We at The Geekiary have been back from San Diego Comic Con for almost a week now, and we’re slowly getting back into the swing of things. While I was out rubbing elbows with celebrities, episode 3 of Free! aired, followed by episode 4 not long after I returned. Thankfully, both episodes can sort of be categorized as one big episode, which I’m going to do for the sake of this review.
Episodes 3 and 4 of Free! focused on the introduction of the fourth member of the swim team, Ryugazaki Rei. Rei is on the track and field team, and his beautiful pole-vaulting form attracts the attention of Nagisa, who becomes determined to steal him away for the swim team. Rei, however, is less than thrilled about joining up. He’s an incredibly calculating person who always strives to make his actions look beautiful. And in his opinion, swimming is an ugly sport.
Nagisa and the rest of the swim team persist. Nagisa in particular turns the charm up to 100%, basically flirting with Rei at every opportunity in order to convince him to join. He follows Rei around on his morning run, between classes and onto the train after school. When Gou manages to set up a joint practice with Rin’s swim team (the Captain has a blatant crush on her), Rei reluctantly joins as a trial member.
At swim practice, we finally learn the real reason for Rei’s hesitance to join the club. He can’t swim. In a moment of pure hilarity, he does some intense calculations for the best way to dive successfully before doing a glorious belly flop into the pool.
Disheartened, Rei almost quits, until he sees Haruka’s flawless swimming form. With that, he is finally convinced that swimming can be beautiful and decides to join up for real. Provided of course, that Nagisa “takes responsibility” for him.
Episode 4 sees Nagisa, Makoto and Haruka attempt to teach Rei to swim, while Gou and Ms. Amakata hang out on the side. Every promising attempt ends in hilarious failure, with Rei getting increasingly frustrated as the boys try to teach him even the most basic of strokes. Rei’s membership brings the team number up to four, which means that the swim club can enter the next tournament, but the lack of progress threatens to be a set back. In order to try and optimize Rei’s learning capabilities, the team heads to the local sports equipment shop to get him a proper swimsuit and some prescription goggles. What follows is a delightful shopping montage the likes of which I’ve never seen in even the most moe of anime.
While Nagisa, Makoto and Rei pose for each other in a variety of outrageous swimsuits, Haruka happens to run into Rin. The two take their angst outside where Rin desperately demands that Haruka swim for him. Haruka agrees, but on the condition that Rin grow a spine and stop putting the burden of his entire swimming career on Haruka’s shoulders. It seems like Rin’s self esteem is directly connected to Haruka, and with the latter’s decision to actually swim competitively, I hope we’ll see Rin grow some confidence in his own abilities as they are and not compared to Haruka’s. Either way, it was an emotionally (and sexually?) charged scene. Coincidentally, Gou happened to overhear the entire thing. Her concern for her brother is touching, indeed.
The next day (presumably), the Swim Club heads to the pool to find Rei happily swimming the butterfly stroke (one of the more difficult strokes, apparently). After some mostly wordless heart to heart with Haruka, Rei tried the one stroke he hadn’t bothered with before, and it just so happened to be his ~*destined stroke*~ or whatever because now he’s got the hang of it. I’m sure it’ll be a long journey to professional swimmer status, but if anyone has the intensity and drive for it, it’s Rei.
All in all, I thought these were two excellent episodes. Not only did they introduce what could have been a stereotype stoic character and completely subvert expectations with him, but they also developed the plot a bit more, furthered the tension between Haruka and Rin, and threw in some fantastic humor for good measure. Gou, as always, is an absolute charm, and I’m loving the platonic relationship she has with all the guys. Plus, her blatant and shameless oogling of all the man meat around her is priceless.
Join me next week for Episode 5! I can’t wait!
All photos and properties belong to Kyoto Animation.
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