Free! has come to what is likely a permanent end. While last summer’s Iwatobi Swim Club left us with the promise of more, Eternal Summer’s end card seems distinctly final. While I would never object to more swimming shenanigans, I think Free! found a good place to stop.
Nothing too action-packed happens in “The Eternal Summer of Beginnings!”. The guys prepare for Nationals, reminisce about the good ol’ days, compete, and move on. But the race is the least important aspect of the episode. What’s important is that everyone ties up their loose ends. Haruka supports Makoto in his endeavors to study in Tokyo. Rei and Nagisa have a good cry about the breaking up of their team before Makoto promises them that they’ll always be friends. Haruka explains his new dream to the group. Everyone is in a really good place by the time they actually race. In the end, whether they won or not isn’t even important (they got 6th place). They swim together one last time. They get closure.
Admittedly, there are some moments that are hammy in their presentation. The relay is incredibly over the top, with each member of Iwatobi picturing the previous swimmer’s theme animal spurring them on. It’s cheesy, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve come to love about Free! Swimming isn’t necessarily important to them at face value, but as more of a metaphor for friendship, following their dreams, and being free. The guys were really worried about never being able to swim with each other again. This swimming hallucination sequence (for lack of a better phrase) proves to them that they’ll never swim alone.
I’ve been impressed about how well Eternal Summer has dealt with the subject of high school graduation and all the bittersweet moments that go along with such an event, and I remain impressed that they didn’t pull a cop out. Makoto moves to Tokyo to follow his dream of becoming a swim coach. Rin joins his Australian swim team. Haruka joins a Japanese swim team. There are no cheap attempts to keep everyone together, and I appreciate that. Everyone really earned their character development this season and I would have hated to see them get held back. I was especially glad to see that Makoto, whom I have always considered to be an extreme doormat, finally gains some independence.
Free! isn’t the most groundbreaking anime, but it is wildly entertaining and full of more heart than I initially expected. What could have been an aggressive, macho sports anime turned into more of a slice-of-life commentary on friendship and the impacts they make on a person’s life. Not every character got to have as much focus as I wanted (Gou), but most of them got enough time in the spotlight that I got a good sense of who they are.
Things end on a high note for everyone. Everyone takes one last dip in Samezuka’s sakura petal-filled pool. Rei and Nagisa, a united front as always, manage to recruit a bunch of new hotties for Gou to coach, with Ms. Amakasa watching over them. Nitori is named Captain by Rin and proceeds to usher the Samezuka swim club into a new era of shininess(?). Sousuke’s future is left open to interpretation. Makoto dons a pair of cute glasses and studies hard in Tokyo. And Haruka and Rin face each other on the professional swimming circuit. Giving the audience one last glimpse of Rin and Haruka’s rivalry is the perfect way to end the series. It’s my assumption that their relationship is the guiding force of the series. It had to be them, one last time.
Thanks for keeping up with my reviews. See you next water time, someday, somewhere.
Images are copyright of Kyoto Animation.