BokuBen – 12 – The Sting of Defeat

Nariyuki and Uruka are a great couple I’m proud to ship, and they’re only a five-minute proper conversation away from living happily ever after. While I’d like to say I’m under no illusions that BokuBen will actually ever make them a thing, the teasing keeps me coming back. I guess I’m saying I’m an idiot…but a generally happy one, so who cares!

This week both halves of my favorite couple are sick of the awkwardness that’s cast a pall over their once lively friendship, and both seek the advice of their sensei Fumino. In addition to stringing along a NariUka shipper like me, they continue to lock Fumino in a cycle of pushing her own potential feelings for Nariyuki aside in favor of supporting her friends, Uruka and Riko.

She’s unsure how to break out of this cycle, and is worried Uruka and Nariyuki’s continued problems will have an adverse effect on their studying, so she decides to break neutrality and help Uruka out this time. To closely supervise her two students, she shows up to their rendezvous in a shrewd disguise.

Fumino quickly learns things are much worse than she thought regarding these two. Every effort to spark a conversation is quickly snuffed out when the talk quickly goes back to the source of the awkwardness, whether it’s Uruka’s see-through top after the rain, or her sexily modified uniform at the shrine.

As the two grow more and more awkward and discouraged, their texts to Fumino grow less and less coherent. Matters aren’t helped by Nariyuki and Uruka constantly insisting they’re not talking about themselves, but “friends of theirs,” a conceit that grows less and less plausible as the meeting digresses.

Finally, Fumino’s complicated texting is interrupted by Sawako asking about hairstyles, and she sends the wrong texts to the wrong party by accident. Thanks to pure dumb luck (or good karma on Fumino’s part) it all works out somehow, thanks to one of the hairstyles Sawako mentioned being the same one Uruka has. Nariyuki follows the text and declares Uruka cute, and Uruka gets him to repeat that comment over and over. Ice broken!

Nariyuki attends Uruka’s swimming tournament, in which she wins the 200m free, but loses in the relay when a kohai has a false start. Nariyuki tries to cheer Uruka up afterwards, and ends up with more evidence for why Uruka would be such a good choice for a partner.

Uruka doesn’t pretend either to her kohai or to Nariyuki that it’s not a big deal to have lost, and that she doesn’t want to cry her eyes out about it. But, and this is key, if that kohai learned a lesson she can carry forward and succeed later in her career, their loss won’t have been in vain. That’s Uruka for you: an ace and a team player, through and through.

Uruka even shows signs of boosted confidence when she invites Nariyuki to hang out with her that night. She takes him to their old middle school, where “it all began,” with “it” being their friendship and her feelings for him. Those years ago, when she was ready to quit out of frustration for losing, he encouraged her to stick with it. To be as serious about something as she was about swimming was something rare and precious to him.

All this increasingly non-vague talk about their history together leads Nariyuki to ask her if she ever managed to confess to the “guy she likes”, still—and perhaps perpetually—unaware it’s him. Uruka really shot herself in the foot by lying about it not being him, since now he can offer, without a hint of awkwardness, to be the one she confesses her feelings to as a “dry run”.

But because Nariyuki’s words, out of context, sound like he’s urging her to tell him the truth, a flustered Uruka comes right out and does just that. She well and truly confesses that she likes Nariyuki, a lot, and always has. Too bad then that her previous lie dooms his ability to take her seriously. He thinks she’s practicing on him.

Rather than clear this up by saying something like “no, actually you are the guy I like and there truly isn’t another person”—admittedly out-of-character—she tosses Nariyuki into the drink. He takes her arm and drags her in too. When he protests, calling her Takemoto, she gets him to say her first name Uruka again, and is all better again.

With other characters with routes to wrap up, this may have been Uruka’s last chance. But I do think she’s being more honest than anything else when she told Fumino she just wants things to be good with Nariyuki…and for him to occasionally note her cuteness. So while, like me, Uruka may be a fool when it comes to settling for less than total victory, as long as she’s happy, that’s what matters. I just hope she keeps trying, because I won’t stop rooting!

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BokuBen – 02 – The Third Tutee

When Yuiga reports the girls’ slow but steady progress to the headmaster, he gets a surprise: the assignment of another troubled student. This time, it’s someone he knows, and who has mooched homework and notes from him since middle school: the “Shimmering Ebony Mermaid Princess”, Takemoto Uruka.

