Massive Spoilers Ahead → take a detour if not want to be spoiled
* This is an ongoing series and as I did not cap it I am borrowing caps made by others from Tumblr but giving them credit for their work. Sorry for this.
As usual we are treated to hot, muscular, slender bodies that are associated with a swim stars’ physiques. As usual there is both heterosexual vibes in the guise of Gou Matsuoka who is Rin Matsuoka younger sister and still the rambunctious manager of the Iwatobi swim team. Yet this anime does have the shounen-ai flare. It is marketed with that sense that it will also satiate a boys’ love niche. I don’t have any complications with that. Many sports anime of this era have these secretions (oops innuendo :)), however, I hope that it does not tone down, alleviate the complexities of the story.
Many of you might be asking what story? I know that Free! caters a lot to erotica or even sexual responses. I mean many would say that it is a bit like K-On! only with guys. It’s story type is linear-based jumping from some conflict or the other. But then there were moments that it really goes full swing and caters to another level of responses; the ones that deal with adrenalin, the ones that make you want to these young adults and their inner mysteries. There are many things of Haruka Nanase that I really desire to know; quite pithy remarks that he said from the very beginning of the anime in the first TV series where he actually did not mind if he would not be called a swimming prodigy anymore and actually preferred that he becomes what can be called normal. This attenuates to what people think he is and who is. They usually just associate him to be a dry fish out of land; an oddball, an arrogant jerk but he is not that at all.
He loves swimming for the art of swimming, for the sake of swimming not to be adorned with medals and accolades. And that is something tricky at times. We see this. It is tricky because it is beautifully there and at the same time in the world of sports where one aspires to be a pioneering legend,m prefers to win as it is an arena fully based and blasted on performativity and competitiveness it feels very subtle and strong at the same time. It leaves its mark. I don’t like that this complexity of Haruka gets toned down only to him being some babe on swimwear; no character, male or female, deserves that especially when they possess such depth. Like water he feels almost non-consequential as a calm surface but he is actually a possessor of depth. Other details of Haruka that were not so divulged: he is very good at art — sketching and sculpting; it naturally comes to him (maybe he has some school practice because in Japanese schoold from a young age they do make you do a lot of activities both considered academic ones and non-academic ones. However, that does not deny he has a natural talent as he effortlessly understands structure and lines with shading). This is interdisciplinary strokes as its best. When you understand God given water so well you can do well in art; swimming as he does helps him maneuver in seas and see a lot of detail so his hand muscles and perception are easily polished by swimming like that. So yeah God given talents both flow into each other like an atomic circuit.
The characters in this show have a lot of potential to be complex. They have all the ingredients for it. I see it shining in the hot fire in Haruka Nanase’s eyes, or even Rin’s atypical sharp, sharp toothed smiles or gestures. When Rin is sad it fades but the visuals of this anime are excellent. From the very first season/Tv series I saw that in each slide; the colour palette is crisp and tantalizing fluid, like some segments of water; the colours have an aquamarine tint to them. Also the characters at this point are 2-Dimensional. They have a lot of eccentric qualities that merits beautiful narratives. The only “normal” bishie is a chibi-type Nagisa who jumps on and about but as this second show’s first episode showed that even has a muscular trait that sets him out: it’s his strong calves. That is actually very good for breast stroke because the calves work as a sort of pulley effect against the water (in my understanding; also he does say he specializes in breast strokes). Yet he even he wields more than a fanboy status and has all the qualities these seniors (excluding Rei who is his batch mate) have. Rei has proven he is a prodigy in his own right. Going up against Makoshiba Rin’s school captain, when he is still a novice and doing pretty good.
