Haruka Nanase’s breakdown: a critical part in Free! Eternal Summer (Episode 9)

Was this predictable?

I think the warning signs were there.

The entire 2nd TV series was building up to this moment. The moment Haruka would snap. It wasn’t easy to watch. Yet, also the entire episode was geared on it exponentially. This was episode 9.

It made me really sad. It was cathartic as a visual medium and storytelling apparatus. I was really engrossed by his mental exhaustion. So much so that I actually didn’t want to see the stretch. I decided to wait and pull into what I saw disaster coming this way and it was awful.

Like Haruka I too stared in completely amazement, as he limpidly stared into the glossy lights of the swimming arena blankly as though caught in an asphyxiating tremor, not weakness but not strength, just numbness. I knew it — he can’t take pressure. That is a flaw but not to deride him: it is the most human thing elaborated with both visuals and Haruka’s face hanging in defeat (as rinsbae in Tumblr also noted). Haruka had a mental breakdown. It was cleanly understood. He just couldn’t take the pressure. Everyone was down on his throat about his freestyle swimming and it got to him. The propensity of the pressure they gave him was too much. From his school principal, to Rin and his teammates, to teachers to random scouts — everyone was thinking that Haru was a swimming machine and they just wanted to see him perform. And it got to Haruka. He always stated that “free” even short for his style and short for “freedom” was the way he swam. It is not that in competitions he didn’t feel pressure it was still amicable pressure. It was when his entire existence was just bounded, as in being defined by others as only a thing he had to do nor else it made no sense, to his “freestyle” then it lost its freedom. It became really corrupted to him. It became something vicarious and not something that he himself understood as his own, as his self, it became a projection alone as a trick. Haruka never swam for that. To him swimming was both aesthetic, talent but also empathy and a portion of his soul transmuted. It just lost that integrity when the pressure to perform came in.

rinsbae’s image accompanied with these words: “Because the clear stream under his eye seems to not be dripping like the rest but what do I know. Every time I see pictures of him like this and he looks so defeated, I want to cry and my heart feels like its bleeding.”

Even the genius hurts and gets defeated when encountered with such negative social icons of perfection.

Such pressure to perform to an angle that is “full” not “fullest” but rather typed on as something like technical, technicality and reduced to the methodology of technique alone made Haruka lose it. Everyone felt that he could succeed and that success is very well, only defined, by the scouts’s eyes beholding that image of excellence rather than all the emotions, efforts, energy and sweet exhaustion that prepares and is parcel to the entirety of the art. Haruka felt reduced to a mechanical image. Like a wind-up doll he felt meaning castigated, chastised his soul made into a minimal binary of “performing well” and “not performing well” — in that moment, swimming lost meaning to him as something he bonded and became bonded to; it just became  a game, a series of performances. Ironically, Judith Butler would call this “performativity” and I go with that theoretical and philosophical practice. It became difficult for Haruka to process his feelings, all his life, from the first season he had a tenacity, a firmness, to love water but also be ordinary. It was crucial to him not to be determined as a prodigy. Maybe, one will say he is a loser but to him the prodigious title was encapsulated with problems. It did not make an appealing gesture, it brought an attention to him, a mechanical and detached attention rather than an enormous empathetic one. To him competition was an event that made him win affection, bonds and a sense of camaraderie-ship with his friends. Swimming was always that to him and competitions expanded that sequence of events, perhaps not chronologically yet astute and enabled his need to breathe and be calm and live a full life.

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Makoto and Nagisa explaining the relevance of timing accuracy for the relay. The risk is disqualification if they move before the other person as issued by their teacher but they explain to her that even with that risk they need to work on their timing as best as they can. Part pressure but a weight shared by all.
Makoto and Nagisa explaining the relevance of timing accuracy for the relay. The risk is disqualification if they move before the other person as issued by their teacher but they explain to her that even with that risk they need to work on their timing as best as they can. Part pressure but a weight shared by all.
The principal and guidance counselor; just the tip of Haru's problems.
The principal and guidance counselor; just the tip of Haru’s problems.

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And the pressure to perform begins
And the pressure to perform begins

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From his face you can see his distress.

