Damn what a way to end this season!
I have to say this episode was probably one of the best of the entire series so far, just because I thought overall presentation of it was absolutely breathtaking. The way they opened up this episode, was so deep, it gave us a glimpse of Haruka’s world in a way we didn’t see it before. Before long, we later learn from Makoto that the reason why Ryuuji insisted Haruka to go back to relearn the basics, is because Haruka had developed his own form that he picked up the first time he swam. This is the “freestyle” Haruka has been referring to all series long. But now that he is aiming to compete on the global stage, he needs to adapt to the competitive environment and learn the proper forms that will take him even further. He is a gem in the rough, just waiting to be polished by Ryuuji who recognizes his untapped potential.
And what better way to end this episode by coming a full circle, of showing us a side of Haruka we never seen before, yelling at the top of his lungs, “I will take on the world!” This has to be the purest scream of motivation I have seen in a long time. It was so precious, because Haruka is usually such a quiet guy right? Even Makoto and Rin were taken aback by his actions.
I am glad that Haruka failed to qualify the 200m Freestyle, because the guy had to falter somewhere along the line. Being thrown into such a competitive environment, the pressure is unreal and Haruka wasn’t ready for it. His didn’t have the mental fortitude to keep up, started late, and had a shaky performance, which is why he ended third. Haruka still has the chance in 100m Freestyle with Rin, but since they ended without giving us any results of that race, we will have to wait and see what happens. Based on the footage featured in the post-credits, it appeared Haruka was on the lead and on track of setting a new tournament record, which would help him qualify at least for the 100m Freestyle. Regardless of the outcome, what I hope we will actually get the chance to see Ryuuji train Haruka because I want to see Haruka grow. It is a new chapter in his life and I look forward to seeing how he fares against the monsters he and the others are up against.
But this episode wasn’t just about Haruka. We witnessed the long awaited match between Natsuya and Ikuya. Although I am not nearly as emotionally invested in their characters, it was still touching to watch because we could see just how much this meant for Natsuya to be able to compete with his brother. While the two of them came first and second, it was Ikuya who ultimately came out on top, and Natsuya couldn’t have been prouder. We don’t know yet whether or not their times are good enough to qualify, but it would be incredibly special if the two of them were to make it through, as only the top two swimmers with the best time can qualify for the Worlds Championship per event. Rin was second to qualify in the 100m Butterfly, (funny they didn’t show who beat him though!) and believe it or not, that’s it, at least for Day 1 of the qualifiers. Hiyori, Asahi and Haruka and among many others we have followed over the course of the series all fell, but Hiyori and Asahi were probably the ones with the worst luck since they had to compete against Kaede, who is just as I imagined him to be, something else. When it comes to the competition, as soon as it’s time to set their marks, it looks as though a demon has taken over the guy.
This would probably be a good time bring up the soundtrack. I don’t usually mention this because when it comes to sound, it’s not my forte, but I must say, today’s tracks were exceptional. First of all, the track they used to open up the episode was the perfect way to set the mood of just how far Haruka has come. It’s a nostalgic sound that takes us to a different place, that is Haruka’s world. It was absolutely beautiful. And then we have the more intense track that comes up whenever a character who is on a different level. Last time it was used it was with Albert, this week it was Kaede. It has just the right amount of drama and intensity to it that gives me a bit of a the chills. I really hope they continue this direction in the music, because there were times in this season where I felt the music choice were either an overkill, overly dramatic, or just didn’t seem to fit the mood.
The last thing I would like to point out is Mikhail. It’s about damn time we see him contribute to the story than just being a comedic character. He is the one who is giving us insight on Ryuuji’s character, his background, his regrets, and what he hopes for Haruka to achieve, and try to protect him from repeating the mistakes he made. I also enjoy the more serious conversations he has with Ryuuji, and I hope we will be able to see more of their friendship in the next season.
When this season was announced, I quite skeptical of whether or not I would really enjoy it. Heck I wasn’t even sure if I was going to cover it. My lack of excitement was also why I ended up watching the movie (Free! Starting Days, is something you must watch before starting this season!) at last minute, but it actually ended up working out in my favour. It helped remind me why I liked Free in the first place.
This season had a bit of a shaky start, and started to stall out in the middle due to the prolonged Ikuya drama. It was around that time I started losing interest in watching the show. Luckily, I stuck with it, and once the drama was over, the serious competition began, and that’s when the series finally found its stride again. It is almost a shame that it took this long for Haruka to finally pick up a coach, but it just played out that way because Haruka initially didn’t plan on finding a coach. It just happened to fall into place when he wanted to prepare to properly participate in the individual medley, all so he could fulfill his end of the promise he made with Ikuya in middle school. Best of all, we were given quite a fitting end to make us very excited for what will be in store for Season 4 in 2020, which will be just on time for the Sumer Olympics in Tokyo. So compared to how last season ended, I have a lot of hope and expectations for Season 4, especially when we have some fearsome competitors like Albert and Kaede. It will be interesting to see if Haruka will have to give something up when he doesn’t really want to. There was a moment when he wondered if he was unfit to compete on the global stage because of it. Parallels are bound to happen, with Ryuuji being haunted by the past of choosing to compete in a race over rushing to the hospital to see his friend who had gotten in the accident, only to lose both. So I am curious to see if the bonds between Haruka, Rin and Makoto are strong enough to prevail the heat of the competition.
Final Score: 7/10