While Furuhashi is a poet and Ogata is a scientist, Takemoto is a straight-up jock; going so full-on with swimming that she doesn’t even have time for studying. But as Yuiga informs her by the pool, colleges want more well-rounded enrollees, which means she’s going to have to study.

Takemoto reacts by physically running away, and while giving chase Yuiga falls in the pool and can’t swim. Takemoto rescues him, but he then captures her, and the first time Furuhashi and Ogata see the two together, it looks awfully like he’s assaulting her! Thankfully the misunderstanding is cleared up and the three become fast friends (or at least, Furuhashi and Takemoto do).

There’s another wrinkle to this beyond Yuiga adding to his stable of talented beauties: Takemoto likes him. She’s had feelings ever since she fortuitously overheard him say how he wouldn’t just give his homework and notes to anyone, and admires how much she sacrificed to be the best swimmer she could, and wants to help her if he can. Again, Yuiga is a nice guy, even when he thinks nobody’s watching.

He’s such a nice guy, he allows Ogata to come by his house (while his family is out) with the blatant bribe of her family’s udon (of which they’re quite proud) in exchange for help on an essay her teacher has rejected numerous times. The tutoring is interrupted by a invite to karaoke by Takemoto, but when Ogata mentions she’s at Yuiga, the ground shakes and suddenly Takemoto is there in a flash (she is a jock, after all!)

While she’s not overt about it, Takemoto probably isn’t so high on the idea of another girl spending time alone at Yuiga’s, so she invites herself to join the tutoring session. Only they get almost nowhere when the power goes out.

Ogata uncharacteristically clings to Yuiga, clearly afraid of the dark despite unconvincing claims to the contrary; Takemoto wants in on the fun too and so pretends to be afraid so she can cling to him too…only is too bashful and merely grabs some fabric.

Yuiga comforts the girls by crafting a makeshift candle that he studies by during the frequent blackouts his house experiences (another reminder of his family’s modest means). He reflects on how the lack of electricity brings people closer together, both physically and emotionally.

When Takemoto accidentally blows it out, he fumbles around in the pitch black; not a great idea when there’s two girls in close proximity. When the lights are back on both of them are scandalized and Ogata flees in a huff, but later we learn she managed to write an essay her teacher accepted, all thanks to Yuiga’s reflections on darkness and closeness.

A pink-haired teacher who will no doubt join Yuiga’s group at some point seems almost jealous of the progress he’s making with the girls no one else could successfully tutor. That brings us back to Takemoto, who cannot for the life of her memorize the meanings of any English words. She’s got swimming on the brain, at all times.

After hours of futile family restaurant studying, Yuiga gets creative: if she wants to swim, he’ll let her. With Furuhashi and Ogata’s help, he designs a studying method uniquely suited to Takemoto’s stengths, diving underwater to grab the correct meaning of 50 out of 50 English words, all because she can truly focus when she’s in the water. Perhaps she is a mermaid who one day grew legs…

Takemoto decides to thank Yuiga properly by presenting him with a gift in a bag that’s of a very similar color to Tiffany & Co., out of gratitude both for his tutoring and all the other assistance he’s rendered over the years, and as a token of her unspoken feelings for him. I personally maintain they’d make a good couple, but she’s gotta speak up and he’s gotta be made aware!

There’s also the little matter of her giving him the wrong Tiffany-colored bag, so instead of a new pencil case, he got her used swimsuit, something for which he can only scratch his head and ask why; while at home with his intended gift, her plan totally undermined, all Takemoto can do is writhe furiously on the bed, asking for someone to please kill her now…

Takemoto is a welcome addition to the cast. I have a soft spot for childhood friend-characters, especially energetic athletic types (regardless of their success in winning the guy/girl) and her feelings for him are both clear and justified, even if her refusal to ever act on them is frustrating. The easy, caring way Yuiga interacts with them makes it easy to understand why both she and others are fond of the guy. Takemoto is also, frankly, freaking adorable.

I also appreciated that the show kept Furuhashi out of Yuiga’s home study session in order to give the other two girls’ interactions room to breathe; no doubt she’ll get more attention, and Ogata or Takemoto less, in a future episode. And then there’s still two more girls yet to get their official intros, including the pink-haired teacher. Along with One Punch Man 2 and Carole & Tuesday, I think I’ve got my Top 3 Spring shows locked in!