Of course, like the first TV series there is a complication. Only this time it’s not Rin being a jerk it’s his
boyfriend friend being that. Sousuke is the new character introduced. We see him already in the the opening theme. Let;s say he is designed to be Rin’s Makoto. He has similar traits to Makoto. The hair is darker brown and the eyes are aquamarine. But he does scream that. Only thing is that he is not at all like Makoto who is quite sweet. Like Rin’s previous attitude he has a big aggression. And yeah it is directed to Haruka. I am already guessing why. He must think Haruka is destroying Rin’s aspirations and that he doesn’t deserve Rin’s strong feelings or friendships. That part is quite predictable. Though I am happy there is a new character I just don’t like the fact that he is the typical “buddy-fetish” one. I hope they don’t narrow his dimensions. Sousuke Yamazaki can be more than eye candy and also Rin’s substitute boyfriend. I wonder if Sousuke actually is angry because he feels that Haruka torn his swimming partner too? Though I would actually find it interesting if Sousuke wants to throw down Rin from his captain position and say he thinks Rin is too emotional to be a swimming athlete. That would be a total u-curve and I would appreciate it a lot. I think fans may find that also an appealing surprise.
The first episode mostly shows the bodies; the flexible, dexterous swimmers are all lining up, warming up in a way for summer may be coming soon and they want to sharpen their reflexes and breath gauge before that happens. Of course, this allows multiple fanservice to be showcased with some slice of life warm stew put into the mix. The Iwatobi Swim Club lacks facilities and also people, in contrast Rin’s schoo, Samezuki Gakuen, has people trying out all the time and have a good handful of members. This paucity is nicely shown in the absurdly hilarious way in which Haruka and friends try to recruit models using weird amateur film slides and modeling their physiques and expertise to a crowd, a bit surprisingly, full of girls. They, ironically, find this to be too brazen and whisper this amongst themselves. The Iwatobi Swim team realizes the lack of suitable members or fans. Rin is promoted to captain, reluctantly, but he seems a very good leader: all he has to do to recruit members is to give a few trial specs (there is a actually a standard they have to beat in their academy to actually make it to the team whilst Iwatobi has to be happy with any volunteer) and they go at it. In the midst of a bickering Gou and Rei, a sighing Nagisa and an optimistic Makoto Haruka tells how he feels. He would just like to have a member who likes swimming much to the dismay of Nagisa. A sliver of the gem in the episode (will Sousuke be that one?).
I was a bit surprised that Rin has not transferred to Iwatobi school as of yet. I was pretty surprised to see him. Apparently, this is not well discussed but it is shown in a small flashback that because Rin swam with Haruka in a tournament as part of the same team though they are not it did cause repercussions; maybe severe ones. Rin said he will fix it. Unfortunately, his captain handed him the mantle as the fix. Maybe he thinks he is doing Rin a favour as an Olympic swimmer doesn’t swim always with a group he favours or likes or his friends. Clearly, Rin is not too happy about it. Maybe, there is some disparity over what he really wants. Though in a later segment he clearly states, or rather ambitiously, that his goal is the same; to swim in Nationals and go through to the Olympics. I was a bit surprised because I though like Haru he wanted to swim with his friends; maybe, he wants both and the first tv series was dedicated in showing him that he wants both. That is not bad at all. Rather it adds to his character and doesn’t make him a whimsical bumpkin.
There are two swimming matches in this episode. First is a sudden 400m Freestyle medley suggested by departing captain Makishoba of Samezuki Gakuen with the Iwatobi team. In that one it is hinted that Rin did beat Haru again. This is what I like about this show. Haru is not some stereotypical Shounen lad always winning. He actually loses and doesn’t care and attempts to learn from it. It is also good sportmanship from Rin not to gloat. There is a potential, a watery fire, inside Haruka. There is no reason to oust him as his rival anytime soon. Rivals are not always made by wins and loses it is made by perseverance, compatible wavelengths and a deeply respect and understanding between two individuals. And if your rival is your friend you are at times lucky methinks as you can trust that there will be less foul play in the field.
Before the second match the team heads to their old Iwatobi Swim Club building which has been reconstructed (weird whacky way in which the construction company meant to bulldoze it suddenly had a company shutdown and their old teacher, Goro, decided to buy it partly and salvage parts and just rebuild it). Their own pool is still dirty and closed for winter and as it is open-air it would be unpractical and against regulations to swim in it. They swim in the club instead prepping for the match while Sousuke (not revealed at that time) carefully observes Haruka.
