Tears, tanturms, a whirlwind trip to Australia, and here we are!
When that fated Swimming Anime trailer was born on a pleasant Spring day, not much longer than a year ago, it shook tidal waves through the internet for everything it represented so unabashedly, and how it dared to be from the hands of Kyoto Animation. It was a matter of grandiose proportions that caused upheaval to the point where proclamations of ‘Anime is dead!’ stung the ears of us all. And so Free! was born, and for a while it was a massive deal. And then the people who were complaining stopped watching. And the fans kept on watching.
Free! -Eternal Summer- was made for it’s audience. It was altogether a fun adventure, diving right back into what had been embraced in the first season. If you hated it before, you’d probably still hate it now. But if you enjoyed it – like I, and many others, did – then you probably enjoyed it much the same as before. Maybe less, maybe more. It’s a hard choice, because I do honestly feel that KyoAni went a different route with Eternal Summer than they could have – they could have done like they did with Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren, for example, and ended up being incredibly unadventurous in their approach. Thankfully though, they didn’t. They knew what they wanted, they nailed down a series of character-driven plotlines, and tied it all together in a way that allows for a breathe of relief.
If there was one major theme in Eternal Summer, it would be the future; more specifically, career choices. I honestly didn’t expect it to be so prevalent. From the opening episode where it was initially brought up, and from then on touched upon, nudged upon, and eventually tackled head on, with Haruka at the centre of it. His struggle to find fun in completive swimming, or swimming to win, or to get a certain time, was the resounding tune of his character this time around, instead of him being this stoic (though he was still stoic for the most part) water-enthusiast who would strip of at the sight of a fish tank or babbling brook. I’ve seen both positive and negative reactions to Haruka simply not knowing what he wanted to do, because thruthfully the answer was so obvious all along. But I think it ended up forcing his character to go on a journey (literally, to Australia!) to find what he wants to do with his life. And that was something I didn’t quite expect when I initially went into this. I really thought we were going to get a season of sparkling manservice, episodic misadventures of Iwatobi, and a slight focus on completive tournaments. Either way would have been perfectly fine for me, but I’m glad I was surprised with Haruka and all the other 3rd years as they went on their own personal journeys of discovery to find out who and what they wanted to be.
Another unexpected focal point was Samezuka. They really became a team – rivals on equal level and interest that balanced well with that of Iwatobi, even if it meant spending nearly entire episodes dedicated to the opposing school. That would probably be my own personal complaint, which comes down to the simple fact that I didn’t enjoy Rin, Sousuke, Aiichirou, and Momotarou as much as I did with our already established main cast of Iwatobi. But, then again, KyoAni were smart in this, giving us more characters to potentially adore and root for, which I think worked for them in the end.
Funnily enough, even though I talk about surprises in plot-direction this season, overall, so much of it was what I expected and hoped for. At the end of it all it was the same fun series that occasionally took itself to seriously; each of our main cast had at least one episode dedicated to them for their fans to enjoy, and there were plenty of laughs throughout. But also tears. And drama. From Sousuke’s injury and the acceptance of his situation, to Makoto not telling Haruka his university plans, to Nagisa and his past studies, as well as the inevitable reality that half the Iwatobi Swim Club had to leave and find their own path in life, leaving their underclassmen behind. Some parts were dealt with better than others, but overall I really do feel KyoAni knew what they were doing and they delivered on that.
Lastly, I’d like to point out how the final scene we are left with is the exact same scene that ends the first trailed released by KyoAni that started it all. Pretty smart if you’d ask me. I recognised it right away, and it certainly gave me flashbacks to the very start of this journey. I can still remember the debates and absolute refusal to believe KyoAni could ever turn that Swimming Anime PV into a TV series. And I can still remember laughing and applauding when it actually happened. If anything, whether people loved or hated it, I think Free! will be noted in anime history for that – for the fact that it came from a studio that people thought would never dare stray from its demographic, and how in doing so it become the dramatic, flamboyant, and utterly infectious anime that it shall be remembered for.
Also, Makoto best boy.