Free! – 02

Free - 02-1 Free - 02-13 Free - 02-30

Like its main character, Free! is only really exceptional when it’s in the water.

I can’t really say I saw anything here that changed my opinion about Free! one way or the other.  There were no surprises for me in this episode, which isn’t in itself a bad thing.  But given that my reaction to the premiere was somewhat muted, I guess it’s fair to say I was hoping for a surprise or two. I still feel that Free! is more interesting as a phenomenon than for its story, and that the audience reaction – and what it says about the state of anime fandom – is more important and more compelling than the series itself.  But it’s not too late for that to change, especially with a new character on the horizon.

Basically, Free! is painting in primary colors at the moment – there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of nuance either to the story or characters.  Also, I confess I have a certain bias against shows where the characters smile too much – it rubs me the wrong way – and there’s a bit of that effect here, especially with Makoto.  But if I were to point up one character who poses a problem for me so far, it would be his fellow-smiler Nagisa.  He really points up the delicate balance necessary for a character like this.  In broad terms he plays a very similar role to Chizuru from Kimi to Boku – the token shota, the blonde-haired genki boy.  But where Chizuru was the best character in that show, Nagisa is pretty grating for me.  Why?  Some of it no doubt boils down to Miyu Irino being a better seiyuu than Yonaga Tsubasa – but there’s more to it than that.  I think it comes down to Chizuru epitomizing a sort of sincere silliness that KtB developed and which gave it a kind of quirky charm, which both Nagisa and Free! so far mostly lack.

That leads in to what I think is my biggest issue with Free! so far, which is that the show has a kind of contrived quality to it – nothing feels really natural with the exception of the shots of the characters swimming, which are the only time the show transcends itself and becomes truly memorable (like Haruka, the series seems more comfortable in the water than on land).  Everything seems to be following a predictable template and the characters falling into predictable niches – the only thing that’s really unusual is the unapologetic focus on male fanservice, and TBH if this weren’t Kyoto Animation I’m pretty sure even that wouldn’t be considered such a big deal.  As we got to know Gou Kou (Watanabe Akeno) better this week, she at least provides a kind of ironic self-awareness in that she seems to be filling the role of an audience insert character.  That’s hardly news, but the fact is we’re used to seeing bland guys fill that role, and here we have a bland girl who openly goes “Kyah!” over the pecs and abs and triceps (especially the latter, especially Haruka’s) so proudly on display.  Those were the only moments in the episode that really made me laugh.

Other characters added to the mix are “Ama-chan-sensei” Amakata Miho (Yukino Satsuki) – who like Kou was in the premiere briefly, and as expected becomes the expected Swim Club’s advisor.  She’s pretty much the stock hot and ditzy teacher so far, though she has some sort of secret past that involves “working for a swimsuit company”.  There’s also the boys’ former coach at the swim club, Sasabe – now delivering pizzas, in addition to a nugget about Haruka and Rin – and a member of the swim club at Rin’s school, Mikoshiba Seijuurou (giving us the surreal spectacle of Tsuda Kenjirou playing a teenager).  But the most important of the new faces was one we saw only for a few seconds, Ryuugazaki Rei (Hirakawa Daisuke), as he’s denying Nagisa’s entreaties to join the Swim Club because he’s committed to the track club.  He’s destined to become the fifth main cast member, and hopefully he proves to be an interesting one.

About the story itself, there’s really not much to say at this point.  Pizza-coach’s revelation that Haruka quit swimming competitively because he beat Rin in a race when the latter was home from Australia for New Years – which upset him terribly – was a bit of an anti-climax.  The Swim Club stuff was pretty routine, right up to Gou becoming the 4th member.  It all feels very much like a standard KyoAni script right now, with one obvious adjustment.  That tweak is obviously important, but it’s not sufficient it itself to make Free! an artistically successful series – and as someone who isn’t a huge fan of that script to begin with, I’m not finding anything really compelling about the series as a whole so far.  In a way Free! feels like one big marketing experiment right now – can this well-worn formula, in the hands of the studio that’s unquestionably the master of it, be applied successfully to a series aimed at a very different audience?  That’s certainly an interesting question – but as long as it remains more interesting than the story and characters, Free! has a real problem on its hands.

Free - 02-7 Free - 02-8 Free - 02-9
Free - 02-10 Free - 02-11 Free - 02-12
Free - 02-14 Free - 02-15 Free - 02-16
Free - 02-17 Free - 02-19 Free - 02-20
Free - 02-21 Free - 02-22 Free - 02-23
Free - 02-24 Free - 02-26 Free - 02-28
Free - 02-30 Free - 02-32 Free - 02-33
Free - 02-34 Free - 02-35 Free - 02-36


  1. A

    i haven't seen this anime i think i might want to watch this one

  2. l

    I don't have an opinion since I haven't seen this, but looking at some of the comments I've seen on a couple of download sites, it really does seem like people are overreacting. Some sites have even closed of the comments section for this show completely. Crazy!!

    Btw, who is the main character supposed to be anyway? I can't tell from the screenshots. Reading your write-up, I'm assuming it's that dark haired bloke (Haruka?) that's doing the muscle flexing?

