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ANIME REVIEW: “Free: Eternal Summer” Season Two

ANIME REVIEW: "Free: Eternal Summer" Season Two

Japanese “fan service”
series range from fairly innocent comedies to bloody superhero and  supernatural adventures, but they really exist
for one reason: to provide the audience (presumably mostly hormonal adolescent
boys) with shots of girls’ cleavage, panties and semi-naked bodies.

In the typical comedy-adventure Strike Witches (2008), heroine Yoshika Miyafuji is recruited to
join the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, a.k.a. the Strike Witches, to combat
invading aliens. Her uniform consists of a jacket with no skirt or trousers. It
doesn’t matter if Yoshika is wailing at her father’s grave, shooting down an
attacking ship, or saluting a superior officer, director Kazuhiro Takamura
frames the shot to show her blue undies. And that’s what the audience expects. In
numerous other series, the female characters loose their skirts, assume provocative
poses, and hold serious discussions in Japanese-style baths and hot springs. Sometimes
the guys in the cast are embarrassed by their encounters with the semi-clad girls;
sometimes they’re eagerly watching or covertly peeking.

The broadcast series Free:
Eternal Summer
(2014) uses many fan service conventions. But this time, the
minimally clad cast consists of a group of high school swimmers who embody the
slim, athletic good looks of bishonen
(beautiful boys).

In Eternal Summer,
director Hiroki Utsumi (who also directed Free:
Iwatobi Swim Club
in 2013) presents an upbeat story of friendship,
dedication, hard work, competition and school hijinks, with a few hints of repressed
eroticism. Not surprisingly, the cast spends a lot of time in swim trunks. When
the Iwatobi High team tries to recruit new members at a school assembly, they
strip down to their Speedos and proclaim their favorite muscle—to the delight
of team manager Gou (Jamie Marchi).

The Iwatobi crew is made up of four standard sport anime
types. Soft-spoken Makoto (Johnny Yong Bosch) is the good-natured, sensible guy;
he discovers his calling when he teaches a frightened little boy how to swim.
Nagisa (Greg Ayres) is the half-pint fireball, overflowing with energy and
enthusiasm. Rei (J. Michael Tatum), who recently switched from track to
swimming, is the smart one who delights in praising his own intellect. At the
center of the team and the story is the brooding Haruka (Todd Haberkorn) who
has eyes “the color of the sea.” Despite his exceptional athletic ability and
love of the water, Haruka is troubled and uncertain. He’s not sure about his
commitment to competitive swimming or his choice of colleges. Although their
affection and admiration are sincere, his teammates can’t seem to help him.

As a boy, Haruka swam with two guys now on the rival Samezuka
Academy team: captain Rin (Vic Mignona) and butterfly superstar Sosuke (Ian
Sinclair). The memories of their childhood competition and friendship sometimes
seem to hint at repressed affections. But Utsumi never ventures into boy-love
territory. When Rin and Haruka have to share a bed in a hotel in Australia, there’s
no hanky-panky. But it’s Rin who shows Haruka the wider world he can challenge,
enabling him to find his dream.

Like many anime sport series, Free is primarily an upbeat come-from-behind story. It’s also more
than a little improbable. The four main characters make up the entire Iwatobi
team, yet they manage to win a place in the nationals. (So does Samezuka, but
their team includes dozens of swimmers.)

The Iwatobi guys owe their success to their ability to work
as a team in the relays. Makoto, Nagisa, Rei and Haruka proclaim their mutual affection
and respect, and shed a few tears because Makoto and Haruka are graduating and breaking
up the group. But they do it wearing Speedos. As they’re competitive swimmers,
there’s a reason for them to be showing all that flesh, but their manager and
the presumed viewers all enjoy it.

Eternal Summer was
a followed by the feature film High
Speed! Free! Starting Days
(2015). Even viewers who’ve never attempted the
butterfly will find Free a curiously reversed
vision of a sexist genre.

Free: Eternal Summer—Season Two  Funimation: $64.98; 4 discs, Blu-ray/DVD

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