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Thursday, 25 September 2014

Free! Eternal Summer.

Oh, hey guys, check out this post on Final Fantasy XV over at Nine Over Five. Because gaming news is a) Interesting, and b) Outside my remit.

Onwards to the review about that one anime about terrorists.

Free! Eternal Summer.

This series made me cry six times.

Six bloody times.

I hadn't even planned on watching it, you know? It looked good, but it wasn't my thing, but I thought 'hey, maybe watch the swimming anime and see if I want to review it' and then it was thirteen episodes of pain and heartwarming moments and people exuding water from their face and I was exuding water from my face and it was all very upsetting for everyone involved, and what I'm trying to say is don't watch this anime, it will ruin your life.

I mean, maybe watch it a little. With a healthy supply of tissues.

'The Mikoshibas are minor characters, why do you like the - ...'
You are a minor character.

Free! Eternal Summer is the second series of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, an anime whose roots were one company doing an animation showcase and then a bunch of people leaping on it and running with it so much that eventually said company made it into a series. It revolves around the swimming teams of Iwatobi High School and Samezuka Academy as they progress through the end of their school years, struggling with swimming competitions – with particular focus on the medley relay as an expression of friendship and teamwork – the uncertainty of the future and their own personal problems.

I hadn't watched Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, and I still haven't, and while I probably will go back and watch it at some point, I'm glad I hadn't, if only because any sequel should manage to stand on its own merits without requiring prior experience of the series to enjoy. This will be the critical test that Psycho-Pass 2 faces when it starts airing very soon.

Free! Eternal Summer manages that really well. It doesn't spend much time recapping what happened, and it doesn't need to: It establishes the basics that you need to know very quickly and very smoothly, and then progresses from there into a new storyline which, while it's certainly linked with the first series, doesn't rely on it.

Also, there are new characters, like Sousuke.

The plot is actually a prime example of fiction that lacks an antagonist, but still manages to create conflict. There are no antagonists in this series: The closest you get is well-meaning but occasionally gruff and intimidating eyebrow-fiend Sousuke. The conflict instead firmly stems from the reactions of good, but flawed and human characters to the stresses pressing in on them – whether those stresses come from the inevitability of having to grow up, parents, their own expectations for themselves, or mistakes they've made in the past.

(The conflict does, however, have a tendency to build in tension over long strings of episodes. It's effective for building atmosphere and getting an audience invested, but it doesn't exactly lead to a fun watching experience. Six times, people. Count 'em. That's nearly a 1:2 ratio of crying to episodes.)

Gou, having emotional turmoil on the audience's behalf.

So, it's a very character focused piece, which means that you need to have strong, engaging characters – that's an essential for any story, but here there's absolutely no way this anime can survive without that, because it has literally nothing else (bar the basic mechanics of some very good animation and a great soundtrack) to distract you if it doesn't. But as you've probably guessed, because I would have dropped this series like a hot … egg … thing … about three episodes in if it wasn't up to snuff, the characters are really good. They're anime archetypes, that much is obvious, but none of them are two-dimensional, and all of them have hidden depths (one of the funniest moments in the series, for me, was quiet and affable Makoto turning steely manipulator on Rei) and notable flaws. They're very real characters, and you find yourself rooting for all of them – and that's probably a decent amount of why this series is so popular.

(An equally decent amount is that it has a lot of scantily clad young men being very gay at each other. No, you cannot convince me that anyone without the surname 'Mikoshiba' is straight in this show. I would go so far as to say that acting like there's any ambiguity about it, when certain pairings of characters will stare longingly into each other's eyes and whisper names, or jealously remark on how 'taken with him' they are for someone else, or outright say that they're jealous. If you're trying to claim that the main characters aren't romantically interested – within certain pairings, obviously - in each other here, I'm going to claim you're delusional and question your motives.)

Is Haru's dream to be a chef or a dolphin? I don't know.
Neither does he, judging by the wider plot of the series.

As I mentioned before, there's some gorgeous animation – truly, the animation team has turned the rendering of moist, muscular young men into an art form – and a great soundtrack. It's not the best soundtrack I've heard this season, but it's competing with Aldnoah.Zero, Zankyou no Terror, Psycho-Pass EDIT and Sword Art Online II, so the odds are stacked against it. In any other season, it might have been.

Also, it has animal motifs. I like animal motifs. Although if they were being strict to them, Haru would probably be a serial killer and Makoto would be a hyper-intelligent troll with sociopathic tendencies. Let us be glad that they didn't stick closely to what said animals are actually like. That would have been an entirely different anime, and I'm not sure Nagisa would have survived that one.

Just, you know. If you ever want to write an AU. Someone write that AU.

Not pictured: Nagisa, because Makoto has eaten him.

So, overall, I enjoyed this anime about stupid awkward fishdorks, and I'm really glad I decided to watch it. Rest assured that when I get around to watching the first series I'll be reviewing that, although in the meantime I'm going to be slightly sad that the chance of a third series seems to be precisely zero. Not too sad: The series had a fine ending, and you probably shouldn't over-egg the swimming pudding, but a little sad.

Six times, guys. Stupid fishdorks.

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