The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide Free! Eternal Summer
Review: The boys of summer are finally back! No, this has nothing to do with the Eagles, it's just the long-awaited return of Kyo Ani's smash hit beefcake adventure: Free! It's a story about friendship, swimming, and taut bottoms, and if anyone was pining for more of that third thing this time around, worry no more. Even one episode in, Free! Eternal Summer is far more exhibitionist than its first season. Where lingering shots of backs, shoulders, and abs could sort of be construed as just part of the subject matter and not purely fanservice in season one from last summer, this season's swimming boys seem acutely aware of the camera's presence on their firmly toned or more sensitive spots. Clothes get whipped off a dozen times inside of ten minutes, Rei blushes heavily after the camera zooms in on his speedo, and the boys even sell themselves (and their bod-days) on stage for a live audience. It's clear the producers know the audience for this show even better than they did one year ago.
It's transparent, silly, and caked on way too thick, but somehow it isn't skeevy. Free still feels like good clean fun, written simply but written well. Even with Rin in a cop-themed stripper outfit, the welcoming feeling of friendship and good sportsmanship prevails over any negativity, objectification or even any marketing cynicism. It's still immaculately animated, indisputably the most fluid-looking bishounen anime ever produced for television. It's still genuinely a good show, even if it is a good show that makes its nut (hurr) selling sexual fantasies to squealing girls. You can do that and still tell a good story with lovable characters. Who knew?
There is nothing here for those not familiar with season one of the show. This episode is callback-heavy and continuity-heavy, but with nary a flashback or recap in sight. It's a non-starter trying to pick it up here on episode 13, newbies will have to do the backstroke to episode one. Plot-wise, little has happened yet, but the theme of the new season is clearly "change." Swim captains are graduating, the Iwatobi Swim Club will have to enlist new members to stay together, and a mysterious boy from Rin's past has re-appeared to potentially drive the best of friends apart. The invocation of sakura petals (being rained on and sinking into the pool, oh no!) is a sure sign of change on the horizon, and probably tumultuous change. How the boys will handle it is anybody's guess, but if nothing else, it'll be great fun to watch.
Free! Eternal Summer is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Review: Everyone's favorite show about abs is back with more abs, more butts, and more shots that look like they could have come right out of SNL's “Dongs All Over the World” sketch! Yes, it's Free!'s second season, and its first episode tries to cover a lot of ground. Luckily it doesn't waste too much time reintroducing the characters – Nagisa's still eating, Makoto's still fetching Haru, and Haru still wears his swimsuit under everything so that he can swim at a moment's notice. (Rei and Gou really don't get much in the way of introduction other than to be there, acting like themselves, which works just fine.) While nominally we could classify this episode as being about recruiting new members for the swim club, it's really more about bringing us back into the boys' world and reaffirming their love of swimming. There are two races in this episode, which gives the animators at KyoAni to present us with some truly beautiful scenes of men moving through the water – one quiet moment of Haru languidly swimming a lap is especially striking. On the other hand, when the swimmers aren't racing, the images can look a little off, and the metaphorical panting underwater scenes are a stretch on one's credulity.
As far as plot goes, the differences between the Iwatobi swimmers and their rivals at Samezuka are readily apparent as the latter has to test its recruits to narrow them down and the former can't get any new members to save their lives. (Their hilarious strip-and-fake-swim tactics may be the problem...) The episode also serves to introduce, albeit briefly, new studly swimmer Sousuke, who apparent Rin knew at one point. Thus far he seems to be the silent, brooding type, but as I said, his introduction is quite brief.
Despite the fact that it's really packed and doesn't have a clearly determined plot, Free! Eternal Summer's first episode looks like it is going to deliver more of what made season one an eye-candy extravaganza for those who prefer their fanservice male, along with more lovely swimming animation and presumably new plot points. If you enjoyed the first season, you'll definitely want to check this out.
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