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This excursion adds to the pressure as a scout eagerly tells Haruka how wonderful his talent is and should not be wasted.
This excursion adds to the pressure as a scout eagerly tells Haruka how wonderful his talent is and should not be wasted.

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Only Makoto Tachibana gets an inkling of what this might feel for Haru. Though, I think this is really a whimsical element that he never discussing this with Haru when it is plainly there that he needs to.
Only Makoto Tachibana gets an inkling of what this might feel for Haru. Though, I think this is really a whimsical element that he never discussing this with Haru when it is plainly there that he needs to.

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Swimming had lost that when it became only a sport. Only something that just defined him as an athlete but not a person. It became a lose and cheap term for him. He also got horribly afraid. This was not something he wanted. Not something he was prepared for; the territory and the way it was expressed was not him. He got naturally afraid and did not know this water, this water of only being a sporty person or oriented only in sports. His prodigy is not limited only to performances. So, he got tired and stopped. He was afraid and also this scouting thing made him feel less of what he was. It just made him sad.

Running, it is painfully obvious how this is getting to him:

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So, he stopped.

The nightmare that Haruka had was equally terrifying and expressive of performance and what is integral. Like overactive enthusiasm and logical theory it makes him feel claustrophobic and feel wooden. It was very nicely done to explain his psychological state:

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This is how it is. Backed into a corner. This is how Haruka Nanase really feels.
This is how it is. Backed into a corner. This is how Haruka Nanase really feels.

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Too bright Indeed.
Too bright Indeed.

 

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All the pressure made everything empty. No water or solace found even with people. Can you receive from those from puppets anyway?

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Haruka is very scared.

 

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I don’t think anyone seen Haruka this bothered and close to collapse.

 

This part was a very good development of a character. It was both telling of him and telling of socio-economic and socio-cultural norms that are and should be open to critique. Is an athlete only a name, a performance and a title? To Haruka it was not. Water and understanding water is a large part of his life in fact from the Free! Wiki you can read the director say that water is a vehicle of expression for him. It was a way he communicates. He did not want his communication to be only treated as something like this; something just as a race to determine fastest or slowest. That is why he communicated a breakdown. He stood still. His watery tongue was dry and could not reach his kinesis and state of being.

Haruka Nanase had a mental breakdown.

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Haruka’s beloved water became a foreign entity that his immuno-psychological state just rejected. The beautiful bond he had with water caved in due to his stress and mental bereavement.

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It does look he is crying. It was too much for him. As everyone looks in shock Haruka Nanase breaks down.

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Was it necessary? Yeah clean as day and night it was. Everyone was so excited that Haruka was a dream of potential success. No one asked if Haruka wanted that kind of success and that kind of exposure. Makoto never asked directly and sure as hell Rin didn’t either. Haruka is subtle — his face in silence makes small ripples and in those silent ripples his body language also moves and wrinkles what he feels. Haruka did not know what to feel because everyone is counting on him to make an impression. But to Haruka he doesn’t want to make one. It is tiring doing that.

In Tumblr many had made gifs, graphics out of this and I remember lingering on a set of images showing Haruka stopping and Rin blinking and interspersed with the confrontation they have at the end. It was heartbreaking to watch a genius, a human character to lose in something that he so passionately loved all because of pressure and apathetic views and intentions of treating him as a performance. It really got me.

With this I think the story wants to question if someone’s love for a sport is just a fancy consumption? Shouldn’t people ask what and why they do so elegantly  a sport or an art or a science and actually be understood as whole individuals whose success is not truly always a title but rather also a universe of their own, sacred God-given right to explore and know themselves and others. It is the human element that seems to be askew or replaced by just a perfunctory need to consume brilliance. This brilliance lives short. Like a firefly or butterfly destines to die with so many probabilities of feeling incomplete coerced brilliance makes a beauty into a capital, a taxation of exhaustion and defeat. The Tumblr user yannychigi also beautifully wrote on this:

Can I just give my two cents on this one.

To Haruka, he and the water share a bond no person can ever hope to understand- intimate but based on respect.

What I’ve noticed is that the water is like some sort of mirror. It shapes into form based on the feelings of whoever enters it’s territory.

In this case. Haru.

When Haru’s mind was clear and free of any doubts or insecurities, the water danced with him. Every swish, every splash collided with Haru’s movements.

And it was beautiful.

