Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Free! Eternal Summer + OVA
The Iwatobi boys are back for another season of swimming, but with some worries to color their days – Haru and Makoto are third years now, as is Rin and another old friend returned to town, Sosuke, and they have to decide what it is they want to do with their lives. Rin seems to have it all figured out, but Haru appears to be actively avoiding all thoughts of what comes next. Can his friends get through to him? Or would it be better to just let him come up with an answer on his own?
There is no faster way to make something enjoyable into a chore than to add a little pressure to the mix. While Free! Eternal Summer is still at its heart a show about beautiful young men in tight, skimpy swimwear, that idea forms the dramatic backbone for the story, and when that's where the focus is, it really is done well. It not only pulls through the plot of the first season, with Haruka not necessarily wanting to compete but Rin insistent upon it, but also helping the characters to grow in a fairly organic way, particularly in terms of Haru and Makoto. Free! Eternal Summer is a pleasant mix of female-oriented fanservice, goofy camp comedy, and the all-too-familiar issue of when “what do you want to be when you grow up” becomes an actual question that you have to seriously think about.
The most compelling part of this season is the underlying question and anxiety around being a high school senior. Given that there is no real urgency to any of the swim meets, this adds some needed tension (of the non-homoerotic variety) to the series, with the slow build of Haru's increasing anxiety and retreat into himself blossoming as the show enters its final quarter. From almost the start of the series, Haru, Makoto, and Rin are being asked to consider what it is they want to do after graduation, and while Rin knows for a certainty what his plans are, the other two are less certain. Makoto is at least thinking about it, and watching him come to understand how to balance what he loves with what he could enjoy doing as an actual career is enjoyable, especially as we viewers are able to see what it takes him a little longer to fully understand. Haruka, on the other hand, is actively repressing the idea of adulthood, refusing to fill out his career choice form and quietly rebuffing questions from his friends on the subject. Makoto alone seems to understand that at least part of it comes from Haru's fear of change (something borne out in the end credits of the final episode), but everyone else appears to feel that continually reminders of his swimming talent and pleas not to squander it will do the trick. As for many anxious people (and Haruka is a fairly realistic depiction of someone with a more serious anxiety disorder), it has the opposite effect, and the pressure begins to overwhelm Haru. It comes to a head in episode nine, which is one of the strongest of the series, not just for Haru finally speaking his mind, but also for showing us how that pressure and repeated calls for him to not waste his natural gifts can poison the one thing he truly loved. Well-intentioned or not, the others have to realize that it is ultimately Haruka's life, and he gets to make the decisions.
Of course, a large part of this show's purpose and appeal is the fanservice aspect, and despite the strength of the storyline in places, this remains the focus. While the musculature can be a little suspect (there appear to be a few too many lines, specifically in the lower abdomen), Kyoto Animation is more than up to the task of giving us exquisitely animated gorgeous young men. There's a decent variety in body types and faces, not to mention swimsuits, so if you like pretty boys, you will not be disappointed. While there are some odd affectations – such as scenes of the guys swimming underwater with their mouths open, panting heavily – for the most part it's clear that those scenes are meant to be metaphoric representations of how they're feeling rather than actual swimming scenes. It does seem odd that with so much attention paid to the boys' bodies nipples are left out, but like the underwater panting, this may just be an aesthetic choice where we're supposed to understand that this is a fantasy. (Though episode six does have an amusing chest hair conversation.)
This season introduces us to the English dub of the show (season one's DVD was released by Discotek), and in general it is strong. Johnny Yong Bosch's Makoto is especially good, with Vic Mignogna's Rin coming in a close second, and none of the voices really felt out of place or off. Dub Rei can get a little purple in his prose at times, but the only real issue is that the cheers at swim meets have been left Japanese style, which does not sound right when directly translated to English. It feels strange to complain that something wasn't localized enough, but this is a case where using the rhythm of English-language cheering (when lip flaps allowed) would have worked better. The English cast seems genuinely enthused about the show in the two episode commentaries included as extras; the commentary for episode seven is especially entertaining with a discussion of chest shaving and Vic Mignogna's shark story.
Free! Eternal Summer's thirteen episodes, plus an OVA about the Iwatobi guys going to the Samezuka school festival (Ai-Ai makes a lovely maid), don't have the best pacing, but when they buckle down and focus on the conflicts the characters face, specifically Haru and new character Sosuke, they do very well. Combining goofier moments, like the addition of Momotaro, who has a major crush on Gou, or Rei's attempts to learn other strokes, with the more serious issue of life after high school, Free!'s second season is a pretty good time. Casual fans of female-oriented fanservice might find the homoerotic elements a bit much (and they are overplayed at times), but whether you're devoted to the original Japanese language track or the new English one, Free! Eternal Summer serves up another dose of swimming fun.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : C+
+ The pressure Haru is under is very recognizable and understandable, nice character interactions with no angst for the sake of it. Gorgeous animation, good in both languages. Marathon mode extra a nice option.
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