“A Promise on a Shooting Star!”
I have a hard time explaining to my friends that Free! is not simply a fujoshi twist on the CGDCT concept (Cute Guys Do Cute Things). Admittedly, KyoAni are masters of baiting their primary demographic which can come across as pushing a homoerotic sub-context. Yet at essence, you’ll find that Free! is a sports drama about friendships, rivalries, competitions and most importantly, a journey of self-discovery. But since Free! revolves around swimming, it just so happens to feature many scenes where the dudes have their shirts off. Incidentally, another strapping lad joins the fold. That would be Ikuya, a mysterious figure from the past who has a score to settle with Haruka.
As for my descriptions of what Free! really is, the introduction of Ikuya proved to be no exception, seeing how it laid down substantial depth regarding his background – namely his shared history with Haruka/Makoto/Asahi. While some people might find Ikuya’s backstory to be edgy, going from this team oriented guy to a person who only competes in individual medleys, such circumstances are symptomatic of a deep, emotional scar from his High Speed days. Usually, I have issues with the implementation of flashbacks, specifically where they are used to conveniently lump in required information. However, this particular implementation from Free! was nothing short of sublime. We got a glimpse of those youthful days and exactly why everyone holds them with such fondness and high esteem, to the point where Kisumi stated ‘We’ll never make friends like that again’. Simply put, those were the times of their lives.
You could tell that Ikuya deeply cared for his friendships with Haruka/Makoto/Asahi. So far, those are the only times where we’ve ever seen him smile. You can tell how much it mattered to him, that these same boys would strive to work hard and win the following year’s middle school relay race. It’s pretty obvious that winning together was the wish he made upon the shooting star. But that is the double-edged blade, which encapsulates both his success yet also his sufferings – he has this competitive drive to win that far outstrips most people, including his friends. He firmly believed they shared this dream for the future of eventually winning that relay together, only to end up totally disappointed and scarred when it turned out they didn’t.
To me, his exclusive participation in individual medleys comes across like a coping mechanism to deal with the loss of such a dream. A strong statement if you’d like of how he only works alone. But can he truly be satisfied with a relay win becoming unfinished business, even if he comes to dominate the individual medley? Like we saw in this episode, he’ll be chasing it in his mind and left to dissatisfaction for a long time to come.
So far, Dive to the Future has been a blast and it feels like Free! took a dynamic step and reached another evolutionary stage. I would have expected a younger Haruka to care for very little beyond the pool. But having progressed as a character over the past two seasons, he’s developed a degree of empathy that has helped him realise how terribly he wounded Ikuya’s feelings. Having acknowledged Ikuya’s extraordinary evolution as a swimmer, as well as the emotional scars they unintentionally caused from long ago, Haruka/Makoto/Asahi look set to try and make amends. Perhaps they can do so by making Ikuya’s unrealised dream come true by swimming a relay together, and winning at an intercollegiate level. Also, we shouldn’t forget about that pinky promise between Haruka and Ikuya, where they promised to face off in freestyle someday. Maybe these things will come true by the end of this season. But whether they can do it remains to be seen seeing how a considerable roadblock lies in their path. Hiyori might have the best of intentions for Ikuya by not wanting Ikuya to be hurt. After all, who wouldn’t be protective of their true friends? However, he comes across as this over-obsessive creep who will only inhibit Ikuya’s road to emotional recovery, given how he seems to relish Ikuya’s emotional dependence upon him. Hopefully we’ll get some valid reasons or explanations behind this weird behaviour. Without the background details, Hiyori is easily dislikable at the moment.
Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to say. Thanks for reading my post and see you next week, as Rin and Natsuya look to cross paths!