Free! – Eternal Summer, Episode 1: Rin Matsuoka, the True Believer

The second season of Free! arrived with a splash yesterday (hardy har har), helping to launch a new season of anime.  No less than a phenomenon, at least among American anime fans, the first season ended with hopes and anticipation of the second, but after so many months of waiting, I think the series snuck up on a lot of Free! aficionados.  But by day’s end, however, my Tumblr dashboard was packed full of Free! related posts (and by almost an equal amount of “There’s so much Free! I can’t stand it” posts).

Free! Eternal Summer
Art by ぐる (Pixiv ID 35786668)

This season looks like it won’t disappoint either.  A storyline is set (further competition and consideration of the future for the seniors), a new rival arrives, and the same manic energy returns.  We also see a continuing growth of the characters, most emphatically for Rin.  If you remember, he was a tortured, angry youth for most of last season before Haru and the rest helped to show him a sight he’d never seen before.  The finale ended with Rin apparently moving on and transforming into someone more confident and kinder, reclaiming the compassionate and friendly personality that marked him in his youth.

What interested me most about the first episode in Eternal Summer, then, was just how far Rin has come in such a short time.

Early in the episode, we note that Haru has grown a teensy bit, though outwardly he’s just the same.  The rest of the Iwatobi High School group remains largely the same (all had their “growth” moments in season one or, in Nagisa’s case, had no real development at all).  But Rin – Rin has changed completely: He greets his old friends; he gives Haru a high five at the end of their race (instead of marching away sullen); he treats his kohai, Nitori, like a brother; and most telling of all, he transitions responsibly into the role of captain.

Rin’s growth reminded me that in real life, transformation isn’t something to be taken for granted.

For the Christian, praying in faith for Christ to be one’s LORD and Savior is just a beginning.  The thrust to make that decision is like the relay race for Rin in season one – it’s a joyous occasion that sparks a release, an understanding, and a commitment in one’s life.

The real work begins afterward, as, spurred on and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Christian engages Christ in a relationship.  It’s here that many fall away, but where those who were genuine in their prayers, owning a faith that is more than a moment deep, begin a path of growth.  Transformation is not instantaneous.  And it is not without it’s ups and downs.  Instead, it’s often gradual and full of missteps.  Still, while an individual works on his faith very personally, those on the outside will see a change, just as with the Iwatobi group and Rin.

Rin is being transformed by his experience – one that I could argue is deeply spiritual, especially as often as the series paints the characters swimming toward the light.  Like the Christian, he struggles a bit – Rin feels guilty and inadequate for leadership, a feeling that is common for many new believers, and yet he steps up and embraces the opportunity.  Like the Christian, Rin relearns what it means to love others (perhaps seen most awkwardly with Nitori) as his transformation leads to a new heart.  Like the Christian, Rin doesn’t lose his personality – he remains who he is, but as one now filled with love and all sorts of good things that he was once lacking.  And like the Christian, Rin is marching toward an ultimate goal of being a world class swimmer, as the Christian marches toward maturity in faith.

As the series continues, I think we’ll see Rin’s transformation as a permanent change, though the new guy in town will certainly provide some challenges to this newly found “faith.”  But that’s okay, because what’s a swimmer without a rival?  It’s the same as faith without hardship – it doesn’t mean much at all.


4 thoughts on “Free! – Eternal Summer, Episode 1: Rin Matsuoka, the True Believer

  1. Rin is transforming back to what he always was in the beginning, and energetic, young man with a competitive nature and a strong loyalty and protectiveness to those close to him. However, he is also maturing that original persona as well, after finally dealing with all the pain and hurt that the world dealt him during his time away from his friends.
    I reminds me that as Christians, when we are born again we are born into the being we were originally, before sin, and as we enter a new relationship with Jesus we begin to mature in Christ. And often times, that light is not only present in our spirit man, but also in the physical man as well.

    It’s nice to see someone pick up on the Christian elements of Free! whether they were meant or not. Rin was my favorite character last season for his growth and the fact that I could also understand his pain at feeling inadequate at times. I have to remember who I am and who my Father is, and that I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me everyday. Other fans were angry at the fact that Rin “got away” with being angsty last season, and that Rei didn’t get his due. But to me, it wasn’t Rei that was hurting, and Rei knew how on the edge Rin really was. And Rei stood up more for me, for giving up that chance, to help someone out that he hardly knew and who seemed to be a threat to his new position, was awesome to me.

    1. I absolutely loved the Rin/Rei interactions last year – and again, there’s much to be culled from there. As you point out, Rin’s character is terrific because of his transformation. In fact, if we didn’t find him annoying, the change wouldn’t be so radical and awesome. And as you point out, there’s that commonality with him where we, too, are sinners in need of redemption. I hope there were a lot of viewers who related to that. And with Rei, there’s so much that could be said about our insecurities, jealousy, and motivations, and about how we have the ability to make others feel loved, as the Iwatobi group did with him and he in turn did through his sacrifice for Rin.

      Thanks for the wonderful comments and the kind words!

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