Grand Blue – 03 – Stepping into a New World

Diving involves a lot of equipment in good order, which means it’s quite a costly activity for a college club to be involved in; far costlier than, say, the tiddly winks club or the pogo stick club. Iori and Kouhei are informed of this in a matter-of-fact way, meaning they will have to help contribute to club funds.

They already have a way for them to contribute right away: by participating in the Izu Spring Festival’s Inter-Club Men’s Beauty Pageant. But before that, Ryuu takes Iori out for his very first scuba-diving lesson. Before he departs, he gets words from encouragement from Chisa.

Chisa is clearly excited that her old friend is about to experience something she’s already familiar with—and which she loves. Things start out a bit rough, as Iori isn’t used to the kind of breathing one does in scuba gear, and when his mask floods he panics.

But once everything is readjusted, he remembers what Chisa showed him at the aquarium, and it’s like stepping through the doorway into a new world. You can see the switch flip in Iori’s head from panic to nirvana, and the look of joy and wonder on his face is plain to see—and something that delights Chisa. “Good, he gets it now,” she seems to be thinking.

The wonder and joy lead to excessive celebration, which is nothing new to Iori and Kouhei, but what is new is the manner in which Iori finds himself waking up: beside a buxom half-naked woman a couple years her senior. This is how he meets third-year student and fellow diving club member Hamaoka Azusa.

Azusa is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind sleeping in the same room with a bunch of guys, but she’s also a good cook, and teaches Iori, Kouhei and Chisa how to make okonomiyaki to raise more funds for the club at the festival. The festival where, in exchange for not having to compete in the boy’s pageant, the boys must convince Chisa to compete in the girls’ pageant.

The lads, likely still hungover, decide the best way to convince Chisa is to liquor her up so she’ll be more open to the pageant. However, each time they try to slip her a spiked drink, she either already has one, politely declines, it’s taken by Azusa, or one or both of them have to take the drink. Before long, they’re drunk as skunks.

Azusa also reveals she knows what they’re up to—to the heretofore unaware but now horrified Chisa—and forces them to confess their true goal. They ask Chisa to enter the pageant; she refuses; and they reveal that they’re trying to get her to enter so they don’t have to.

That night, the lads play naked rock-paper-scissors, which Azusa joins in but doesn’t have to shed a single article of clothing as she whoops everyone. She gets Chisa to admit that it’s not that she doesn’t want to enter, but more that she doesn’t want to bear the embarrassment of the pageant all alone. Azusa also points out that the only reason they asked her at all is because they were supremely confident all she’d have to do is enter and her victory would be assured.

So Chisa agrees to enter…but only if Iori and Kouhei enter too. Thus the embarrassment is shared, if one loses one of the other two could still win, and if all three win, the club funds are tripled, so everyone wins. When the means with which to enter a new world are so expensive, sometimes you just gotta shake what your mama gave ya…proverbially!

Grand Blue – 02 – Underwater Isn’t So Bad

Iori continues to contend with the constant nudity of his male peers, but everyone dresses for dinner, which is when Nanaka observes he’s gone out every day he’s been in Izu, and doesn’t even know where his room is!

Nanaka forcefully forbids him from spending a third night out, but when the boys say they’ll be having drinks with students at a women’s university, Iori begs Nanaka to let him go. She refuses.

Iori doesn’t give up there, an decides he’ll unpack his stuff and set his room up in a way that will convince Nanaka to change her mind. Kotobuki and Tokita volunteer to help, and eventually Imamura is also involved in various ill-conceived makeovers.

They festoon his room in porn, then lolis, then BL, and finally, in order to sway Nanaka most powerfully, slap Chisa’s face on everything. In the last case, Chisa ends up seeing their handiwork before her sister.

It’s a competent example of the “best laid plans” comedy trope, in which Iori keeps trusting his friends, things just keep getting worse, and he just grows more angry and frustrated. His own idea is worse still, suggesting the entire venture was doomed from the start!

Chisa banishes him to an isolated room that also happens to be the meeting room for the diving club; Iori only learns this when he wakes up to find a meeting taking place in the room, and the club ain’t vacating!

Kotobuki and Tokita decide to give the three freshmen—Iori, Imamura, and Chisa—some basic lessons. Chisa is forced to participate despite already being well-versed in said basics.