But during the regionals…

Haru was in darkness. So the water mirrored his heart.

Because there was hesitation and fear…the water hesitated as well.

Instead of syncing with Haru’s swimming, it became the chains that binded Haru to a hault.

And so Haru stopped.

And the chains were no more.

It was almost like the water itself wanted to tell Haru…

“You’re heart is not Free”

“That’s enough, Haru”

“Don’t struggle anymore”

In the entire series, both Free! Iwatobi Swim Club and Free!Eternal Summer, you have never seen Haruka break this badly. Or get mad so furiously. When Rin wants an answer, when Rin wants to know how could he just throw away his future — Haruka just snaps some more and becomes volatile. He just can’t take this impending question of future and a potency of what might be termed as “prodigious future” because to him it feels lifeless, antagonizing and thoroughly not him.

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First time in show: an enraged Haruka Nanase
First time in show: an enraged Haruka Nanase


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Still feeling backed against  a wall.
Still feeling backed against a wall.

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It seems Haruka is very sad at what happened. He looks pretty repenting as well to a certain degree. I think this is because he thinks he let his friends down. But then assures them he won’t do this at the relay.
It seems Haruka is very sad at what happened. He looks pretty repenting as well to a certain degree. I think this is because he thinks he let his friends down. But then assures them he won’t do this at the relay.

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Getting your crap together now huh Makoto? I want to slap you a bit for your late reaction to Haruka's cumulative breakdown.
Getting your crap together now huh Makoto? I want to slap you a bit for your late reaction to Haruka’s cumulative breakdown.
The imagery is full of walls. Haruka's own personal wall and also maybe how communication between him and his friends had encountered a wall.
The imagery is full of walls. Haruka’s own personal wall and also maybe how communication between him and his friends had encountered a wall.

 

Though we are very close to the end. This was riveting. It was very hard to watch but also very important to the narratives of everything. What do these young men want? What do they need? Rin was at failure to understand that he had trained for this challenge and this moment for almost all of his life. Haruka hadn’t. Haruka may be a genius but his life has run along pretty smoothly till now. What so-called ordinary people may not find challenging prodigies can find frustrating, bothersome and many a times defeating. Haruka did things with ease so a challenge like this was also something he never faced before. Things came to him easily enough just not this. It was very difficult  for him to understand this. It was him reaching a point he didn’t before. It was scary, confusing and he didn’t know who to ask to help him. It just happens to be something that he couldn’t overcome at the moment.

It might be pathetic but it’s real. Haruka may be using a bit of escapism but I understand him. Humans are not trained for perfection. They are more inclined for error. It was egregious for everyone to heap all their little toxic bag of expectations on Haruka it was also a limit on him and a non-skill in him to not be dexterous about this. He could have just swam and not care about if he came second or third — he could have swam at his own pace and be happy that what he was feeling regularly or the feelings most intimate to him: loving the feel, heart, texture and mobility of water. But of course he did not know that. Haruka is not really prominent troubleshooter. We have seen this earlier when  Nagisa showed up and he couldn’t do much or even recognise that Nagisa is feeling troubled. It is good that by showing this Haruka may have broken the “Mary Sue/Gary Stu” position he had with most people who knew him (audience included). Not to mention he seems a bit repenting about the situation as he feels he let his friends down. Maybe, he also feels he let himself down too. A situation like this is very painful.

Will Haruka get out of this? Maybe, but I had said earlier that even if Haruka did nor fully get into swimming competitively it did not mean anything because he will still be a great, prodigious athletic swimmer. In fact, he could get into professional swimming and also leave it after he felt it satisfied his cravings and be a chief or something else as the chief avatar we see him in the ending theme “Future Fish”.

What matters is that we are being broken out of the idyllic for and of Haruka’s character. All of this has made him more human and more relatable and more of a person than a frigid character. It added layers to other distinct parts of him.

For that I am happy that they took this route — it was very sad and empathetic, very heartbreaking seeing him like that vulnerable and tired and I respected that he did what was honest of him.

Haruka Nanase is growing up. Maturing into a more substantial personal character.

* I know I said I might do an episode by episode summary and analysis but it is getting difficult. I might just do a full review. However, I was writing about episode 2 individually so I might put that up. I am sorry if I disappointed anyone though.

