I would watch this spin-off.

It was Rei last time, but now it’s Nagisa’s turn to attempt at hiding something from the others. It doesn’t take anyone very long to realize that he’s acting strangely – given that he keeps trying to stay at everyone’s houses, was found trying to camp outside in a tent, and most of all just generally doesn’t seem all that happy or Nagisa-like.

Everyone puts in their best efforts to get him to tell them what the matter is, and are finally able to get him to confide the issue to them: it’s his parents.  His grades have been getting worse and worse recently and they believe it’s due to him focusing so much on swimming, and thus they want him to quit the swim club. He reacts to this by running away from home. The thing is, Nagisa used to be the studying-machine over-achiever his parents want him to be, but found such a life basically devoid of joy.  The rest of the club vows to help him sort this problem out, because nobody wants him to leave.

I would watch this spin-off too.

Good to see fraidy-pants scared-of-ghosts Makoto again, it’s been a while.

It’s always the one you least expect, I suppose.

Well, quite a few people were surprised by this episode, myself included. Apprently, Nagisa has emotional depth, who knew? I honestly always found him to be the ‘flattest’ of the characters, even if I do like him – he was never really given any deep kind of moments or reflections in season one so it’s good to know that there’s more to him than we thought. …Even if we had to wait until this long to see it. I suppose it’s up to the individual whether or not this seemed shoehorned in or emotional for the sake of being emotional – but personally I think it worked. The kind of emotionless over-achieving driven by parents that Nagisa described is something that’s not only far too common in schools everywhere, but cranked up to 11 in Japan. And I honestly feel like I don’t see it being criticized enough in anime, so Nagisa’s line ‘I realized I didn’t even know what I was studying so hard for’ was particularly hard-hitting for me. That kind of commentary is really not something I ever expected to see in a show as (mostly) light-hearted as Free!. It’s also kind of funny in a way – because the conspicuous absence/invisibility of any of the boys’ parents has been a discussion topic among fans of the show for quite a while now. There are certain lines that imply they exist (Nagisa mentioned Rei’s mother coming to the door in another episode), and yet, even in an episode with a plot centering on one set of parents in particular…they’re never shown. The mystery continues.

As is probably evident from the synopsis, this episode had a strikingly different tone to any of the others. There were still some moments of comic relief (even the Requisite Momotarou Segment, at the beginning, despite the fact that the Samezuka boys had no real role in this episode but who’s complaining really) but for the most part in this episode, Free! became a drama. It’s moving the show in an interesting direction, and I can now see what’s been happening; it seems that one by one, the boys are encountering things that are challenging their commitment to the swimming club, first was Rei, now Nagisa, will Makoto be next? It’s likely all going to tie together for the climax of this season, which is definitely going to heavily feature these ‘career questionnaires’ that keep being bought up. After all, does a school club really ‘matter’ that much in the grand scheme of things, especially at a time where everyone is trying to figure out what happens in life after high school? Aw man, KyoAni, are you gonna go tearing my heart out in some fashion for the finale?

To be honest, the episode did end predictably well: Nagisa is saved from his gloom by the power of friendship (and also Ama-sensei, who really is great and I hope gets to do more soon) and was able to overcome the problem by just talking it out with his parents. It’s not exactly the deepest of conclusions and was arguably a little too easy…but still, it was an interesting tone for the show to take and they portrayed the drama and emotions quite remarkably.

Possibly the last expression I would have expected to see on Nagisa.

Don’t do this to me, KyoAni.

Do tsundere Rei to me, though.

Out of 5,