Last week, we left Free! Iwatobi Swim Club under bittersweet circumstances. On the one hand, Rei officially joined the cast and filled the remaining spot on the swim team. On the other, he has a long way to go before he’s ready to contribute to the team as an active member. It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more Rei in this episode; and a lot more swimsuits in general. It’s time to train!
The weather has finally warmed up to the point where the boys can swim in the pool they renovated episode before last. Still, there’s one obstacle in their way: Rei’s inability to swim. And it’s not for a lack of trying either. Rei tackles the problem like any good analytical mind would. He learns every stroke’s full name and abbreviations, aces the movements, and perfects his form. Despite all that, he still sinks like a rock in the water. The whole team alters their new training regiment to focus on teaching Rei to swim by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, Rin continues to train rigorously. He’s realized that Haruka wasn’t in top form when they raced at their old club’s pool, and it chafes at him that he might have only won because Haru wasn’t in shape. Is it hard work that matters the most, or is it raw talent? Can he overcome Haru in a fair race? The answer to that is unclear.
Back at Iwatobi, the team has started to try and get to the bottom of the mystery of why they can’t manage to teach Rei to swim. Everything from the size of Rei’s brain from too much studying to his lack of a proper coach is addressed. Both Haru and their old swim coach refuse to take on the job. Ultimately, Rei decides what it must be: his Speedo. Obviously, he isn’t able to swim because he doesn’t have the right gear. To the store!
The whole team eventually joins Rei on the hunt for a new swimsuit. This initially leaves Gou in a fangirlish daze at the sight of so many muscles, but the allure fades after the shopping trip starts to drag on and on without any decisions being made. That’s when she steps out and runs into the captain of Rin’s swim team, realizing that her brother must be nearby- and that is right around the time that Haru and Rin run into one another in the store. The rivals are surprised, but they take the moment to slip outside unnoticed and have a chat.
Rin confronts Haru about his lack of training before their last match, and Haru refuses to acknowledge that it makes Rin’s win any less legitimate. The scene becomes tense when Rin physically grabs Haru to keep him from walking away from their conversation. It’s clear that the disastrous match from their childhood is plaguing them both; Rin desperately wants to prove himself, and Haru doesn’t want to hurt Rin again. Ultimately, it seems that they come to an agreement to train for a future match where both will go all-out.
When the Iwatobi team gets back to their pool, it’s time to test Rei’s new swimsuit and goggles. He seems to do well… for a second or so. Ultimately, the new gear makes no difference at all. It’s Haruka who surprisingly comes to his aid and tries to give him swim lessons. The inspirational montage culminates in a scene where Rei fails. Again.
While Rei goes off to mope on his own, Haruka surprisingly follows and tries to give the best advice he can. While it’s not entirely helpful, both boys realize that they each have something weighing them down when it comes to swimming. This mutual bond seems to inspire Rei, allowing him to finally be able to pull off one stroke by the end of the episode: the butterfly.
While fanservice has been an essential part of this series since the beginning, this episode really brought it back in a way we haven’t seen since episode one. I think it’s safe to say this is the most gratuitous the fanservice has gotten yet. The scene in the swim store’s changing room? That had only one purpose, and we all know it.
Okay, well maybe two purposes: it’s attractive for certain fans and funny at the same time. Like it has continuously done, Free! balances out the fanservice with plenty of humor. At this point it’s obvious that the series isn’t taking itself too seriously, at least with regards to its visual fanservice. You could argue that the main plot is overdramatic; but the show knows that its scenes are just as funny for some as they are titillating for others, and it plays on that well.
As for the less overt fanservice, there was one intense scene between Rin and Haruka in particular that was just made for the fangirl set. Emotions are running high between these two, and the animators spared no expense in getting them up close and personal about it. Free! is doing what many successful shows aimed at this particular demographic have done: playing off of BL (boys’ love) tropes without actually incorporating it into the series. This works well in catering to a larger group of fans, although it is definitely too overt for those who have a hatred of even the implication of same-sex pairings.
Fanservice aside, this episode did do a good job establishing what Rin’s goals are. He wants Haruka to be a worth opponent so he can prove to himself that all of his work so far has been worth it. Meanwhile, Haruka doesn’t want to win against him again if it means Rin will give up on swimming. I’m glad we’re seeing more emotion and even a little character development out of Haruka now. Watching him relate to Rei and teach him to swim showed that Haruka is really starting to come out of his shell and understand his own reasons for swimming again. It makes him a more interesting protagonist. I also liked the underlying theme of inspiration versus hard work that permeated this episode all the way through.
Fangirls will be happy to see their fanservice back in full force this week. What I liked most about this episode though was that we finally got to see Haru and Rin interact again, firmly establishing their reasons for swimming and the nature of their continuing rivalry. There was very little overarching plot development in this episode, in terms of the time actually devoted to it, but what little we got really took things a long way. Also, I hope we continue to see more character development in future episodes like what we got a taste of this time.