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Watched Free! Iwatobi Swim Club Second Tv series/Season 2 Eternal Summer Episode 1

Massive Spoilers Ahead → take a detour if not want to be spoiled

* This is an ongoing series and as I did not cap it I am borrowing caps made by others from Tumblr but giving them credit for their work. Sorry for this.

As usual we are treated to hot, muscular, slender bodies that are associated with a swim stars’ physiques. As usual there is both heterosexual vibes in the guise of Gou Matsuoka who is Rin Matsuoka younger sister and still the rambunctious manager of the Iwatobi swim team.  Yet this anime does have the shounen-ai flare. It is marketed with that sense that it will also satiate a boys’ love niche. I don’t have any complications with that. Many sports anime of this era have these secretions (oops innuendo :)), however, I hope that it does not tone down, alleviate the complexities of the story.

When we first see Makoto trying to call Haruka from http://lolitsgabe.tumblr.com/

Many of you might be asking what story? I know that Free! caters a lot to erotica or even sexual responses. I mean many would say that it is a bit like K-On! only with guys. It’s story type is linear-based jumping from some conflict or the other. But then there were moments that it really goes full swing and caters to another level of responses; the ones that deal with adrenalin, the ones that make you want to these young adults and their inner mysteries. There are many things of Haruka Nanase that I really desire to know; quite pithy remarks that he said from the very beginning of the anime in the first TV series where he actually did not mind if he would not be called a swimming prodigy anymore and actually preferred that he becomes what can be called normal. This attenuates to what people think he is and who is. They usually just associate him to be a dry fish out of land; an oddball, an arrogant jerk but he is not that at all.

Rin and Haruka from http://agermanfulloflove.tumblr.com/

He loves swimming for the art of swimming, for the sake of swimming not to be adorned with medals and accolades. And that is something tricky at times. We see this. It is tricky because it is beautifully there and at the same time in the world of sports where one aspires to be a pioneering legend,m prefers to win as it is an arena fully based and blasted on performativity and competitiveness it feels very subtle and strong at the same time.  It leaves its mark. I don’t like that this complexity of Haruka gets toned down only to him being some babe on swimwear; no character, male or female, deserves that especially when they possess such depth. Like water he feels almost non-consequential as a calm surface but he is actually a possessor of depth.  Other details of Haruka that were not so divulged: he is very good at art — sketching and sculpting; it naturally comes to him (maybe he has some school practice because in Japanese schoold from a young age they do make you do a lot of activities both considered academic ones and non-academic ones. However, that does not deny he has a natural talent as he effortlessly understands structure and lines with shading).  This is interdisciplinary strokes as its best. When you understand God given water so well you can do well in art; swimming as he does helps him maneuver in seas and see a lot of detail so his hand muscles and perception are easily polished by swimming like that. So yeah God given talents both flow into each other like an atomic circuit.

The characters in this show have a lot of potential to be complex. They have all the ingredients for it. I see it shining in the hot fire in Haruka Nanase’s eyes, or even Rin’s atypical sharp, sharp toothed smiles or gestures. When Rin is sad it fades but the visuals of this anime are excellent. From the very first season/Tv series I saw that in each slide; the colour palette is crisp and tantalizing fluid, like some segments of water; the colours have an aquamarine tint to them. Also the characters at this point are 2-Dimensional. They have a lot of eccentric qualities that merits beautiful narratives. The only “normal” bishie is a chibi-type Nagisa who jumps on and about but as this second show’s first episode showed that even has a muscular trait that sets him out: it’s his strong calves. That is actually very good for breast stroke because the calves work as a sort of pulley effect against the water (in my understanding; also he does say he specializes in breast strokes). Yet he even he wields more than a fanboy status and has all the qualities these seniors (excluding Rei who is his batch mate) have. Rei has proven he is a prodigy in his own right.  Going up against Makoshiba Rin’s school captain, when he is still a novice and doing pretty good.

