This week’s Free! gave me everything I wanted for this show from the beginning of the season. As Haruka sinks deeper and deeper into confusion and despair, his friends decide to stage an intervention. What results is a reality check for Haruka and a new level of independence for Makoto.
Despite his victory last week, Haruka is still lost and upset about life. While everyone at school congratulates the team, Haruka shies from the attention. There’s a particularly interesting moment in which a couple of baseball players remind Haruka that swimming is a sport. It’s the kind of thing that Haruka needs to hear. Competitive swimming is indeed a sport. If Haru’s heart isn’t in it, he needs to quit doing it, lest he drag everyone else down. And drag them down he does, as the team realizes that their times are slipping. It’s clear that Haru is the weak link, and Rei and Nagisa decide to gently confront him about his lack of aspirations.
“The Open Turn of Destiny” perfectly depicts Haruka’s feelings as he begins to notice that he’s being left behind. Rei, Nagisa, and Gou all have a year of school left, but their attitudes toward the future are positive. Rin is dead set on going pro, and if his letter from Australia is anything to go by, his future may be brighter than expected. Even Sousuke has come to terms with the end of his swimming career and seems perfectly happy to cheer Rin on from the sidelines. Haruka’s lack of direction is worsened by his realization that all of his friends are moving on without him. As such, he lashes out against them in fear, refusing to discuss his future plans at all.
Haruka’s lowest point comes when he’s confronted by Makoto. Their moment is one I’ve been waiting for for a long time, and I have never liked Makoto more than I do this episode. What starts as a gentle attempt to get Haru to open up escalates into a shouting match between the two friends. Haru wants Makoto to stop meddling in his future, Makoto wants Haru to realize that things aren’t okay as they are. Their argument comes to a head when Makoto reveals that he’s going to college in Tokyo after high school. It’s one of the most powerful moments on the show, as Makoto finally gets out from underneath Haruka’s dependency. His whole life, he’s been Haru’s de-facto parent. He’s sacrificed a lot of his independence to make sure Haru makes it through the day, but he’s no longer going to pull Haru out of the water.
Free! has done a surprisingly good job of deconstructing the “cool and detached” type of character. It’s easy to write off Haruka’s attitude as being just the way he is, but as the series has gone on, it’s clearly not just his personality. He’s overly dependent on Makoto, who is evidently his only real support system. He’s loyal to his friends, but often inconsiderate of their feelings. He’s lonely, and perhaps emotionally stunted. And why not? As “The Open Turn of Destiny” reminds us at one point, he’s been left to raise himself while his parents run off to be “free”. Makoto’s comment about them in easily overlooked, but it speaks volumes about Haruka’s worldview.
So when Makoto tells him that he’s leaving, Haruka shuts down. The one person he thought would never move on without him is moving on, and he has no one left. That’s when Rin comes around to take Haruka on an impromptu trip to Australia. He and Makoto communicate via text early on in the episode, and the fruit of their combined labors is a plan to whisk Haruka away to Australia. It may seem like a silly plan, but Rin already had plans to visit, and taking Haruka with him may do something to break Haru out of his seriously severe funk. Sometimes a change of scenery does wonders, and Rin probably has some sort of swimming related plot afoot.
Next episode is likely the season finale, which means that everything needs to be resolved (unless there’s a third season in the works) by the end. Haruka’s dilemma is the only real conflict left, and I’m confident that he’ll have some kind of revelation that’ll sway him to one side or another.
See you next water time!
Images are copyright of Kyoto Animation.