Free! Eternal Summer is the sequel to Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. All The Anime have released the former on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK, while the latter remains as streaming-only through Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll have both dub and sub available for viewing. Being a sequel series, one should really watch Iwatobi Swim Club before moving on to Eternal Summer, but even if you don’t, Eternal Summer holds its own. Fan favourite studio Kyoto Animation are behind the Free! series and the director is Hiroko Utsumi. KyoAni have also created such great anime as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions, and Sound! Euphonium. Hiroko Utsumi has worked on a variety of KyoAni productions, including as director on the special episode for season 1 of Chunibyo, and key animation for both the K-On! and Haruhi Suzumiya movies.
“The cherry blossoms are blooming, the sun is shining, and it’s the perfect time to hit the pool! Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei are anxious to get into the water and warm up their winter muscles ASAP, but things aren’t all flipturns and finish lines. Haru’s passion for swimming is drying up, which dashes Rin’s hope for a true rivalry. With their futures after high school looming over them, Makoto and Haru are having a hard time focusing. And a gruff new Samezuka student, Sosuke, appears just in time to jeopardize Iwatobi’s chance at nationals.” – All The Anime
Everyone has heard of Free!, and just dismisses it as a fan-service anime aimed at women – I’m also guilty of this – but that is far from the truth. The display of the male form throughout Free! never strays too far from just being what is necessary for an anime about swimming. It also deals quite well with communicating how winning and losing can impact upon a team. Flashbacks to their childhood are interspersed throughout, and I assume sourced from the light novels which the anime serve as a sequel to. While not quite as happy-go-lucky a viewing experience as the moe “cute girls doing cute things” anime we see all too often nowadays, Free! Eternal Summer definitely manages to hold its own in terms of carefree viewing. This is accomplished with some impressive pacing as well, with almost all of the season paced exceedingly well, rather than lagging behind expectations or speeding through the story.
Despite this, as a sports anime, I feel Free! falls short; main character Haru cares little about actually swimming for a purpose and just wants to swim free. This is true at the start and remains true at the end, I’d have much preferred that Haru actually experience some character growth rather than just giving in and accepting competing solely so he can continue to swim free as he was already doing anyway.
Visually, KyoAni have done a superb job, as per usual, with fluid animation and colourfully vibrant images. It has to be said that the actual swimming is animated beautifully, and is worth paying attention to. For the most part, Free! Eternal Summer has a stellar main cast, Nagisa aside, and an equally impressive supporting cast, including Gou, my personal favourite character, despite her obsession with muscles.
I found both the OP and ED, “Dried Up Youthful Fame”, and “FUTURE FISH” respectively, to be lacking. Thankfully, Funimation’s marathon mode strips those out of the episodes using seamless branching to provide uninterrupted viewing save for an OP and ED slapped on at the start and finish. In Marathon Mode, you are unable to change the audio option while watching, even through the pop-up menu. I spent most of this rewatch with the Japanese audio but did check out the dub for the final episode and the OVA. I was not impressed in the slightest. The English dub has a cast that portray the team as if they don’t care about what they are saying, when this is clearly not true, as each of them is incredibly passionate in the subtitled version. As mentioned earlier, I found Nagisa’s Japanese voice to be a letdown compared to the rest, but it is significantly better than Greg Ayres’ attempt in the dub. Johnny Yong Bosch as Makoto was always going to annoy me, but amazingly, he wasn’t the worst offender in the dub – that honour goes to Todd Haberkorn as a totally mischaracterised Haru. Throw in the “surfer dude” vibe Funimation shoehorned into the dub, and it makes for a thoroughly painful auditory experience.
This release contains a healthy amount of extra content on-disc; the OVA episode, English commentaries for episodes 1 and 7, web previews, a compilation of extended end cards, illustration collection, memorial promo video, promo videos, and the usual creditless OP and ED. The Collector’s Edition blu-ray also comes with physical extras in the form of art cards, stickers, and a 64-page booklet.
Hopefully Anime Limited manage to license the first season from Crunchyroll at some point and give that a physical release for UK fans. Likewise, I’d love for them to license the prequel movie as it is an even more enjoyable watch than both of the TV anime, I expect at least in part due to it being an adaptation of one of the light novels.
I'll admit that I wasn't expecting a rewatch of Free! Eternal Summer to change my opinion of it much, if at all. I was pleasantly surprised to find this not to be the case. In my initial viewing earlier this year, I was hung up on a few issues, but after watching it again for this review, I was able to enjoy Eternal Summer as a slice-of-life comedy about a great group of friends in the swim club. Sadly, the dub is nowhere near as enjoyable as the subtitled version, and really should be avoided at all costs. If you love KyoAni, you owe it to yourself to give Free! the chance it deserves.