The swimming lesson goes south when Iori is treated to the sight of way more underwater manhood than with he’s comfortable. The senpais even trick him into totally disrobing just when Chisa emerges from the changing room in her orange bikini.

Iori just can’t seem to prevent Chisa from seeing him in almost exclusively embarrassing and shameful situations!

But when Iori idly says he’s not interested in underwater—something she’s painfully passionate about—Chisa has Nanaka take Iori to the aquarium after-hours.

This visit and the majesty of the underwater to which divers have access doubtlessly inspires Iori, but so does video he sees of an entirely different side of Chisa; one he never sees because he always looks like a jackass around her.

Nanaka is honest about Chisa telling her to take him and why, and the next time Iori sees Chisa, he makes sure to express his gratitude, both by being fully clothed, and by giving her a souvenir. Chisa would’ve preferred a cuter trinket, but she clearly appreciates the gesture.

This was by far the least cringe-worthy interactions between the two childhood friends, and hopefully the start of a trend of more cordial encounters. Still, I also hope the show doesn’t stop mining Iori’s embarrassment/jackassery around Chisa for comedy…it’s still a rich mine!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 07

Nishikata may not be able to fully appreciate it because of all the stress he assigns to his interactions with Takagi, but he’s having the best summer vacation of his life. And he’s simply not being honest with himself if he privately enjoys manga like 100% Unrequited Love but can’t see the requited love right in front of his face. When Takagi leaves her mom’s side at the mall to buy a bathing suit, her first thought is what kind would Nishikata like?

She doesn’t have to see Nishikata buy the latest volume of 100%, since he’s already established he’s a fan of it. She plows through all of his lame obfuscating and happily takes the bet that what she believes he bought is what he actually bought. Not sure what he was going for with his futile bluff; he should know by now he simply can’t fool Takagi. He’s “punished” by being “forced” to pick out a swimsuit with her.

Now I get it; Nishikata’s right in that awkward phase between thinking girls have cooties and actually liking them. Those conflicting feelings are constantly swirling chaotically, while Takagi is an island of tranquility. He can’t hide his embarrassment at the situation, but she lets him call it “being hot”—as long as he helps her pick out a bathing suit she looks good in.

Nishikata is simultaneously thrilled at the prospect that Takagi is a mere few feet away from him removing her clothes, but also terrified of being seen, worried about what his classmates might think. Well, two of his classmates actually do appear, but they’re a couple, and they’re there for the exact same reason he and Takagi are there.

Finally, Takagi takes advantage of Nishikata’s automatic “yeahs” in response to the suits she shows him by slipping in a swimming date proposal, knowing once he says “yeah”, he won’t go back on that “yeah,” because going swimming with her is hardly the end of the world.

After the girl trio heads to the beach, we’re back with Nishikata and Takagi, and the latter proposes they do some of their summer homework together. The most logical place to do it turns out to be Nishikata’s house, and suddenly, like some kind of surreal dream, Takagi is in his house, in his room, and doing homework on his bed.

While watching the lovely Takagi right beside him writing lovely kanji, Nishikata makes a mistake in his book and reaches for the eraser…at the same time she does. Their hands touch and linger.

He’s reminded of an identical scene in 100% where the guy doesn’t let go and draws the girl in for a kiss…but he’s currently incapable of doing such a thing, preferring to live through the guy vicariously…despite the fact he’s far more similar to the girl in that manga than the guy!

In any case, while Takagi’s visit is stressful as all interactions with her are, he doesn’t not enjoy himself, and when she leaves for the day, saying she’ll be back soon, he decides it’s only proper to clean his room for that future occasion. Maybe, just maybe, Nishikata is getting into the swing of things.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 02

Nothing new to report, but that’s a good thing: Master Teaser Takagi-san continues bringing the warmth, charm, and sweetness. It does so with a trio of new situations, starting with calligraphy class, in which Takagi and Nishikata agree to write “what they want from one another.”

Nishikata, believing this an opportunity to get Takagi to stop teasing him, first writes”restraint”, but she writes “status quo.” When he writes “kindness”, Takagi suddenly seems really kind, even though she didn’t see what he wrote.

Finally, he decides not to dance around it anymore, and simply writes “Don’t tease me,” then backs it up with direct spoken words as well. Takagi really enjoys teasing him, but she says she’ll “try her best” not to.

