But I’m not sure I can be that straightforward only about this show.
So, Free! ended about, what? Two weeks ago now? A little under, or a little over? My sense of time has become terrible of late, for better or worse (probably the latter). I wrote reviews for a few other shows I finished (but not Gatchaman Crowds yet…!), and I liked Free!, but I keep not quite getting to reviewing it.
The fact is, well, I sort of wonder if regardless of how good or bad Free! was, I would’ve still ended up being…
I’m sorry, I’m having trouble putting it properly into words – the best I can come up with is to say that I’m not sure if the relative quality of Free! would’ve ultimately mattered much to me in comparison to the nostalgia trip it kept dropping me on given the subject matter, i.e. swimming. Even as the melodrama slunk out in the final few episodes (and as melodrama goes, I didn’t think it was all that bad, even if I totally hated Rin), I still kept catching myself slipping back to old memories of my competitive swimming days. Probably the coolest thing about watching this show was how much it made me remember of things I simply hadn’t thought of in years – I was reminded of so many of the little details of my life as a swimmer, of swim meets, of practices, and pre-meet rituals, and conversations, and swim suits, and goggles, and everything, all these different, small things, even larger things, too.
Had I forgotten this stuff? Is it forgetting if it was simply a matter of having just not thought about it in years? And why would I have, anyway? Why would I stop to think about banal items like putting lane-lines into the pool before practices, or how we kept our goggles secured when starting off the blocks? These are the things that used to govern my life, but its been years since that has been the case.
I liked Free! a lot, but so much of my enjoyment came from the ability of the show to trigger my recollections of the decade plus that I spent in competitive swimming. I thrilled to each episode in part for the opportunity it presented on a weekly basis – the chance to remember. During my four years of high school I spent at least twenty-four hours per week in the pool (in the autumn, this jumped closer to thirty). Swimming was a massive part of my life.
I was never a star at swimming. I performed pretty well on butterfly, but even here that only had me about middling versus my peers in US Swimming competition. Rin’s dreams of Olympic glory are something I could never relate to, because it never even crossed my mind to hope for something like that. And I can’t even relate to the borderline sacred estimation of the relay team that was on display here, primarily because relays were never something that were held in such esteem on the teams I swam with. I never practiced a relay – there was never a reason to. But even considering that, I felt I could relate to the boys in this show; my concerns and issues may’ve been wholly different in many ways, but we’re swimmers, and we’re human, and that’s really all that is necessary.
So, I liked Free! a lot, but I also know that much of that is due to the swimming at the center of the story. Yes, I liked the characters (mostly), I liked the relationship dynamics (again, mostly!), and I even enjoyed the flux of the story, as cheesy and predictable as it was, particularly in the second half. And the show sure was easy on the eyes; I’d go so far as to say that the backgrounds in quieter moments were quite lovely. But would I have liked the entire thing as much if at the center there had been, say, a tennis club instead of a swimming one?
That’s a good question, I suppose, and its also one I have no answer to, as is so often the case with good questions.