Pictured above: me watching this show.
I think this week's episode made it clear that Free! doesn't just want to be the "fanservice for girls" anime, yet it's going to have to dig a little deeper if it wants to be taken seriously on whatever plot development it has in mind. This episode had all the hallmarks of a "setup" episode, but we still don't know too much about the characters aside from the basic ways they relate to each other so far. That said, none of this stops the episode from just as entertaining as it was last week.
This episode spends a bit more time establishing the female characters of the show (I know! Actual girls! Alert the media!). I don't want to hear any yaoi fans complaining about Gou getting in the way of their ships from here on out, since she is clearly in solidarity with most of the targeted audience (I'm a targeted audience! I'm sorry, but that novelty is not going to wear off for a while). That said, she's almost too much of a stand-in for the viewers; all I know about her so far is that she likes triceps and hates her name. However, I do like the fact that she's a "little sister character" who is presented as a human being rather than a fetishized object. Her concern for her brother seems to be based on real sibling dynamics rather than what the anime industry has been pushing out for years now (*COUGH*COUGH*). While it's sad that this feels fresh in the current state of the industry, I'm happy it's there nevertheless.
I've already heard some people call Ama-chan a stereotype, but I feel like KyoAni is mining their own material here, so I can't knock them that much for it. It's blatantly obvious that whatever her former swimsuit job entailed, it was not designing them, and I look forward to finding out whatever it is she wants to keep secret. I would be more than happy to have a repeat of K-ON here, since their teacher's metal past was one of my favorite parts of that show.
The rest of the episode is setup. This is the inevitable "let's start a swimming club" part of the show, and again this feels a bit novel since you know that they're creating it out of genuine interest, not to satisfy the anime requirement of +4 characters in school needing to be in a club about nothing. As a bit of an offshoot to that, I find it funny that the "cute girls in a club do cute things" wave that KyoAni started has devolved to point where it's always a club that has nothing to do with anything. Even the K-ON girls sang! Hopefully this will remind everybody that club shows are infinitely more interesting when the club actually does an activity. Now that I've said that though (since I've referenced K-ON two times in this post), I feel that I should add I don't think that this show is a simple re-tread of K-ON. I do think that it's interesting to compare the two in light of the trend the first one created, and how this title makes a whole new name for itself.
Anyway, I never thought that a pool-fixing montage could be interesting, and the episode does a pretty good job with it! The highlight here was obviously Haruka stripping in the store and trying to get into an aquarium. His habit of trying to get into any container of water has already become a running joke in the fandom since last week, and I loved that the show itself was playing with that as well. That said, I hope that it doesn't become an obnoxious joke that overstays its welcome. They've used it pretty sparingly so far, and I think that's the best way to go about it.
More on the setup side of things, we find out a little bit more of what Rin's deal is and why Haruka quit swimming competitively via their old swim coach (who I hope shows up more often and isn't just used as an exposition vehicle). Haruka only wants to swim for the sake of swimming, and isn't interested in the competitive aspect of it (although you can't deny that he's got talent). Rin is the opposite, seeming to care too much about results. While it obviously must've sucked for him to lose to Haru after going abroad to a special swimming school, I think that something else must've happened that we aren't aware of yet. It's still too big of a leap from the kid we saw in the first episode to how he acts now. Not to mention the picture that he took from the old swimming club. Who are those people?
In any case, it looks like Free! is laying the groundwork for something a bit deeper if they decide to pursue that angle. At the moment, it's still pretty light on character and story elements ("keep it simple, stupid" in its best form) but it's doing a great job of endearing me towards the characters regardless. I'm with Gou on this one; I can't get enough of those triceps.
|Let us know how that works out|
Images from Crunchyroll.com.