“The Mermaid of the Abyss!”
The Little Mermaid has been featuring rather frequently throughout S3, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if some people hadn’t picked up on the connections. Doing away with any remaining subtlety, Free! went ahead and hammered home the parallels for all of us to clearly see. As far as I can tell, Hiyori/Ikuya/Haruka all think they are the Little Mermaid. They all made sacrifices to try and get closer with what they love: Hiyori —> Ikuya —> Haruka —> Water. Incidentally, this episode answered something that had been bugging me for a while. Would Ikuya’s obsession with the past spur him to throw away the present? Turns out yes. He has never gotten over Haru and their reunion has thoroughly shocked him to the core. So much so that every aspect of his swimming has begun to deteriorate, as he slowly pines away. He would even discard Hiyori if it came to it, justifying Hiyori’s long-running insecurities and fears. And this is ultimately the source of Hiyori’s concern, and it’s understandable that he feels worried for his best friend. There’s no denying that he truly cares for Ikuya. Not to mention, it explains why he is particularly vile towards the Iwatobi folks. Simply put, he is deeply jealous of their past connection to Ikuya, especially Haruka and the emotional sway that he holds over Ikuya.
Even after Haru shattered their promise in an ugly way, Ikuya emotionally clings on deep inside. Yet when Hiyori tried to assert himself onto Ikuya, Ikuya pushes him away, outright rejecting him. What’s more, he expresses resentment towards Hiyori’s incessant meddling. To be honest, I can’t bring myself to feel bad for Hiyori. It’s a natural consequence of his entitled behaviour rather unnatural interference to how things should have unfolded between Ikuya and his friends from the past. I also want to point out that Natsuya isn’t asking Hiyori to obsess over his brother, as opposed to merely making sure he’s okay. And it soon becomes quite clear that Hiyori is going above and beyond in carrying out his duty, and has been an utter creep for quite a while. His actions are clearly stifling Ikuya to the point of actively limiting his freedom. However, I do empathise with the whole situation of loving someone and wanting to be somewhat acknowledged. I’m sure Ikuya will eventually come around and recognise the value of Hiyori’s friendship. But I’m sure that will depend on how things pan out between himself and Haru, which should help him overcome his past trauma, something that Hiyori is ironically trying to prevent. Or perhaps Hiyori sees greater value in maintaining the status quo, because he wants to control every aspect of Ikuya’s life, something he can only achieve provided that the latter remains dysfunctional. Nevertheless, it’s anyone’s guess as to the complex depth of Hiyori’s true motivations.
Anyway, my prediction about the coaches came true! Mikhail has some history of rivalry with Ryuuji, and now that they are going to become the coaches for Rin and Haru respectively, I look forwards to seeing their history reignited through proxies. Will Haru pick up other strokes? Does he have the talent to contend with Rin and Ikuya? An individual medley between all three would be extremely exciting, and mark yet another cornerstone where we can evaluate their respective growth. And while that still seems a long way off, wouldn’t it make for a fitting season finale?