Free! Eternal Summer
by Lauren Orsini,
Makoto is everyone's big brother. Haru's H2O fixation is now comical. Nagisa likes to eat. Rei is a nerd. Rin's got issues. It's season two, every swimmer has found their shtick, and Eternal Summer is not going to let you forget it.
If season one of Free! was about characterization of the boys, season two has settled the spotlight firmly on relationships. Frankly, “ships” are what a lot of the audience is here for, and new character development is introduced with the express purpose—and inevitable result—of deepening character's emotional interactions. With the introduction of three new characters each pandering to a fun new fetish, the possibilities for pairings are endless.
A refreshing difference from season one: the first eight episodes have all featured actual swimming. But don't go looking for your typical sports anime in Free! Eternal Summer. Interpersonal subplots, male bonding, and muscle close-ups (hello, Gou as the female gaze!) matter more than whether the swimmers win or lose, and indeed, often serve as the reason they swim.
If this is your tall glass of water, here's what you've watched for this season. Razor-mouthed Rin as the new Samezuka coach is the clear candidate for Most Improved From Season One. From a whiny antagonist arises a more capable Rin, now captain of the Samezuka swim team. Instead of pining to swim on Iwatobi's relay, he's putting together his own team featuring ever devoted kohai Nitori and two new characters—retconned Yamazaki “I've known you since we were kids” Sousuke and former captain Mikoshiba's equally fiery brother, Momotaro. All of Rin's angst has seemingly transferred to Sousuke, and for good reason. We've just discovered on the tail end of episode eight that there's a sports injury storyline in the works.
Over on the Iwatobi side of things, we're focusing on the team's two seniors, Makoto and Haru, as they struggle with angst over what to do after high school. No discerning viewer is wondering about whether they'll get to nationals; they surely will. (Especially now that Rei can actually swim.) Instead, we can only wonder what their innermost feelings will be like after they arrive. We've been made to focus on Makoto's feelings of inadequacy toward Haru since childhood; in the latest episode Makoto's middle school friend, the teasingly-named Kisumi, forced Haru to come to terms with what his life would be like without Makoto.
You came for a group of good-looking boys onto whom you could impose your own relationship fantasies. Or you didn't. Unlike your average manservice show, Free! benefits from expert pacing, top-shelf animation, an upbeat musical score, and relatable character drama that isn't just for the ladies. If you're not going to swim this summer, you should at least watch this swimming anime.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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