“If you did find a dream, what would you do?
If you had told me at the beginning of the summer season that I’d be sitting here thirteen weeks later about to write a review of Free! Eternal Summer, one I knew it would be impossible to write without talking about its themes…well, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I came into this season of Free! expecting nothing less and nothing more than a slickly produced, super-shiny fanservice show featuring a bunch of muscular high school boys swimming half-naked in pools. And you know what? I was fine with that. Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, the first season of the franchise, was more than enough fun for me to want to watch the second season. But Free! Eternal Summer felt, at times, like a completely different show. So, for a noticeable improvement, for being fun, and for looking decadently pretty, I’m giving Free! Eternal Summer a 6/10 (Ranking).
On the surface of the water, Free! Eternal Summer appears to be exactly what it was in its first season; that is, a fun sports show about a small group of guys who like to swim, whose dialogue is constantly conveying homoerotic undertones, and who have a spot of drama every now and then. But, diving a little deeper into the true merits of this season, we find that Free! Eternal Summer is a much more focused and successful effort to put together a worthwhile, heartfelt story.
To be fair, this season took a while to get up to speed, as episodes 1-5 were fluff episodes more along the lines of the previous season (how else would I have got two joke episodic posts out after episodes 3 and 4?). At the time, I wasn’t much bothered, as it was when season 1 tried to do drama that the show really faltered. And when episode 5 came around, featuring Nagisa’s rather petty drama, I feared we were on track to wind up with a show drowning in the same problems as the first season.
Fortunately, episode 6 found the show starting to act like it wanted to be something more than just a fun, fanservice-y sports show. It’s here that we start to see the first inklings of what would eventually become the prominent themes for the rest of the show: the future, change, dreams, and expectations. Makoto begins to consider the future beyond high school, beyond the swim club (because, seriously, it’s like they don’t even go to school), and beyond Haru. Makoto’s arc more or less concludes by the end of episode 8, but what impressed me was that the show’s writers showed their first bit of faith in the audience, bringing a resolution to Makoto’s struggles without having a character monologue what had happened. Instead, we were allowed to see Makoto find his dream for the future through his actions and through KyoAni’s spectacular visuals, here present in Makoto’s facial expressions.
But it’s in episode 9, the first truly great episode this franchise has ever had, where all the themes and plot lines finally came together in a single half-episode of good writing, one that gave us a sensitive, impactful drama and a compelling internal struggle for Haru. In both seasons, Free! has had a tendency to over-emote and slam the audience over the head with emotions we could otherwise understand, but here we finally saw KyoAni’s beautiful visuals harmonize with the story in a way they never had before.
As a reflection on those themes I had mentioned earlier, Free! Eternal Summer actually does a really nice job of articulating them from a number of positions, using the different motivations and priorities of its characters to do so. And the message that comes out of it all is actually quite interesting. Rin stands as a sort of self-actualized figure, a character who has had his fight with his own doubts and come out of that battle knowing who he is what he wants to do with his life. Probably the best demonstration of this is in Rin’s actions as captain of the Samezuka swimming club. He seems possessed with a boundless confidence, one that allows him to both inspire and coach others. In other words, realizing his own identity has allowed him to stretch outside himself—for the goals that are bigger than him and for others.
Haru, on the other hand, with his platitudes about not resisting the water, has always been a character who’s taken the easy way through life. All he’s wanted to do is swim. However, faced with a reality that doesn’t allow you to simply stroke on through without thought, he breaks down rather than confront the world outside himself. He’s locked in a self-centered worldview that only looks inward. It takes Rin, as someone who had (ironically, through Haru and friends) found a way out of that cycle, to guide Haru out into the world and help him to find his dream there. And when he finds his dream, he’s finally able to actualize himself as a person able to reach out to others, rather than just rely on them.
On the production side of things, Free! Eternal Summer is more of the same as what we’ve come to expect from KyoAni and this franchise in particular. The animation is fluid, the overall art design lovely, the music appropriately cool and the vocal performances appropriately sexy. People may dislike KyoAni’s apparent priorities as a studio, but there’s no denying that they are committed to their craft in terms of their productions’ aesthetics.
So, to sum it all up, Free! Eternal Summer is an enjoyable show, with a solid sense of fun, beautiful animation, and a story that finally puts together some meaningful content. It’s a huge step up from the first season, without losing the elements that made the first season entertaining for me. I’m glad I stuck with the franchise this long, because while this show isn’t the greatest thing to ever come out of the industry, it’s a solid effort to make a fanservice show into something a little bit more.
While Free! Eternal Summer isn’t quite a strong enough offering to merit an unreserved recommendation, it’s bound to be a good experience for anyone who enjoyed the first season of the show. As a sports show, it’s not particularly focused on the actual competition, but it does offer some interesting drama. Just be prepared to have your eyes water by the end of the show.
Reasons to Watch:
- Kyoto Animation’s insanely beautiful animation.
- HAWT BOYS!
- The second half of the show offers a thoughtful reflection on growing up and finding your dream.
- Gou-chan, of course!