In the second match, which is like a general non-pro tournament, Rin and Haruka go off against each other again. With innuendo laden speech said beforehand (how Rin plans to make Haruka’s cold face heat up O_O)
and then with crisp visuals they show them underwater. Their speedy swimming is captured in gaspy faces as though…you get it. But then technique overpowers fanservice. Rin who was in the lead sees Haruka gaining up after the turnover. Haruka realizes that Rin has much practice than him, though he mentions he has been training, so he conserved his energy but then went full on to catch up to Rin. I actually started cheering as the adrenalin got high. They both finished at the exact same time getting a new record in the tournament and Rin high fives Haruka. Then happily said he knew he would get him fired up to which Haruka remarks that he is still normal.
Afterwards he get treated to a visual feast. Not of swimming bodies. But of a cleaned Iwatobi pool. And submerged and floating in them are lovely cherry blossoms. Haru remembered that Rin wanted to swim in a cherry blossom filled pool when they were young,. Making captain means he deserves a nice surprise. The tactic didn’t work to recruit anyone but at least Rin gets what he wanted. Well, during their bickering it starts to suddenly winter rain and they head in. That is when Rin asks Makoto and Haru what they plan to do after high school as he clearing swimming that swim route or plans to. Makoto laughs it that he is undecided. Haru honestly answers with a blank. Making Rin realize they haven’t thought of anything yet.
This angle is organic and nicely done that I liked it a lot. Like many young adults and adolescents high school is the pinnacle of existence as in you do that and other things thinking it is permanent. It never is. Haruka is too obsessed with swimming so he hardly thought about it. Makoto’s laugh (as I realized after reading Tumblr posts that suggest that once he was suicidal) is an aversion technique at times. Perhaps he is so used to the team especially picking up Haruka and all that (bromance to the max) that he hasn’t gotten or doesn’t want to think about a separate life. Makoto, from my experience of the character, is at times cheery because he gets depressed and sad easily. He is more attached than Nagisa and at times uses smiles as a way to hide his worries. I am also thinking that Makoto may have already decided what he wants and just doesn’t want to say it yet. Probably because Haruka also gets sad intensely from time to time. I was thinking Makoto may have decided to go to university but feels panicky about leaving the others. It happens amongst friends of such closeness.
That is pretty much the episode. It ends with Sousuke joining Rin’s academy and we finally getting to see his face on screen pass OP theme. It the preview it shows that he haughtily corners Haruka. Already ready to start the tension of competition.
About the question that what they will be when they graduate high school. The whole ending thing was somewhat dedicated to that:
No, he is supposed to be an actual cop not a stripper. Yeah, I know hypnotic hips (laughs). Makoto becomes a fireman, Nagisa an astronaut which was one that really confused me (I did not know he was interested in those things like that but yeah I am all for it), Rei is a scientist and Haruka aside from some mermaid shots happens to be a chef (cooking mackerel all the time gets you places I guess).
The show may be centering on the narrative that you may have a dream in sports but if you don’t make it or after that you might have other dreams. I think I really liked that they are going with this message. Many a times we think Rin is just pursuing Olympic medals because his father had him and his sister and couldn’t go for it. I think he is forgetting that his fathers dreams may have changed or that he had other dreams. The anime may be showing that there are more to sportsman than sports and that your God given life is not over till its over and that you can do many other stuff you want to do. Though yeah the ED theme is also sexy but it does bring out that message too,
Overall, if Free! can break its own confines and just be complex as well as fanservicey from time to time it can be very interesting. A lot of shows, recently, have been so fanservicey that it would be nice to see non-fanservice qualities in a show that is so liked for fanservice. Breaking its presumptions and just upping its game.
* * Vistit http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/free!-eternal-summer for fun gifs and caps