Haru and Rin return from Australia just in time for the Nationals – and Haru, with his new perspective on life, manages to apologize to everybody (especially Makoto). The whole team has a moment together – Makoto may have decided to go to university to do a teaching course in order to become a swimming coach and Haruka may have decided to start caring about ‘times and winning’ in order to strive for his dream of swimming on the world stage…however Nagisa and Rei will be left behind as third years. It finally sinks in for them that this really will be their last time swimming together as the Iwatobi Swim Club and there are tears all around.
After the nationals, it’s finally time for everybody to move on, but – and to be cheesy about it – it’s also a time for new beginnings. Thanks for the fun ride, KyoAni.
You may notice I didn’t really dwell much on the actual Nationals race, because neither did the show. And that’s just fine, I think. It isn’t even revealed how they placed until later on (apparently it was 6th) but that wasn’t what was important. The brief race itself was another lovely way of demonstrating how much the boys depend on each other and what a great dynamic they all share. The weirdly hallucinatory ‘spirit animal’ montage (the same thing that happened in last season’s finale) was kind of silly and cheesy but I actually did enjoy it a lot. And besides, coming sixth in the Nationals is pretty damn good, well done guys.
For Nagisa and Rei, it was taking a while to sink in that Makoto and Haruka were leaving, and I can honestly empathize completely because I’m the same way. It’s only now sinking in that this is the end. The last episode. KyoAni let me get attached to these boys for 25 episodes and now it’s really time to say goodbye. There’s a part where they all start reminiscing about various things they went through over the course of the two seasons and at first I was a little annoyed at what could easily have turned into a lot of time-wasting but was actually kept nicely brief. The real purpose for it was to remind you that you’re attached, and that you’ve followed these characters for what seems like so long now – and if that wasnt enough to get you a little misty-eyed Rei promptly breaks down in tears and that was the end of it for me.
Time-wasting is definitely something the episode didn’t do – they even cut out the opening and ending in order to fit in as much as possible. And I’m actually pretty impressed how well they managed to neatly tie almost everything up. Nitori becomes the new Samezuka captain, Haruka ends up moving to Tokyo with Makoto (don’t think I didn’t notice the fact that they are clearly sharing a teeny tiny apartment, KyoAni. I’m quite happy about this implied canon pairing.), both Samezuka and Iwatobi continue on with new members, Haruka’s parents are finally shown in the audience at the Nationals along with Kisumi, Rin tells Sosuke that there is surely a way his shoulder can be healed, the series even ends with a flashforward to many years in the future that confirms Rin and Haru reaching their dream of swimming on the world stage (potentially, it’s the Olypmics). (Also, fans may notice the distinct similarities between the ending shot of the episode and the ending shot of The Commercial That Started It All) In fact, I feel like the only little thing that was never wrapped up and addressed was whether Momo or Seijurou ended up managing to get a date with Gou.
In all honesty, some of it felt a little rushed, and the writing was a little all over the place. I feel like this is kind of problem that the series had as a whole. Haru’s convenient opinion change is still a little confusing to me. But a little heart can go a long way, and this episode sure did have a whole load of heart. It got an emotional reaction from me, and I think, in all, it was a satisfying end. And yet, even after all that neatly tying up, I still want to know ‘and so then what happened?’ KyoAni have confirmed that on the last Bluray there will be an extra episode, so perhaps then we can find out.
There are a lot of anime that are better than the sum of their parts, and often surprisingly so. I think that Free! ~Eternal Summer~, along with its first season, are one of the best examples of this.
Most of my praise for the first season will still apply here (its fun, its beautifully animated, it’s better than a show about attractive swimming boys has the right to be) but Eternal Summer also surprised me in a good way by improving of the things I wasn’t happy with before. Most notably is not glossing over Rei’s sacrifice from the end of season 1, which ties in with Rin’s character development. It’s actually amazing how Rin went from being my least favourite character of season 1 to my second favourite in season 2. Of course, I say ‘second favourite’ but honestly all the boys were built on so much this round (not to mention the new faces like scene-stealer Momotarou) that its become pretty much impossible for me to rank them.
I also really, really like how committed it was in properly dealing with a ‘preparing for life after highschool’ theme that I don’t see tackled enough in anime set in high schools. True, everything worked out conveniently for everyone in the end, but I appreciate KyoAni planting the seeds throughout the series rather than having all the angst happen in a big bomb in the last episode. These characters are all so carefully manufactured to appeal to fujoshi and yet there’s this real, surprising sense of realism in a lot of their actions and feelings and hopes and dreams. Their problems and worries are relatable. Once you get attached to them, its hard to not feel the emotions with them.
As for low points…its true that I had some problems with the writing at times in regards to the characters. Emo-Haru only barely managed to not be completely annoying in his stubbornness and Sousuke was…honestly not particularly relevant at all, and simply lacked the relatable ‘real’ nature the other boys have. Some people have also thought that the added drama (or perhaps ‘melodrama) in Eternal Summer felt forced and out-of-place with the carefree nature of the show, but I actually disagree for the most part. It gets a little campy at times but overall I’m happy with how it was done. It manages to take what could have easily just been a dumb show about swimming boys into something that’s a sports anime, a comedy and a character drama all at once. With the best ‘lets got to Australia’ episode I’ve seen.
I’m really gonna miss these guys.