Not that it matters, since the novel Free was based on was in the Kyoto Animation Award contest, but I think they were the perfect studio for this show. Of course, it’s a given that the high-energy swimming scenes would look good.* But the motion-heavy body language is boosting the comedy along with the action. something really pronounced in the one scene where Gou and Amakata revealed they wouldn’t be sleeping outside. Hiroko Utsumi really milked those one-syllable words for all they were worth.
Really, this episode was full of that brand of layered humor. I particularly liked how Amakata’s implied shady past got used again when she met coach for the first time. The great thing about that joke is that it added another layer to the coach; him recognizing her means he totally went for that sort of thing. Whatever that sort of thing was. I hope they never explicitly reveal any hard details behind that past, as it’s way more fun as a nebulous creeping blob of shame. Running complimentary to that was her too-shiny demeanor moments before as she tried to make a good impression with him. Clever wins the day.
On the more serious side, we had Rei’s night training accident. I thought it was a bit of an unnecessary twist, but it might end up working out alright. I liked the episode better before those last 2 minutes; it was nice to see that Rei having a hard time on the first day wasn’t a big deal to anyone else. There was some mention of past drama with Makoto and the ocean, but that was a side-plot that didn’t hijack the episode. Having characters not acting angsty up to that point really brought out the fun atmosphere that summer practice can actually have.** I’m hoping the next episode won’t be hijacked by trauma, or that it’ll at least have the courtesy to not be an unsubtle jackhammer to the skull about it.
Maybe I’m being too harsh here. There was one huge positive to that last scene; when Makoto realized Rei was out there and floundering, his first reaction was to run to the rescue. That was big for two reasons. One, it dialed up the dynamic feel of scene considerably. Two, it avoided the paralytic trauma trap that ensnares so many comedies trying to evolve out of their genre.*** It is a plus for a comedy to mix in drama if it can do so without feeling forced.****
*Though even there, the camerawork has been above and beyond. The one diving scene which opened Rin and Haru’s first race was perfectly framed kinetic cinema.
**Bonus points for putting in an argument about which pizza toppings are unnatural abominations and including pineapple.
***Now’s a good time to pause and take a moment of silence for C3-Bu.
****Real life is neither comedy nor drama, so the characters I can most relate to typically come from shows that have a little bit of both. It’s why I love mid-major manga, among other things.
I started watching Free! mostly for the fanservice (and because I’m also a swimmer) – but who would have thought the comedy would be this good? Add to that the top notch visuals, and I’m unashamed to say that this is quite probably now my favourite new series airing this current season.
I can’t decide whether I want to know about Amakata’s past or not yet. It does work better as an ambiguous shame, but at the same time I’m desperate to know!