Ah, Free! – my second-most-anticipated show of the season (obviously Symphogear G is my most anticipated). Did it manage to stand up to expectations?
Well, ok, my expectations were actually pretty low even though I was really looking forward to it – everything was screaming that it’s just a fanservice shows targeted at the ladies instead of the dudes (and this is anime, folks, so the assumption here, too, is that gay dudes don’t really exist), so I pretty much was only expecting that. On the other hand, though, I was hoping that the swimming would play a roll other than window-dressing; I swam competitively for over a decade, so I do have an interest in having an anime actually do a decent treatment of the sport (Umishou does not fucking count).
As it turns out, Free! was… remarkably boring in the first episode, and while I wasn’t expecting it to be Shakespearean, I was a bit dismayed to find that it was mostly like Kimi to Boku but with swimming. Most of the episode was the usual faffing schooltime antics, with a dose of getting the band back together. Things didn’t really become engaging at all until the token aggressive asshole showed up, and he butted heads with the passively insensitive guy… complete with a ridiculous dubstepped-out piece of background music.
There are a few moments that are amusing, such as when said asshole and insensitive guy nearly dive into an empty pool because they are too caught up in their rivalry. But too much of the runtime is spent on characters endlessly stating, “Oh, remember how…?” and “Oh, so-and-so hasn’t changed a bit!” It also suffers from a lack of subtlety, which was a problem that Tamako Market had as well from time to time – characters seem compelled to explicitly state things instead of leaving it for the viewer to work out on their own, even in cases where the viewer would only be unable to do so because they are a stick of celery and not a person at all.
All that said, the swimming bits are quite good – I’m impressed with how good the mechanics were. Several people have told me I shouldn’t be, but given how actively in motion swimmers are (as opposed to the amount of movement in most other sports), I do find myself surprised at how well it was done. Characters breathe at appropriate intervals, limbs enter the water properly, and the flip-turns… ah, my heart was so joyous at those flip-turns!
So, really – more swimming, less stupid school crap, and Free! would be a pretty decent show. It certainly still has a chance to do so, so I’ll be checking out the next few episodes as well, but if it sticks to this dullness, I’m going to be terribly disappointed. I will say, though, that KyoAni pretty much got the crotch and ass shot to not-crotch or ass shot ratio perfect.
EDIT: Let it be known, yea, verily, that I decided to use this screencap as my post header before a certain other blogger did.