Of course, she wrote her calligraphy before making that promise: “You have ink on your face,” and she put it there while acting kind! Mind you, she kinda cheated by writing what was on him instead of what she wanted from him. Alas, Nishikata is too embarrassed to point that out.

After a brief interlude in which the three girls in Takagi and Nishikata’s class struggle to change to their short-sleeved uniforms on the same day, it’s back to the cute couple who have eyes only for one another, who are in English Translation class. (Hey! A school anime that actually depicts students in class most of the time! AMAZING!)

Nishikata finally gets a relatively clever idea: it’s June 18th, and Takagi is student #18, so he tries to distract her so that when the teacher calls on her, she’ll be unprepared. The plan seems to succeed at first, with Takagi even betraying a half-moment of flustered-ness we’ve come to expect of Nishikata. But when called upon, she knows exactly what line to read.

Noticing Nishikata looking at her, Takagi turns the tables by saying she’s “always thinking” about Nishikata, and the teacher decides to add the month and the day to select Student #24…Nishikata. And yet, for all her teasing, you get the feeling she’s being honest about thinking about Nishikata a lot, just as he thinks about her.

Teasing Nishikata is Takagi’s way of expressing her interest in him, it’s just that he’s so wound up in the cycle of teasing, he either overlooks the underlying affection or suspects it as another layer of teasing. And it’s often both!

That inability to ever interpret Takagi correctly rears its head in the final segment, “Pool.” Nishikata can’t swim due to a bandaged hand, and to his shock, Takagi is also sitting it out. She correctly guesses that his hand was injured when he tried to pet a stray cat, so she asks him to guess why she’s not swimming.

When she holds her stomach, he remembers a classmate saying girls on their period don’t swim and experience abdominal pain. But he doesn’t want to say that, because it’s generally considered rude. Searching for another reason, he remembers another sage classmate telling him small-chested girls are self-conscious about their chest size.

This time, we get visualizations of how Nishikata thinks the interactions with Takagi will go after giving each answer. When he also remembers that periods are nothing to be ashamed of, he finally guesses that, which is wrong…and rude, says an apparently offended Takagi.

However, she immediately laughs afterwards, then slowly removes her shirt and shorts in front of Nishikata to reveal her school swimsuit. Turns out she only stayed out of the pool so she could tease Takagi. She says hopefully next time they’ll be able to swim together. Takagi is dubious as always, but I don’t doubt Takagi’s sincerity in the slightest. So till then, Nishikata, avoid stray cats!

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 10

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I never though it would be possible: a pool scene with no girls in bikinis flitting about! Just a shirtless Ohta and Tanaka, surveying a very nice public pool filled mostly with kids.

A couple of said kids discover Tanaka can’t swim, try to tease him, and incur the wrath of Ohta. They make peace, however, and Tanaka inadvertently teaches them how to float perfectly along the water, a talent he owes to his listlessness.

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It was fun to see Miss Wac at her other part-time job as pool lifeguard, criticizing Tanaka and Ohta from a place of ignorance, this time in aquatics.

It’s left to out imagination how exactly Tanaka gets home when Ohta reports he’s too tired and listless to carry him, but I loved the fact Tanaka’s floating method became a trend with grade schoolers, much to the dismay of their swim teacher.

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The second half is all about girls in yukatas, making up, if you will for a first half that was mostly ‘beefcake’. Miyano wants to attend the fireworks festival with Ecchan in a sexy yukata, but thinks she needs to grow 10cm to do so.

Tanaka and Ohta decide to help Miyano out: not with rapid growth, which ain’t gonna happen, but by helping her choose a cute yukata. Shiraishi also joins them, and we learn that, just like Tanaka, she’s more used to watching the fireworks on TV in an air-conditioned room. Frankly, part of me wanted to see these two doing just that at episode’s end.

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Instead, Shiraishi regrets to inform the others that her two girlfriends already invited her, but it’s no big deal. Shiraishi gets all the joy and satisfaction she desires when Tanaka heartily endorses her yukata.

Miyano…is a different story: even the smallest-size yukata off the rack fits…poorly. So Shiraishi, reciprocating all the good Miyano did for her, decides to dust off another one of her wrecklessly-perfected skills, in this case sewing, to make a custom yukata that wil fit Miyano properly.

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The result is…well, adorable, but also with an air of maturity. It’s a complete success, and Echizen is so charmed by the sight of her cute friend, she allows Tanaka and Ohta to join them.

