We left our favorite swim team in a life-or-death situation last week. Fans have been speculating that we might actually lose one of the main cast to the ocean in this newest episode, while others are certain the series would never go down that dark of a route. Who ended up being right? Let’s hurry up and find out before someone drowns!
Nagisa and Haru wake up to the faint sound Makoto shouting out Rei’s name. It doesn’t take long for them to spot the two out in the ocean. The storm is getting worse, but Haru dives in to go after them anyway- and despite being told to go get Amakata-sensei, Nagisa follows Haru in. Now all of our boys are in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean.
And that’s not all we have to worry about. When Makoto finally gets close enough to Rei to see him drowning, he freezes up himself. Whatever his fear of the ocean entails, it’s got him so frightened that he’s the one who nearly drowns. Haru grabs Makoto and swims him to one of the uninhabited islands while Nagisa goes to help Rei.
There’s a tense moment on the beach where Makoto is barely breathing and Haru begins to panic. Hands shaking, Haru goes to give Makoto mouth-to-mouth; but before lips can touch, Makoto is coughing up water and coming to. He’s alright, but ashamed of the fact that he let his fear get the best of him. Elsewhere on the island, Rei is having similar feelings. He apologizes to Nagisa and is ashamed of the fact that he put their team in such a dangerous situation.
When they all finally regroup, apologies are exchanged, and the new mission is to find shelter from the rain. Luckily, there’s an abandoned building on the island. Unluckily, it’s spooky looking. Spookier even than the abandoned swim club that freaked Makoto out in episode one. It’s their only choice though, so the boys go in.
Thankfully, the lighthouse isn’t so bad. It’s dry, has a little leftover food, and has no ghosts or demons to speak of. In an attempt to keep themselves entertained until morning comes and the rain stops, Nagisa proposes a game not unlike truth or dare. It starts out with some funny childhood stories, but gets more serious when it becomes Makoto’s turn. Rei can’t help but ask about what happened to Makoto out in the ocean earlier that night; and despite Haruka coming to his defense and telling everyone to drop the issue, Makoto insists that he wants to let the others know.
When Makoto was a child, he had made friends with an elderly fisherman in a nearby town his family visited during the summer. One day, a typhoon came through and the man’s boat was capsized, drowning him. It seems like this is the first time Makoto had lost someone, and he couldn’t shake the fact that the boat was only three kilometers from shore. He mentions at one point that the swim club swims that same distance every day; but despite that, the ocean still took the man’s life. He’s been terrified of it ever since.
The story leaves Rei and Nagisa shocked. Why then, Nagisa asks, did you agree to this training camp?
Makoto smiles and admits that, when he’s with the swim team, he feels that they could go anywhere together. This sends another ripple of surprise through the group, and this time it’s a good one. When the rain finally stops and morning comes, the sea is calm and the boys swim back to shore, passing out on the sand just as Gou and Amakata-sensei are arriving to start the day.
So I think we all knew that KyoAni wasn’t going to pull a Madoka Magica on us and kill off one of the main characters of such a lighthearted series. Still, they did a good job of making some of us doubt that Rei was going to make it. The tension in the opening scenes was done really well, especially the scene where Makoto freezes up. Because we still don’t know at that point why he fears the ocean so much, it really puts viewers in a stressful spot- why did he stop swimming? How will he react? Is Makoto in danger now too?
Often when a comedy series tries to get serious, the obstacles the characters face are presented in a way that makes them seem trivial, as if the cast is overreacting to something that isn’t that big of a deal. After all, a funny show doesn’t want to blindside its viewers too much with something really dark and depressing; on the other hand though, viewers don’t want to be built up for some “traumatic” story that doesn’t end up being that traumatic at all. Makoto’s history with the sea was a good balance, I think. It’s traumatic enough to justify his anxiety, but not so overly dramatic that it ruins the show’s overall optimistic vibe. It was foreshadowed well too, come to think of it. Points for that. Extra points for the way they eased into him telling his story- I loved the comedic bits that came right before it. Really, Haru? Your “love story” is about a waterfall? I really shouldn’t be surprised actually.
The best part about this episode is how it brings the cast together. Makoto’s proclamation that he can swim in the ocean so long as he has his team with him, and that he feels they can go anywhere together, is definitely a rallying moment for the group. They just put their lives on the line for one another too, let’s not forget that. And what brings people together better than telling childhood stories (or in Nagisa’s case, doing a penguin impression?) We’re seeing the team form some strong bonds here and really come together as a unit.
This was a really fun look at the other side of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. Things got dangerous, and we got a little up close and personal with some of the guys’ fears and anxieties. It’s also a good reminder that Free! isn’t just really good at fanservice- it’s also excellent at building tension within both its plot and its characters.
Episode 6 of Free! is available to stream over at Crunchyroll.