Haru also has the proclivity to just bare himself; I nicknamed him water exhibitionist XD from http://azbees.tumblr.com/

Of course, like the first TV series there is a complication. Only this time it’s not Rin being a jerk it’s his boyfriend friend being that. Sousuke is the new character introduced. We see him already in the the opening theme. Let;s say he is designed to be Rin’s Makoto. He has similar traits to Makoto. The hair is darker brown and the eyes are aquamarine. But he does scream that. Only thing is that he is not at all like Makoto who is quite sweet. Like Rin’s previous attitude he has a big aggression. And yeah it is directed to Haruka. I am already guessing why. He must think Haruka is destroying Rin’s aspirations and that he doesn’t deserve Rin’s strong feelings or friendships. That part is quite predictable.  Though I am happy there is a new character I just don’t like the fact that he is the typical “buddy-fetish” one. I hope they don’t narrow his dimensions. Sousuke Yamazaki can be more than eye candy and also Rin’s substitute boyfriend. I wonder if Sousuke actually is angry because he feels that Haruka torn his swimming partner too? Though I would actually find it interesting if Sousuke wants to throw down Rin from his captain position and say he thinks Rin is too emotional to be a swimming athlete. That would be a total u-curve and I would appreciate it a lot.  I think fans may find that also an appealing surprise.

The first episode mostly shows the bodies; the flexible, dexterous swimmers are all lining up, warming up in a way for summer may be coming soon and they want to sharpen their reflexes and breath gauge before that happens. Of course, this allows multiple fanservice to be showcased with some slice of life warm stew put into the mix. The Iwatobi Swim Club lacks facilities and also people, in contrast Rin’s schoo, Samezuki Gakuen, has people trying out all the time and have a good handful of members. This paucity is nicely shown in the absurdly hilarious way in which Haruka and friends try to recruit models using weird amateur film slides and modeling their physiques and expertise to a crowd, a bit surprisingly, full of girls. They, ironically, find this to be too brazen and whisper this amongst themselves. The Iwatobi Swim team realizes the lack of suitable members or fans. Rin is promoted to captain, reluctantly, but he seems a very good leader: all he has to do to recruit members is to give a few trial specs (there is a actually a standard  they have to beat in their academy to actually make it to the team whilst Iwatobi has to be happy with any volunteer) and they go at it. In the midst of a bickering Gou and Rei, a sighing Nagisa and an optimistic Makoto Haruka tells how he feels. He would just like to have a member who likes swimming much to the dismay of Nagisa. A sliver of the gem in the episode (will Sousuke be that one?).

The ex captain from http://azbees.tumblr.com/

I was a bit surprised that Rin has not transferred to Iwatobi school as of yet. I was pretty surprised to see him. Apparently, this is not well discussed but it is shown in a small flashback that because Rin swam with Haruka in a tournament as part of the same team though they are not it did cause repercussions; maybe severe ones. Rin said he will fix it. Unfortunately, his captain handed him the mantle as the fix. Maybe he thinks he is doing Rin a favour as an Olympic swimmer doesn’t swim always with a group he favours or likes or his friends. Clearly, Rin is not too happy about it. Maybe, there is some disparity over what he really wants. Though in a later segment he clearly states, or rather ambitiously, that his goal is the same; to swim in Nationals and go through to the Olympics. I was a bit surprised because I though like Haru he wanted to swim with his friends; maybe, he wants both and the first tv series was dedicated in showing him that he wants both. That is not bad at all. Rather it adds to his character and doesn’t make him a whimsical bumpkin.

There are two swimming matches in this episode. First is a sudden 400m Freestyle medley suggested by departing captain Makishoba of Samezuki Gakuen with the Iwatobi team. In that one it is hinted that Rin did beat Haru again. This is what I like about this show. Haru is not some stereotypical Shounen lad always winning. He actually loses and doesn’t care and attempts to learn from it.  It is also good sportmanship from Rin not to gloat. There is a potential, a watery fire, inside Haruka. There is no reason to oust him as his rival anytime soon. Rivals are not always made by wins and loses it is made by perseverance, compatible wavelengths and a deeply respect and understanding between two individuals. And if your rival is your friend you are at times lucky methinks as you can trust that there will be less foul play in the field.

Before the second match the team heads to their old Iwatobi Swim Club building which has been reconstructed (weird whacky way in which the construction company meant to bulldoze it suddenly had a company shutdown and their old teacher, Goro, decided to buy it partly and salvage parts and just rebuild it).  Their own pool is still dirty and closed for winter and as it is open-air it would be unpractical and against regulations to swim in it. They swim in the club instead prepping for the match while Sousuke (not revealed at that time) carefully observes Haruka.

