which we haven’t really seen take the spotlight in an anime before. But who am I kidding; it’s mostly for those pretty boys.
Now that we’re just over the half way point in the show, let’s get into whether or not it’s been a worthwhile watch.
This article is spoiler-free!
When the tagline provides the obvious reason to watch it
Back in October of last year, three movies released under the same full title of the anime show: WAVE!!: Surfing Yappe!! This trilogy was adapted into the currently airing 12-episode anime show. Before this, the IP received a variety of additional content as a multimedia project, including drama CDs, music, a manga, and even a radio show.
As a mixed media project overseen by game developer Love & Art, a mobile game was also released at the end of last year. It seemed like an anime show was inevitable considering all the adaptions it was already getting — and with its tagline being “Let’s get wet!” we all knew what was coming.
Asahi Production is the company behind the animation. We’ve also seen their work recently in the fantasy comedy show Heaven’s Design Team — another highlight of this season’s anime offerings, but we’ll discuss that another time. The studio name may even be familiar to others for another reason — does anyone else feel like they had a fever dream of the “merman-in-the-bath” anime Orenchi no Furo Jijou and forgot it was an actual show? We have Asahi Production to thank for that guilty pleasure; what a memory!
WAVE!! fits right in with that cheeky little title, with plenty of material to get us fujoshi fanatics wrapped round these guys’ fingers and provide us with the main inclination to give the show a watch. But is it all style over substance?
So first up, let’s address the elephant in the room: the CGI in the all-important surfing segments in the episodes will doubtless be a turn-off for plenty of us. It’s nothing too criminal, but it contrasts greatly to every other scene around it and has the potential to takes one out of the immersion.
Whatever you may think of the animation, though, the show reeks of summer vacation with its setting of Oarai — a place where the weather is always sunny. It makes the title feel all warm and cosy as we finally emerge from the depths of a challenging winter.
WAVE!! has the sort wholesome yet competitive aspect we typically expect from the sports anime genre, but it does not take itself too seriously. This is most definitely the case when you take into consideration the bizarre pacing of the show, which feels like a joke in itself.
As of the third episode we’ve already had a time skip of a year with Masaki training (as indicated by a good old montage) — and then it’s time for his first competition already. The transitions and sudden time skips from day to night in a single episode can feel very abrupt, too, resulting in episodes that feel somehow far too cramped as events and time just seem to fly by.
By episode 5 a certain event abruptly disturbs the established relationships of the main trio, making for a surprising change of location. Since this is a 12-episode a show adapting three movies’ worth of source material, it makes sense, but the potential here to expand on what was already set up feels like a missed opportunity.
The sudden change of tone from slice of life to angst by episode 5 may be the very worst offending narrative choice, as the sudden supposed killing off of a character not only feels weak for the audience as we’ve spent very little time with them — but even the characters who should feel affected by it seem to care just as little as we do.
This does effectively slide us into the backstory reveals of a few characters in the following episodes, though — and many of these get quite emotional. The themes of these may not be anything new for a sports anime, covering subjects such as being passionate about a hobby that you can no longer enjoy due to suffering an injury, to losing the joy in your favourite hobby due to the stress of competition and hard work.
And yet all these sequences provide some much-appreciated characterisation for the handful of the boys receiving this attention. I also cannot deny how warm and fuzzy I get when seeing so much wholesomeness between comrades.
Initially, I feared for Masaki’s poor establishment as the main character for the first few episodes. He can get on viewers’ nerves quite quickly as he gets overly fixated on certain hangups, and he often gets himself into trouble because his brain seemingly wasn’t functioning at the time. He also sidelines best boy Tanaka — his supposed best friend — for the hot new transfer prince boy Sho; a pretty sad sight to see.
My feelings on this subject may be due to how partial I am to a more laid-back and quiet main star (such as Kuroko of Kuroko’s Basketball), but it’s worth mentioning that by the sixth episode of WAVE!! he most certainly has improved himself. Not only is his motivation for surfing suddenly very heartfelt, but he becomes much more supportive of the other boys, resulting in very sweet and endearing exchanges as they discuss their struggles with the sport.
Masaki may be generic, but the most disappointing characters may very well be the supporting cast, who often get tragically sidelined. Each character has their own quirks; Naoya Kido’s adoration and idolisation of a TV character extends to his choice of signature surfboard; Matsukaze Yutua randomly types in the air to show his calculating personality as the intelligent type; Nalu brings out an ukulele no matter the situation to lighten the mood. These personality traits are enough to make them memorable, but you’ll constantly find yourself craving a bit more substance and depth from them ever since their first appearance in the third episode.
The voice talent behind the attractive faces adds a lot of needed charm to the characters, with highlights coming from familiar names such as Nobuhiko Okamoto (Bakugo from My Hero Academia and Rin from Blue Exorcist) as the enigmatic Fuke Rindo, Takuya Satou (Masamune Tooya from Norn9 and Caesar Anthonio Zappeli from the Jojo series) as the mysterious Kousuke Iwana — and do my ears deceive me, or is that Morikubo Shoutaro voicing the best-looking guy, as we would expect from him?
Yes, it is; the voice behind Shikamaru from Naruto and Impey from Code: Realize is the representative Mori (or William if we want to be fancy). But while these extravagant voices provide the vocals for both the opening and ending tracks as well as the character voices in the story, they unfortunately fall a bit flat due to the songs being underwhelming and forgettable.
Hopefully we see more exploration and expansion on these characters over time, but I’m not holding out too much hope; at this point we’ve reached the seventh episode of the series and we’re already barely seeing some of them.
In concept, WAVE!! is quite similar to the currently airing SK8, in that the main character discovers they have a hidden talent in their sport of choice after an impressive and appealing transfer introduces them to it. But unlike SK8, WAVE!! fails to make a significant splash, as its bare-bones story still manages to feel far too condensed for a mere 12 episodes.
It feels like I’m being overtly critical of the show, and while I’m currently more inclined to agree with those who feel underwhelmed with the show now it’s seven episodes into its run, it still has time to change it up a bit.
While the backstories and flashbacks for certain characters are expected, these have actually provided my most memorable moments of the show so far, adding some much-needed depth to these characters. Their hardships, motivations and vulnerabilities are all greatly appreciated, and has made me hopeful to see other characters be established and explored.
Despite all this, I’ll continue to happily watch each new WAVE!! episodes every Tuesday. Why? Because it’s a pretty easy and mindless watch with pleasant characters and a warm and cosy vibe to it — along with a bit of enjoyable angst to add to the narrative.
And admit it, we appreciate seeing those topless bishounen boys taking a shower four times in a single episode. We know exactly why we’re here.
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