Overabundance of “swimming with animals and with each other” imagery aside, the final episode of Free! Eternal Summer (and of the franchise, I suppose, though wouldn’t a return for the 2020 Olympics in Japan be neat?) was excellent. The reactions from my Tumblr follows was pretty much this: tears, tears, and more tears. Although I managed to keep my own eyes dry, I still felt emotional about the conclusion. It was a good way end a series that I was originally pretty meh on, even into this season (as I mentioned in our first podcast), but whose final run of episodes made me rethink the series and rate both it and the first season higher than I had originally.
What made the series ultimately very good was the evolution in the characters and the movement from a rather silly show with no palpable bigger storyline to a, well, silly show with a broader, bigger, and more significant narrative that was still personal and accessible. Looking at just the first season apart from the second, I saw a mediocre, forgettable show with a nice, emotional ending. But taken as one whole series over 26 or so episodes, we saw a larger tale about redemption, friendship, and transformation.
From the beginning, the focus of the show has been on Haruka and Rin – they are our main characters, with Nagisa and Rei getting less billing, and Makoto (and later Sousuke) falling maybe somewhere in between. The first season ends with Rin seeing that sight he’d never seen before, but if it wrapped up there, what we would have ultimately ended up with is a nice moment in a cute series. The second season, though, takes us further into character transformation. We see that Rin has indeed changed – the bottom never falls out under him (even when he argues with Haru, he goes above and beyond to not only apologize, but help his friend). He is a constant in the series, becoming a person of selflessness and taking care of those around him. Haru, meanwhile, grows from an annoying, one dimensional character into an individual who can’t remain that way and must change or become something he doesn’t want to be.
The whole tale is something we usually don’t see in our lives, both because we can’t see it when we’re in the midst of struggle and we don’t take the time to reflect upon life events after they’ve occurred. But when we don’t do so, we’re missing half the account. Look at the Bible, for instance. If we take the Old Testament by itself – and I’m not referring to Judaism, I’m speaking about reading it as a set of stories different in purpose from the New Testament – we won’t understand the entire narrative. Instead of seeing Joseph as one who suffered but rose to rescue the land and as a metaphor for Christ who would come one day, for instance, we see someone rather to admire and emulate only. We see the Old Testament as only about us, rather than as about Christ.
In Christianity, it’s integral that we see both the Bible as a cohesive whole, showing the tale of redemption that was always in God’s plans, even when for thousands of years even His people didn’t realize it, and our own lives as part of smaller and larger stories, where our struggles and sufferings now are always for the reason of being refined as gold through fire and learning to love God. When we open our eyes in this way, we’ll see Christ more clearly.
It’s just like watching Free! – everything turns out a whole lot better when we can see the whole story.