Monday, November 17, 2014

Anime Review: Free! Eternal Summer

This should be the last of my summer anime reviews which is slightly ironic since it's the most summer of the summer anime I watched and I'm seriously contemplating wearing long underwear to work tomorrow (curse you polar vortex). I didn't start out the summer watching this show but I had a feeling I would get around to it sooner or later and I finally did when friends told me it was actually better than the first season which was an odd thing to hear. I never thought that the first season was particularly good or bad, it had it's good and bad parts but was ultimately a bit bland, to hear that the staff decided to do actual character development and build upon the first season was a bit shocking more than anything else!

Free! Eternal Summer

Another school year has started and for Haru and Makoto (plus Rin) it's their last year of high school, the last year to swim with their friends as a team. Everyone is constantly aware of this and while Makoto and Rin are looking to their futures, Haru is stubbornly withdrawing more and more. He likes to swim but in the grand scheme of things does that even mean anything to him?

This is an odd sequel, I certainly wouldn't have expected the writers of a rather happy, "cute guys doing cute things" show to switch gears the second time around and dive into exploring the characters more, especially after how they handled Rin last season, but that's really at the core of Eternal Summer. Heck, last season Rin was a moody, violent character who frequently lashed out and it was hard to see why anyone liked him, his sister Gou included. He's mellowed out an amazing amount and is actually a rather likable character, I wonder if even the writers felt like they over-did it last season or if we the viewers are supposed to believe it was from that one relay. Regardless, this time around the moody one is Haru and it's interesting to look at screenshots across the two seasons and see how at his lowest points the shots are framed just like Rin's were, I think the writers were trying to draw some parallels here but since Rin's story didn't work for me that obviously didn't help. And Haru's problem felt as awkward as Rin's for me; we've established that Haru is water crazy, enjoys swimming, and is a pretty good swimmer. But yet he hates to have people mention that maybe he should do this in college and beyond and everybody knows he's not simply going to give it up after high school, even if he'll be miserable without a team to swim with. It's definitely a corner and I just don't think the way they got him out of it was handled as deftly as it could have been, especially with how the show was focusing on so many things this time.

In fact, I feel like the show had two focuses this season, Haru's internal struggle about swimming (and how it was affecting his friends) and watching Rin build up his own team and helping them through their own problems. While Souske was ultimately a nicer character at his worst than Rin was (at his worst) I still question how his entire arc happened, sure it was foreshadowed but I just can't imagine that his parents/coach let him go through it, that also broke quite a bit of my suspension of disbelief. And other than those three, and Makoto to a degree, no one else really stood out to me this season, I liked how we also had a character episode on Nagisa since it's clear that he and Rei plan to continue the swim club and the school-club-life balance that entails next year but that's it, this season bit off more than it could chew for just 12 episodes. Which isn't to say that it wasn't enjoyable, despite my criticalness I never stopped enjoying this show, I would have dropped it if I did, and I think that all fans who liked the first season will enjoy this one as well. The art stays fantastic*, I never would have believed that hearing Mamoru Miyano (Rin's voice actor) speak English for an entire episode would make me laugh as much as it did, and when it's not focusing on the heavier topics the show's tone is delightfully amusing and fun. But, same as the last season, I don't see myself rewatching it or buying the show anytime soon, which may be a good thing. Since it's out in the open I can say it now, Crunchyroll is streaming both seasons and also has the home video rights for the first season, Funimation has the home video rights for the second season but yes, that's why it took so long for someone to announce it, because it was already taken! As such, Funimation is already planning their season 2 release and is streaming the show on their site and hulu as well but season one might remain in limbo for a while, we'll all have to wait and see. 

*I'm so amused to hear a few stories on twitter of American/Candian animators recommending scenes from the show to co-workers who want to look at water animation (and it sounds like they were suitably impressed!)