The more the series draws to its conclusion, the closer it resembles a cross between an 80s sports movie and a less-minimalistic Touch. It’s got the works; last-second comeback plays, a little bit of environment for the small town, plenty of memorable quotes. Not to mention the chat Haru and Makoto had while looking out at the coastline which finally made things click for the former. Nor that recollection scene Rin had at the old pool, choking down tears for something he could’ve kept but threw away. Nor the still-excellent background music that played during it.
And I love how Rei’s gotten to the point of boldly playing along with Nagisa and Gou’s foolish enthusiasm. There wasn’t much of that, but the way he raised his voice in an exaggerated manner while racing those two to the locker room and the very, very deliberate pun he made halfway through was plenty to chew on. He’s really getting into the whole new side of his personality, one that gives the impression of a guy who’s enjoying himself immensely. It’s great flavoring for brotherly hijinks shots like this one.
It’s probably worth mentioning a couple of more obvious, longer-lasting cutaways this episode, if only to belabor the point that I’m fine with that sort of thing. It saves money, and puts makes the environment feel a little bit more real. That’s a particularly good thing because by all indications Free is a 10k show rather than a 15k or 20k one. It’s still enough to make back a max sakuga budget, but the savings bulk up the margin while not really hurting the quality of the show. If you want more shows like this one, you want it to be as profitable as it can be so long as it doesn’t drag down the show’s good points.
Speaking of which, harping on that distracts from one actual mistake the episode made, deciding to use the always-atrocious, always-obvious CG crowds. I’m pro-CG when it’s the only thing the anime is using (still theoretically doable, continued support depends on whether that eventually gets handed to the right people and used the right way) or when it’s just used on mechs (proven), but these “let’s cheap out on the crowds and hope nobody notices” pratfalls have got to stop. I think 90% of them would if there were a law in place requiring a 500-word essay explaining why they specifically chose to use CG. Unless it’s training for young CG-specialist animators, in which case it’s borderline, you might as well just not draw people at all.
There’s the occam’s razor of entertainment; as profitable as possible, but not more so.