So the show did end up relying on the rematch, but it did it in a bit of a roundabout way that allowed for more emotional investment in the interim. Since Gou did the signups without telling any of the guys, we got a lot of footage of them trying their best in individual events. They may all have eventually lost, but they did so in the seven-game Conference Semifinals series kind of way, where one lucky bounce (or something as trivial as Rei’s goggles staying put) would have been enough to turn all of that into a win. In other words, losses providing the perfect narrative building blocks of a relay challenge the next day.
The rest of the episode packed a sort of friendly chaos, as Nagisa and the others attempted to find Haru and restore his motivation. Because friends don’t let friends stay glumly depressed. Whether Nagisa, Gou, and Rei were leaving a chaotic voice mail on Haru’s phone or Makoto was telling everyone else to leave while staying behind himself to make sure Haru got the message (a very captain thing to do), their efforts seemed to cheer Haru up enough to get him in the game. And to build a lot of momentum, something that may not exist in real sports but sure as hell is a thing in fictitious sports, in the process. Likewise, Rei and Nagase’s impromptu morning practice was a neat extra bit of momentum-feeding go-get-em action.
For the second week in a row, this episode ended with a wicked-dynamic race scene. But while last week the race was all about Rin hitting the pinnacle, this week was about how insecure he was with that pinnacle. He was all kinds of visibly bothered when confronted this episode, both with the fact that Haru and the others were back for another round and with Rei’s earlier suggestion that Haru had found something deeper than winning. His personality has been explored fairly well, but this insecurity still leaves a lot of room for endgame development.
As a side note, I really liked the one tune that was playing while Haru was in the break hall spaced out, sort of trying to reflect but mainly just looking like he got hit by a truck. It was really light in atmospheric in all the ways it needed to be. Speaking of which, the moment when Rin found out that Haru was back for another round in the relay and the music jumped to the “narrative’s on our side” western-style comeback music was another good example of sound direction on display this episode. All of that really lent it the feel of an 80s feel-good sports movie. Which, the more I think about it, is a closer narrative/style parallel to Free than a sports anime like Prince of Tennis.