Still backed by a dubstep background piece that comes in at the most giggle-worthy moments, Free! jumps from serious rivalry and competition-based angst to girls ogling muscles and guys trying on swimsuits that seem to become more and more ridiculous (and when you’re starting off with a pair of rainbow-striped jammers, you’d think it would be hard to top). However, the characters are endearing, and despite the ridiculous situations, there’s still an element of total believability—who hasn’t gone shopping with friends and made it a point to try on every ridiculous thing in sight, whether it be shirts, hats, moustaches, or swimsuits?
We’ve also had a fourth addition to the Iwatobi swim club, as we all expected: Rei Ryuugazaki, who also happens to have a feminine name. (A note: all of their names are technically unisex but tend to be attributed to women more than men—think Terry or Kim.) However, there’s the small difficulty of his not knowing how to swim. Oops. Despite this, armed with The Power of Physics, everyone’s dedication, and his natural athleticism (he was a pole vaulter before he was seduced to the poolside), Rei soon becomes the team’s fourth member for the relay.
Other new additions are a mysterious underclassman and bumbling captain on the competition’s team, as well as Rin’s sister—who happens to have a typically male name, just for a change—who has an obsession with triceps, and with whom many of the viewers will identify. Because really, who doesn’t appreciate a good swimmer’s body? Gou (or Kou, as she prefers), gives the team—and the show—its new purpose: save her brother, who has become trapped in thinking his only worth is in his ability to win swim races, and who apparently doesn’t have fun anymore. Season goal: spotted.
The animation is still gorgeous—from muscle details to water droplets, everything is smooth and detailed, and it all adds up to a treat for the eyes.
Free! is, first and foremost, about a swim team, and I applaud KyoAni for that. It just happens to be an incredibly fun, ridiculous ride that you can’t help being swept along with.