The festival of one-word synopses continues, and this time around it’s “shameless” – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve made it clear that I respect Free! for making no bones about what it’s about, and as such I have no problems with this episode being the most blatant yet when it comes to objectifying the cast. I wouldn’t necessarily call it admirable, but anything that shakes up the status quo where shows like this about girls make up the bulk of the schedule (and the upper ranks of the Blu-ray charts) is a good thing in my book.
That said, I think I’m about at the end of the line with Free!. Ultimately whatever the gender of the main cast this simply isn’t the sort of series that interests me all that much, and it isn’t providing much outside the novelty of its existence that I find really interesting. I’ve pretty much accepted that Makoto and Nagisa are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things, and that Rei is comic relief. The only characters that matter to the story are Haruka and Rin, and I don’t find their stories very compelling. The drama around Rin especially feels hollow to me – his seething drive for redemption is supposed to be powerful and intense, but it just comes off as petulant and a tempest in a teapot.
That leaves us with the comedy as really the last tangible thread to grasp onto as a reason to stick with Free!, but I’ve given the series a month of episodes and I still find the humor pretty hit-and-miss. There are a couple of gags that are pretty solid but they get recycled until they lose their punch – like Kou-Gou’s swooning over the dudes, and Rei’s hapless attempts to swim. Those struggles were amusing but but not so much so as to be able to carry an entire episode (it should have been obvious someone obsessed with looking beautiful would bond with the butterfly stroke). The biggest laugh I got in the ep was at the swimwear shop, and it was really at the sheer audacity of Free! in serving up the beefcake so brazenly more than anything that was actually said or done on-screen.
I’m perfectly fine with Free! – I don’t find it offensive or obnoxious, I don’t dislike any of the characters (though Nagisa is a lot to take) and it looks average for a KyoAni show (which means in the top 10% overall in terms of TV anime visuals). I may even keep watching it for a few more eps to see if something connects with me. But it boils down to the fact that it’s kind of boring if you’re not in it for the fanservice, or so it seems to me as someone who’s not in it for the fanservice. I don’t want to get into the debate about whether these guys are really acting like typical guys again, but I do think the series would have been more interesting if the males in the cast behaved less like the females in this sort of show behave. But that is what it is, and Free! is what it is. I’m glad KyoAni made it, I’m glad the people who are pissed off they did are pissed off they did, and I’m glad it exists for the folks who’ve been underserved by anime in terms of fanservice. It’s just not a show that holds my interest, and in the end being interested in the implications of a series’ existence isn’t enough on its own to keep you blogging it.