Sousuke from http://akanenishihara.tumblr.com/

In the second match, which is like a general non-pro tournament, Rin and Haruka go off against each other again. With innuendo laden speech said beforehand (how Rin plans to make Haruka’s cold face heat up O_O)

from ganta again

and then with crisp visuals they show them underwater. Their speedy swimming is captured in gaspy faces as though…you get it. But then technique overpowers fanservice. Rin who was in the lead sees Haruka gaining up after the turnover. Haruka realizes that Rin has much practice than him, though he mentions he has been training, so he conserved his energy but then went full on to catch up to Rin. I actually started cheering as the adrenalin got high. They both finished at the exact same time getting a new record in the tournament and Rin high fives Haruka. Then happily said he knew he would get him fired up to which Haruka remarks that he is still normal.

High Five from http://agermanfulloflove.tumblr.com/

Afterwards he get treated to a visual feast. Not of swimming bodies. But of a cleaned Iwatobi pool. And submerged and floating in them are lovely cherry blossoms. Haru remembered that Rin wanted to swim in a cherry blossom filled pool when they were young,. Making captain means he deserves a nice surprise. The tactic didn’t work to recruit anyone but at least Rin gets what he wanted. Well, during their bickering it starts to suddenly winter rain and they head in. That is when Rin asks Makoto and Haru what they plan to do after high school as he clearing swimming that swim route or plans to. Makoto laughs it that he is undecided. Haru honestly answers with a blank. Making Rin realize they haven’t thought of anything yet.

The visual treat I took from http://f-uwa.tumblr.com/
Namasu at http://kara.sunoo.me/ made this beauitiful gif

This angle is organic and nicely done that I liked it  a lot. Like many young adults and adolescents high school is the pinnacle of existence as in you do that and other things thinking it is permanent. It never is. Haruka is too obsessed with swimming so he hardly thought about it. Makoto’s laugh (as I realized after reading Tumblr posts that suggest that once he was suicidal) is an aversion technique at times. Perhaps he is so used to the team especially picking up Haruka and all that (bromance to the max) that he hasn’t gotten or doesn’t want to think about a separate life. Makoto, from my experience of the character, is at times cheery because he gets depressed and sad easily. He is more attached than Nagisa and at times uses smiles as a way to hide his worries. I am also thinking that Makoto may have already decided what he wants and just doesn’t want to say it yet. Probably because Haruka also gets sad intensely from time to time. I was thinking Makoto may have decided to go to university but feels panicky about leaving the others. It happens amongst friends of such closeness.

Makto and Haru from http://ganta.tumblr.com/

That is pretty much the episode.  It ends with Sousuke joining Rin’s academy and we finally getting to see his face on screen pass OP theme. It the preview it shows that he haughtily corners Haruka. Already ready to start the tension of competition.

About the question that what they will be when they graduate high school. The whole ending thing was somewhat dedicated to that:

Yeah Run thurst from http://hcandersen.tumblr.com/

No, he is supposed to be an actual cop not a stripper. Yeah, I know hypnotic hips (laughs). Makoto becomes a fireman, Nagisa an astronaut which was one that really confused me (I did not know he was interested in those things like that but yeah I am all for it), Rei is a scientist and Haruka aside from some mermaid shots happens to be a chef  (cooking mackerel all the time gets you places I guess).

The show may be centering on the narrative that you may have a dream in sports but if you don’t make it or after that you might have other dreams. I think I really liked that they are going with this message. Many a times we think Rin is just pursuing Olympic medals because his father had him and his sister and couldn’t go for it. I think he is forgetting that his fathers dreams may have changed or that he had other dreams. The anime may be showing that there are more to sportsman than sports and that your God given life is not over till its over and that you can do many other stuff you want to do. Though yeah the ED theme is also sexy but it does bring out that message too,

Overall, if Free! can break its own confines and just be complex as well as fanservicey from time to time it can be very interesting. A lot of shows, recently, have been so fanservicey that it would be nice to see non-fanservice qualities in a show that is so liked for fanservice. Breaking its presumptions and just upping its game.

* * Vistit http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/free!-eternal-summer for fun gifs and caps