  3. R

    That's right.

  4. l

    Okay, I just finished watching the first 2 eps. It wasn't that bad, really. The blond genki-boy is annoying as hell, I must say. Also, they make the MC's relationship with water sound rather sexual, like he's having an orgasm each time he gets into a pool.

    It seems more like your typical shounen sports anime. There's the usual nonchalant character (the MC), the big-bodied meek guy, the quintessential angsty must-never-lose rival kid, their "sad" past…. etc. No idea what's up with all the homophobic comments I've read elsewhere. That Karnevadge anime from last season was way more queer than this one.

    Probably not the type of show I'll continue watching, but two eps of this did manage to be slightly more entertaining than the first two eps of Boys Drying Paint (aka Kimi to Boku), in my opinion, so credit where it's due.

    Speaking of water-sports, I just spotted Hideauze Musume OVA 2. Hooray de-geso~!!

  5. In my opinion what saved KtB was Chizuru's arrival in episode 5 or so. it allowed the series to express the quirky side that made it somewhat enjoyable.

  6. R

    Thanks for bringing up the comparison to Chizuru — I was thinking about that when watching but couldn't figure out why I couldn't warm up to Nagisa like I did to Chizuru. You gave me the answer.

    I watched the premier of Free! because I was curious and wanted to know what made it so controversial — the conversations were indeed quite a phenomenon to observe, and I still applaud KyoAni for trying something for the underserved. Of course, there are commercial reasons, like testing a market or crafting out a niche, but the attempt is appreciated.

    I am not a target audience of the show, but I still want to watch it…at least for now. I want to be fair and am just hungry for shows that have good storytelling and engaging characters. However, I haven't found the hook in Free! yet. The reason for Rin's change of character is unconvincing to me. The only thing that I liked about this episode was how Kou was shown to care for her brother, but that's not enough. I probably will check it out again next week to see if there is magic other than the beautiful animation.

  7. i

    My own enjoyment of the show has fallen a little. Primarily because I was enjoying flinging shit with Fujoshi at Otaku on the various forums and comments sections but that fight has cooled a bit. Also at the time Free! was the first major signing of the summer season but now with a dozen good shows and a few really strong ones it does feel a little hard to put time into watching Free!.

    Still I have good motivation too. There's a super cute Fujoshi I befriended recently and she's nuts about it. I guess if my advances go well, I'll keep watching and commenting. If they don't well…

  8. i

    Also GE why is it that you're blogging Free! on RC? I mean wouldn't one of the girls or Stilts much rather do it. Not questioning you, just surprised is all.

  9. The blogger who was on the schedule to cover it was at AX, and I filled in for the first couple of posts.

  10. i

    Ah, cool. Its just that while we all like your posts over there it seems a bit dour for a show that is so highly anticipated… one way or the other.

  11. K

    You've got to admit, that scene where the art club was trying to drag Haruka away after seeing his drawing was pretty funny.

  12. It was pretty good, as was the fish tank bit. They were the exception rather than the rule for me, gag-wise.

  13. S

    Publicity seems to be giving this show a lot of exposure. Sort of like Aku no Hana last season, it kinda of shakes things up but not really. It may be doing many cliches, but is that something that should be against it?

    Maybe I'm being naive but I think people should just enjoy the show. I like it. It may not be my favorite but it is fun regardless of the obvious cliches.

  14. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever. The issue for me is that I'm just not enjoying it as much as I'd like to yet.

  15. q

    I dropped this show after this episode. Too much stupid fanservice, everything is dull, uninteresting… I'm not overreacting, I'm just telling it how it is.

  16. f

    I was watching this and couldnt place place my finger on what irked me so much. 'Contrived' was the word, thank you Enzo. All of the gags ('THE TRICEPS'), the tropes, the predictable niches, oh-so familiar shounen situations and monotonous dialogue makes it feel like 'Free!'s sole purpose is to push across a couple fanservice shots, which would mask the subpar writing and out of place jokes and quirks. I felt like I couldve taken a stab in the dark at guessing the plot after watching episode 1 and probably would have come close to what we saw in episode 2.

    considering there arent a lot of excellent releases right now, I think I'll probably watch this for another week. I've often seen this compared to another shounen sports series, kuroko no basuke. And while I thoroughly enjoyed KnB, Free! lacks all of its dynamic plot, impressive characters and there doesn't seem to be as much enthusiasm for the actual sport itself, as there is for sexy ab/tricep/lat/pectoral body shots.

  17. M

    "Free!'s sole purpose is to push across a couple fanservice shots, which would mask the subpar writing and out of place jokes and quirks. I felt like I couldve taken a stab in the dark at guessing the plot after watching episode 1 and probably would have come close to what we saw in episode 2."

    It's kyoani, what did you expect? They've been churning out the female equivalent for years.

  18. f

    Idk, I was a big fan of hyouka, which seemed like a far more earnest effort.

  19. M

    Yes, but that had the help of better source material and Yasuhiro Takemoto directing (who arguably takes more risks than Tatsuya Ishihara and Naoko Yamada).

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