So it’s still not summer, but I guess I can forgive that, since the “eternal” part has gone toward character development. In Rin’s case, he seems to have crammed in at least a year’s worth of growth as a person, discarding the angst and becoming a much more responsible, forgiving, likable character (to the point that he’s almost a different person—let’s call him Rin’s good twin). With summer nationals still many months away, there’s plenty of time for character growth; most of it goes to Rin, but everyone else gets much more development than they had in the previous season, as well.
The main focus seems to be exploring each character’s motivation to swim—challenging them and forcing them to push through—to the point that Rei’s storyline in episode three actually made me tear up a bit. The new character, Sousuke Yamazaki, appears to be the source for a few of those challenges. I was wrong earlier: he doesn’t have any history with the Iwatobi team, but instead, only with Rin. He swam with Rin in their elementary school days before Rin moved to Australia, and he apparently blames Haru for holding Rin back from reaching his swimming potential, to the point of confronting Haru directly about it.
It’s actually startling how much I like Rin this season; I spent so much of last season sighing and glaring whenever he showed up, as his appearances were always accompanied by whining and unnecessary angst that didn’t build anyone’s character. But what we’ve seen of him this season gives much more insight into what Mikoshiba must’ve seen in Rin to make him captain. Rin is thoughtful in regard to his teammates and their potential, and he’s patient with Rei in his attempts to learn how to swim; in episode four, we get a deeper glimpse into what happened to flip such a switch. Strangely, all these incidents also end up giving us a better look at the other characters, as well.
The show’s writing so far is strong and cohesive, and everything seems better-paced than in the first season. This season is more focused on development through positive interactions rather than antagonistic ones, which is a tone that better fits the feel of the series.
As always, the animation is beautiful and smooth, and the thought put into character design—Sousuke is a flier, so he’s broad-shouldered, slim-waisted, and has detailed shoulder and upper back muscles—is spot-on. The first season of Free! started to slip a little for me, but the team seems to have pulled it all together for Eternal Summer, so let’s hope for a strong middle and finish!