This week’s episode of Free! is the kind of heartwarming, cute episode I’ve been hoping for. It’s got everything. It’s got Rin and Haruka hanging out. It’s got gratuitous English. It’s got Rin’s Australian backstory. It’s got bed-sharing tropes. And most importantly, it finally resolves Haruka’s issues.
“A Swim-Off in a Foreign Land” follows Rin and Haruka’s adventures in Australia. At first, Haruka is hesitant and a little freaked out at being in a strange country, but Rin’s English skills manage to get them through customs and into the city. Almost immediately, Rin begins to wax poetic about how much Haruka means to him, and ends up apologizing for forcing his feelings on him at the previous tournament. Rin’s character has come such a long way since the end of last season, and seeing him act like his former self is a total delight.
Rin takes Haruka to a beach and tells him about how scared he was when he moved to Australia, how isolated he felt, and how unskilled he was in comparison to his swimming teammates. Rin shares his stories with Haru in an attempt to comfort him about the idea of making a huge change in his life, but Haruka still seems hesitant.
Rin drops by his old home stay to say hello to his host parents, Russell and Lori, where it’s revealed that he spent his entire time in Australia gabbing about Haruka. They immediately recognize Haru despite having never seen him, and begin rattling off facts about him. Haru, who only barely gets the gist of the conversation, receives a watered down translation from an embarrassed Rin. It’s adorable though, how much these people know based on what Rin told them, and it reaffirms Rin’s affections and admiration for Haruka.
Rin’s reminiscing with Russell and Lori also serves the purpose of revealing a bit more about Rin’s stay the first time around. It’s hard to reconcile how such a happy kid could become so bitter, but Rin’s struggles in Australia never seemed to ease up, resulting in what could have been depression. It’s nice to see how relieved Russell and Lori are that Rin is doing so much better. There’s a real bond between the three of them that’s really cute.
Later, Rin and Haru arrive at their hotel where it’s discovered that Rin accidentally booked a one-bed room. The two manage to overcome their awkwardness as Rin talks even more about how much of an inspiration Haruka is to him. This whole trip is about building Haruka back up, and Rin’s feelings seem to be getting through to him.
The next day, Rin takes Haruka to the Sydney Aquatic Center, where he proposes they swim in the pool that the National Australian Swim Team is currently practicing at. It’s evidently a gutsy move but Haruka, inspired by the atmosphere, decides to do it. As he prepares to jump in, Haru envisions himself swimming in a tournament at the pool, and the rush of excitement and determination he feels is enough to convince him that he wants to keep swimming. It’s a powerful moment. Haruka needed to find a reason to do this for himself, and he finds it. Standing on that stage with the best swimmers in the world, Haruka feels the drive and passion for swimming once more. Everything hopeful about Free! comes rushing back as he and Rin jump in. Of course it’d be Rin to show Haruka his destiny. Their relationship has always been one where they challenge and push each other to be their best selves. Now that their respective issues are worked out, they’re finally on equal ground.
Later, Rin reveals that the other reason he came to Australia is to accept an offer to join his former coach’s team. Haruka seems pleased with the prospect, as he now has a dream of his own.
“Swim-Off in a Foreign Land” is such a happy, uplifting episode. Haru was in a bad place for much the season, and this adventure shows him that he doesn’t have to give up being free to swim. Leaving home isn’t always a bad thing, and parting with people he cares about to move on with his life doesn’t mean he’ll be alone. It’s the lesson that every graduate learns, and Haru’s road was just particularly tough.
Rin and Haruka’s interactions are well worth the time it took to reach this point. Their friendship is one for the ages. I doubt that Haruka will join Rin’s team in Australia, so I imagine their rivalry will be solidly upheld for the rest of their careers.
I erroneously reported last week that “Swim-Off in a Foreign Land” is the final episode. There’s actually one more next week, making Eternal Summer one episode longer than Iwatobi Swim Club.
See you next water time!
Images are copyright of Kyoto Animation.