Not moments after Echizen internally remembers when she and Ohta used to go see fireworks in matching yukatas, Ohta asks her if she remembers that very memory; and when she denies, he’s suspicious.

Ohta starts off well by properly complimenting Echizen’s yukata, which isn’t what he or Tanaka expected. But things take a turn for the worse when, in the middle of Echizen working up the courage to compliment his yukata, Ohta runs off at the mention of unlimited syrup at the water ice stall. But then, I guess we always knew Ohta’s priorities.

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Tensions lesson once the fireworks start, and we see Shiraishi with her two friends enjoying them in one spot, and Echizen, Ohta and Tanaka in another, united in their awe of the fireworks’ magnificence.

But wait…where’s Miyano? She’s so short she can barely see the fireworks over the taller masses around her. Someone put her on your shoulders, already!

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Free! – 10

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In a flashback, Rin transfers to the same school as Haru, Makoto and Nagisa, and convinces them to swim with him. Back in the present Sasabe Goro starts coaching the team, and whenever they reminice about the past with Rin, Rei gets more upset. He confronts the others about what caused them to drift apart from him. Haru tells him about how he raced and beat Rin. Afterwards Rin said he’d quit swimming, which led to Haru quitting out of guilt. Rei confronts Rin outside the practice facility.

This week we see some sustained flashbacks in which the guys with the girly names have girly voices as well, but they’re very much the same people, just younger, smaller, and higher-pitched. The series finally dives in the past that formed the lads we’ve followed thus far, but also presents the perspective of someone who had nothing to do with that past, namely Rei. He’s not delighted to be constantly reminded that he hasn’t always been around, nor does he like what the past is doing to Haru.

Once Rei learns what actually happened between Haru and Rin, he’s even more upset with the one he essentially replaced on the Iwatobi Swim Club. Returning from Australia, a cocky Rin challenged Haru and lost, but then made such a meal of his loss that he manipulated Haru into quitting altogether. What’s worse, Rin was lying – he returned to swimming, gaining a head-start on Haru. Sure, no one told Haru to nail himself to the cross by quitting, but the fact Rin has such a strong power over him irks Rei to no end, and he can’t abide standing by and letting him get away with it again.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • The multi-angle film sequence was pretty cool, though we kinda wonder how Sasabe has the time to coach these guys gratis. Who delivers the pizza…ITSELF?
  • Hot pot on a hot summer day with no A/C…kinda sweat-lodgy. Sounds healthy, in any case.
  • We finally learn about Amakata Miho’s past too: she was a swimsuit model, not merely and Coach Sasabe recognizes her because he has a stash of her mags lying around his flat. Sweet, gross, or both?
  • Rin is strangely absent from all the flashback scenes.

Free! – 07

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With five days until the prefectural tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club continues to train. They visit a shrine for good luck, and Gou scouts the other teams. Meanwhile Rin has a dream about being unable to catch Haruka. His teammate Nitori notices something’s up with him, and wonders aloud why Rin is only entering the 100m. Rin tells him the story of how his dad was the best swimmer in Iwatobi until her got married, had him, got a job as a fisherman, and died in a typhoon. The tournament arrives, and in their first heat Rin beats Haruka, who doesn’t even advance. Afterwards, he tells him he’ll never swim with him again, ever.

Haruka never asked for this. In the immortal words of Dave Ryder, he didn’t “need this.” “This” being being lured back into competitive swimming, only to lose and be discarded like a torn speedo. By the end of his 100m race, it’s clear Rin didn’t enter it seeing Haruka as a friend, or a muse, or even a rival or nemesis. He saw him as a hindrance; a hurdle to clear on his way to achieving what his dad never did: Olympic glory. Rin convinced himself that beating Haruka was the key to moving forward.

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It’s not a role Haruka actively sought, it was one assigned to him, just as his friends assigned him to be their ace, even though all he ever says is “I only swim free.” He may not have just been talking about freestyle, but about simply swimming just for the joy of it, not as a means but as an end unto itself. So Rin had a lot more emotional investment in the race than Haruka, and we can imagine the devastation he would have felt had he lost. What we didn’t expect is how quickly and how deeply Haruka is wounded by his sudden and unexpected defeat. How could he lose at the one thing he loves most?

