Free! – 12 (Fin)

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On the day of the regional tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club watches Rin swim in the 100m relay, but he performs terribly, and they learn from the program that he was removed from the relay. After yelling at Nitori, Rin says he’s done swimming and storms off. Rei tells the others what Rin told him, and offers to give up his spot. Haru and the others go off in search of Rin. Haru finds him, and after an emotional exchange, Haru tells him he can swim with them again after all. Rin takes Rei’s place for the relay and they win their heat, only to be disqualified later, but they vow to return next year even stronger.

The water is alive. Once you dive in, it will immediately bare its fangs and attack. But there’s nothing to fear. Don’t resist the water. Thrust your fingers into the surface and carve an opening.

So says Haru in his final monologue. The words apply just as much to life as it does to swimming. Rin dove in, trying to follow his dad’s dream, and the world bit back, shaking his confidence both while in Australia and being cut from the relay. Haru reminds him of that which Rin originally taught him, and still applies in the present: winning is meaningless if you don’t know why you swim. Swimming with the team and bringing out the best in one another made them happy, and does so again. Rin’s quest to achieve greatness for his father’s sake made the pool a prison. Haru helped to free him, but he had help: we can’t overstate how awesome Rei is in this episode.

When Rei learns the full story of Rin’s turmoil, and that turmoil spreads to Haru and the others, he knows the best thing for his team is to let Rin swim in his place this once. So he gracefully steps aside, and he – and we – are rewarded by the finest swimming sequence the show has yet shown, with gorgeous water animation and all four swimmers entering “the zone” on their laps (with those zones varying by swimmer).The episode doesn’t cheat, as Iwatobi wins the heat but are kicked out of the tournament for their stunt, and even messes with us a little when Rin pretends to transfer to the school. The “See You Next Summer” suggests Free! could be back for a second season next year, and we’ll most likely be watching.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

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Free! – 09

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Haru swims the final leg of the relay and seals a victory for Iwatobi. Rei watches as they celebrate and is reminded of the past. After the school acknowledges their win, Gou gets them back to training for regionals immediately. Haru seems down, so Nagisa, Makoto and Rei take him to the Hachiman-sama summer festival. When Rei and Nagisa discover Rin is there too, Rei follows Rin to keep Haru away. Later that night, Haru decides he’ll swim in the relay, and the next day Gou informs them her brother will be swimming in it too.

The cold open wastes no time showing the result of the relay, as Haru overtakes everyone and ekes out a win, complete with plenty of warm camaraderie and jubilation, all witnessed by a gobsmacked Rin. In that moment, Rin is starting to realize that merely beating Haru and winning isn’t enough, just as Haru is realizing that simply feeling the water isn’t enough either. And so by episode’s end, Rin goes back on his impulsive promise never to swim with Haru again. And let’s not forget who to thank for their future rematch: Gou, who only wanted her brother and Haru to get along and enjoy swimming together like they used to.

The theme of both characters going with their guts and finding the results lacking, Rin also learns that Haru wasn’t just a hurdle to clear on his path to Olympic glory. Haru is and will ever be his rival, and as much as he may think he’s surpassed him, he can’t help but compare his progress and achievements with Haru. On the other side, Haru thought he didn’t know he had to have a reason to swim, and didn’t think he needed to win. Losing to Rin taught him otherwise. And now that Rin realizes Haru is actually competing for a reason (to help his friends), he wants a piece of the action.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Rin and Nagisa don yukata for the festival, while Haru and Mako wear street clothes. It’s almost like a double date…
  • This episode was a most effective commercial for numerous preparations of squid. We must pay a visit to the H-Mart soon.
  • Rei does his best to get detected following RIn, but somehow Rin never notices him, or possibly just doesn’t care.

 

Chihayafuru 2 – 05

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Mizusawa plays Homei in the Tokyo Regional Finals, but even though both of them will move on to the Nationals, both Chihaya and Retro are desperate to win it. Retro chose to play Mizusawa’s order straight despite his new president Kameda’s desire to play a low-energy match. Kameda faces off with Chihaya, but she spends most of the match trying to emulate Wakamiya Shinobu’s silent style. Nishida is the first to lose. Chihaya decides to try combining the strenghs of Queen Wakamiya and Master Suo, taking a card from Kameda with authority.

Men should never begin a sentence with the word “but”!

When he hears his players bickering, Mashima remembers his overbearing mom’s words, which are good ones to live by even if you’re not a man. Saying “but” is like saying the world owes you a favor. Life isn’t fair; you get over it and move on. Mizusawa is already moving on, but they still face Hokuo. Last year, they owed part of their victory to their player order working out. Kameda, ever focused on the next card; the next match; wants to slip into the Nationals like an old man into a tub; nice and easy. Not so fast, says Retro-kun: there’s something to be said for preserving one’s pride.

This is an old and venerable game steeped with honor (Mizusawa’s hakamas are a very visible reminder of that); applying modern pragmatism…cheapens it a bit. This week, Chihaya is figuring things out. She is gunning for Wakamiya, who may well still be out of reach, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try. That means a lot of her match with Kameda involves trial-and-error. We also liked how former Hokuo ace Sudo is the reader, and how Oe, at least briefly, trusted him. It’s good to see other players doing well.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 03

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The high school Tokyo regionals commence, with Misusawa facing off against Shuryukan and West High. Though Sumire and Tsubaka aren’t originally scheduled to play games, Tsutomu shakes up the order to give both of them the same chance he got. Sumire and Tsubaka lose their games, but gain valuable playing time against superior opponents. Chihaya wins two perfect games and Misusawa advances. Meanwhile, Wataya also enters the high school tournament, with designs on playing his old friends. Shinobu is also excited when she hears he’ll be in the individual bracket.

It’s right back to business for Team Misusawa, as they’re well-poised to repeat in the Tokyo regional.They’re deeper and full of potential, but first its newbies Tsukaba and Sumire have to endure a trial-by-fire. Sumire rocks a hakama and learns that her looks can be a weapon (her opponent is so charmed he lets her have a few cards). When she finally sees Chihaya in full-on Terminator Mode (it’s great seeing what a badass she’s become), she’s fired up about improving her speed and memorization  Similarly, Tsubaka comes in confident, but has to face West High’s Class A captain, who isn’t merciful. Even though he takes one for the team, his three brothers aren’t ashamed or disillusioned.

With Chihaya on his team, they know he’ll get better, and they want to help. Tsutomu also remembers when he almost gave up, and makes sure Tsukaba is involved in the match and gets some time in. Tsukaba’s creepy stare and tongue also creep his opponent out thoroughly. We got cameos from the vocal West High team with their constant rah-rah (that Misusawa has learned to counter with their own) as well as the always annoying Retro-kun. Wataya looks forward to Chihaya and Taichi, while a slimmed-down Shinobu makes an appearance at the end. Here’s hoping these guys get to face off down the road.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru – 11

Team Mizusawa moves on to the Regional Finals, and must face Hokuo High, who can claim two Class-A players. Porky’s opponent is someone he remembers from years ago, but unlike him, he never stopped playing. Taichi has to play Retro-kun, and Chihaya has to play Sudo, who immediately proceeds to play mind games to throw her off. Oe and Desktomu lose first, putting the others on the spot, but by supporting one another and concentrating on their strengths and not weaknesses, Porky, Taichi, and Chihaya defeat their opponents and the team moves on to the Nationals.

More brilliant, suspenseful drama this week, far more than we could have expected from a game we only barely understand. It’s good to see the team gel so well after a rough start last week. They work out the best layout, with Taichi in the middle to keep the team focused and motivated with his words, Porky and Chihaya at the ends where they can concentrate, and the noobs in between. It works, as the center and bookends managed to take wins from very tough opponents. This episode underscored that a win was important for Hokuo too…but they’re not the focus of this series, so we didn’t expect Chihaya’s team to be tripped up by failure so soon, and they weren’t.

We really didn’t care for Chihaya’s opponent Sudo for the majority of the match, but even he was softened and humanized by the end…not to mention humbled by Chihaya’s innate skill at grabbing her Chihaya card, no matter where it is or when it’s called. Hell, she grabs it before a whole syllable is uttered. It’s literally her trump card; and she’s drawn to it like a magnet. She owes that connection to the card to her name, but also to the games she played with Arata, who makes an appearence this week, but is stuck at work and can’t go watch. We have a feeling he’ll show up for the nationals.


Rating: 4

Chihayafuru – 10

The Mizusawa Karuta Club is competing in the Tokyo regionals for the High School Karuta Championship, and they’re wearing hakamas, as per Oe’s instructions. But trouble brews when Desktomu cannot win a single card in the first round, even as fellow novice Oe wins a game. Desktomu sits out the semifinals, believing they don’t need him, but that throws Chihaya off her game. Taichi has to bring the team together in the face of serious competition, and Desktomu returns when he hears they’re in trouble to lift Chihaya’s spirits.

After intense training and practice, it’s time for Oe and Desktomu to jump into the pool of competitive Karuta, and it very nearly goes pear-shaped but for some assertiveness from Taichi. We’re pleased with how far his character’s come from that petty, cheating bastard of yore. But as least part of Arata’s assertion that he’s a coward may still hold true, in that he cannot yet come out and confess how he feels to Chihaya. Her texts to Arata obviously irk him, but he has the power to make things happen, and yet he merely stews.

However, he isn’t distracted by these problems wihle playing in the tournament; in fact, it’s Chihaya who briefly loses her edge and nearly chokes under pressure. Their competition are a bunch of gung-ho loudmouths, constantly communicating and yelling support and intimidating the other side – we were a little surprised all that noise is allowed in a game where listening to the poems being recited is so crucial. But once Chihaya snaps out of it, her killer instinct kicks back in, and she’s flicking cards before a syllable is uttered. A good team effort throughout.


Rating: 4