Free! Eternal Summer
by Lauren Orsini,
Everyone knows Free! isn't a real sports anime. It's a harmless fujoshi-bait franchise that exists solely to feature closeups of rippling muscles, fresh out of the pool.
But if that's the case, what's with all these feelings?
Free! Eternal Summer bumped the drama up to 11 this week, bringing the two major plot points foreshadowed in every previous episode to a head. It's an unexpectedly doleful and theatrical turn for an anime that nobody wanted to take seriously at first. But can happy-go-lucky Free! make the jump from contrived relationship drama into true melancholy? Not quite, but it was interesting to see the show attempt to convey a new mood.
Free! doesn't like to portray its characters under pressure through dialogue. It prefers to zoom in early and often on their brooding expressions and their trembling, unnaturally vivid eyes. This episode found both Haru and Sousuke in different kinds of pain, and for the most part showed their anguish visually instead of relying on exposition.
I had no idea how little I knew about Haru before this week, when we were offered a glimpse into his dreams. If season one was all about establishing Haru's quiet, stubborn persona, season two has mostly spent time turning Haru into a caricature of himself. (We get it, KyoAni! The boy likes mackerel.) This week our soft-spoken swimmer finally snapped, and with that development we saw a louder, angrier side of Haru we've never seen before. I wouldn't say it's out of character since his troubles have been brewing; I just didn't realize he'd been this much of a ticking time bomb. Haru's dream sequence surrounded by mannequins (pictured above) deserves a mention—who would have thought Free! would have one of the creepiest scenes in the summer season?
Meanwhile, Sousuke's injury, which he has been carefully concealing from both teammates and viewers for the previous eight episodes, is becoming more obvious. However, the clearer Sousuke's pain, the more artificial his plotline. Not once has Sousuke winced in the first eight episodes, and now he can't walk two steps without grabbing his shoulder. It's hard for me to take it seriously, so I've just been coming up with puns instead. "Sousuke, why are you giving Rin the cold shoulder?" "Sousuke needs a shoulder to cry on more than ever!" All right, this is the last one—"You could say he's a little out of joint right now."
This is the first Free! episode to have ended on such an obvious low note. It's jarring, since Free!'s soundtrack, color palette, and previously innocuous themes have been constantly signaling a lighthearted jaunt in the pool. It's clear that Free! wasn't really equipped to deal with such heavy emotions in the first place. This is most visible at the very end of the show, when we segue directly from Sousuke crying alone in the shower to Free's upbeat “Future Fish” ending theme. Indeed, tragedy becomes comic when you juxtapose it against such a carefree show, adding unexpected humor to Haru and Sousuke's grief. Today's misery was well executed, but possibly in the wrong show at the wrong time.
I know that Free! Eternal Summer's happy ending is on its way, and it'll be all the more welcome after this episode's walk in the shadows.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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