It’s as if all of the weight that was on Rin’s back was transferred to Haruka’s. It broke his armor of aloof perfection and brought him low, which makes him more interesting (let’s face it, without adversity there’s not much to the guy). Rin did more than just beat Haruka; he snatched away the joy he wants and needs to feel from swimming. He poisoned his water. And if Rin’s to be believed, there will never be a rematch. Rin got what he wanted and is currently drunk on victory and confidence…but his trials are hardly over.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Finally, a real honest-to-goodness race, and it only took till halfway into the season! We liked the camerawork during the swim, though the streaking backgrounds behind the closeups of Haru and Rin kinda reminded us of Speed Racer.
  • Rin’s win puts Gou in an awkward position. Officially she was cheering for both, but she is the manager of Iwatobi, so Haru’s loss is her loss.
  • More importantly, she was hoping if Rin swam with Haru and the others it would help bring them together…but it seems to have had the opposite effect.
  • Hurt feelings aside, if no one in the club wins anything, the club won’t get any extra funds, meaning no indoor pool in the off-season, meaning to training during the offseason. So winning about more than just glory. We’ll see how the other three guys do.

Free! – 06

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Makoto swims out to save Rei, but his thalassophobia freezes him, and he must himself be saved by Haru, while Nagisa saves Rei. Makoto comes to just as Haru is about to give him the kiss of life. The four find themselves on Sukishima island, find shelter in the rest house, and find some food. Nagisa comes up with a game for them to play, which leads to Makoto telling everyone the story of how he came to fear of the sea, which only Haru knew about. Makoto, buoyed by his friends, leads the way on the swim back to shore the next morning.

Free! returns from a weeklong break with, among other things, the rather obvious fact that Rei was not going to end up drowning. His three swimmates went out for him – not necessarily a smart move either, considering once Haru gets Makoto out of the sea, he seems initially clueless about how to revive him (though he eventually almost gives Makoto mouth-to-mouth). The episode briefly transitions into a haunted house scenario and then the equivalent of truth-or-dare by the campfire, in which Makoto admits his secret to all (except Haru, who already knew and tries to protect him by telling Rei to drop it).

Set off in any direction in Japan and it won’t take long until you hit ocean, making it significant that Makoto fears the ocean. He was traumatized by the deaths at sea of a fisherman friend of his and the crew of a boat that sank in a storm, the same distance away from land the swim team has been swimming in their regimen. The thought of Rei meeting the same fate momentarily suspends Makoto’s phobia, but not long enough to save Rei. Had Haru and Nagisa not woken up, Rei and Makoto could well have drowned, but it wasn’t their time to go. They’ve got a tournament to win!

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Free! – 05

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With 48 days until the prefectural tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club needs to train to build up stamina. Gou finds a training regimen from the old swim club that involves swimming between deserted islands. The Club has no budget, so they have to rough it. Makoto provides camping equipment, and Sasebe agrees to take them to the islands with his squid fishing boat. They aim to complete the 4-kilometer circuit three times, but only get halfway there on the first day. In the middle of the night, Rei goes out by himself and gets caught in a storm, and Makoto swims out to rescue him…

Sometimes it’s not enough to just go through the motions. Sometimes an adventure is called for. If you can’t afford to train at a 50m pool, then why not make things interesting by traveling to an island chain and training there on the cheap? That’s what Iwatobi does, and for the record, it looks a shitload more fun than Samezuka’s regimen in the stuffy-looking indoor pools. Leave it to Free! to make swimming between islands, which isn’t easy, look like one of the most fun things in the world…especially if pizza and mackerel is waiting for you on the shore! It’s not all shits and giggles, though. Makoto clearly has an unpleasant past with the ocean.

Someone must’ve died, and Makoto was either traumatized as a result, or feels responsible for that death. and when Rei is caught at sea in a storm, it’s as if Makoto is being tested again. Rin almost accidentally makes Gou privy to that traumatic event. When she bumps into him, sees that he cares about Makoto, then heads back to the other four guys, Gou wonders about why the five of them aren’t together, and why her brother says he cares more about beating Haru than swimming with his old friends. Maybe he’s moved on, or maybe he’s trying to renounce those old bonds as relics from a life when he was weak and unaccomplished.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Free! – 04

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When it gets warm enough to swim outside, the Iwatobi Swim Club starts their training regimen, with the priority of teaching Rei how to swim. Nagisa and Makoto try to teach him the breatstroke and backstroke, but he sinks like a stone. They go shopping for swimsuits, and Haruka bumps into Rin, who tells him he “can’t move on” until he and Haruka have a proper race. Haruka agrees, but only if Rin doesn’t cry when he loses. Newly motivated, Haruka tries teaching Rei free, to no avail. But on the last day he has, Rei finds he’s able to swim with the one style he hadn’t yet attempted: butterfly.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration

Amakata-sensei uses this famous Edison quote this week, and the whole episode is imbued with that age-old question of hard work vs. talent; artificial effort vs. natural ability. In the midst of the Iwatobi club’s concerted, seven-day effort to train Rei to actually swim so they’re not immediately eliminated at the regional tournament, the series elaborates on the source of Rin’s angst. It would seem that Haruka possesses more raw talent than Rin, which has always hung over Rin’s head throughout his development. He wants to be an Olympic swimmer, but won’t be able to make that leap without proving to himself he can beat Haruka in a fair race when they’re both in peak condition.

What irks him is, Haruka isn’t in peak condition. While he can’t let past losses go, Haruka is weary of grabbing on to them in the first place. But when Rin finally confronts him and they talk, Haruka gets it, and implies he’ll put more effort into things. Meanwhile, we never see precisely what (if anything) Haruka says to Rei, but he still seems to have an effect on him, to the point he finally figures swimming out. Gou believes her brother can better achieve his dreams if Haruka and friends help him out by swimming with him. She’s hoping all that perspiration will lead to the spark of inspiration he needs.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Gou may have given up correcting Nagisa. Hooray!
  • Among the awesome little KyoAni moments in this episode: an impeccably-animated kitten; a litle bit of spray hitting Gou when Haruka dives in; a line of ants by the side of the pool, and the butterflies that land on Haruka, possibly inspiring Rei to try that style.
  • Continuing its trend of reversing typical anime gender roles, the boys go shopping this week and try on swimsuits so long, Gou gets bored. And no, Gou doesn’t try anything on.
  • When Rin pins Haruka to the fence to insist he swim “for him,” their brief, tense closeness reminded us of Chitanda and Oreki’s many close encounters in Hyouka.

Free! – 02

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After Haruka and Rin race, everyone gets into trouble for trespassing. Nagisa and Makoto bump into Gou/Kou, who arranged for Rin to meet them at the abandoned swim club. Nagisa suggests they start a swim club so they can swim with Rin again. Their teacher Amakata Miho agrees to serve as their advisor. Kou visits Samezuka and learns her brother isn’t on the swim team. Haruka, Nagisa and Makoto commence restoration of their school’s dilapidated pool.

Kou learns that Rin beat Haruka in their night race, but wasn’t happy about the win. Kou decides to join the swim team as their necessary fourth member, in hopes they can help bring the “old” Rin back. Later that night Makoto learns the old swim club is being torn down, and runs into their old coach , Sasabe, who tells him Haruka and Rin met while Rin was home from Australia. Haruka beat him in a race they had, frustrating Rin. Knowing his win hurt Rin, Haruka quit competitive swimming.

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When you have a situation in which two good friends are really good at the same thing, there’s always going to be the possibility of a rift forming. No matter how tight the bond of friendship may be, there can still be only one winner, and winning it all is what it’s all about, right? That’s why Rin went all the way to Australia to train, presumably. And when he came back and Haruka beat him anyway, that rift grew even wider. Haruka was no longer a treasured friend – he was an obstruction.

When Makoto learns of this pivotal event in Haruka and Rin’s lives, he corrrelates it to Haruka’s sudden loss of interest in competitive swimming that followed up until the present, when Rin reentered their lives and re-lit some kind of spark. If that’s true, Haruka is a more layered character than we initially expected. In joining the swim club founded by his friends, Haruka seems open to giving swimming another chance, perhaps hoping the same sport that rended his bond with Rin can mend it as well.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Kou may be far more forthright in her desire to get the “old Rin” she loved and admired back, but Haruka seems to share her sentiments on some level. 
  • Kou knows nice muscle when she sees it. At first we thought she was into Haruka, but she had the same reaction to the Samezuka swimmers.
  • We also loved Kou’s reaction to being called cute by one of the Samezuka guys: “Thank you! Where’s my brother?”
  • We understand his reasoning, but we still thought Nagisa’s suggestion that they start a swim club seemed a bit…sudden
  • We dig the club/desert/oasis-themed ED.

Car Cameos: