Despite the slow beginning of this episode, it seems that it managed to grab me emotionally more than enough to call this a good ending to an okay show. The extreme innuendoes and stupidly cheesy moments are over now; take it in a good or bad way, but it has ended none the less.
Upon his return from Australia, Haru meets up with the club members again, and explains them how the trip changed him and made him discover his dream. The night before nationals, everyone meets up and remembers about the good times of their first year together, a scene which ends in Nagisa and Rei crying because Haru and Makoto are leaving.
The next day, they win nationals as a team, and the episode ends with our seeing Haru and Rin fighting it out competitively in even bigger competitions.
Was there supposed to be a whole nostalgic aspect somewhere that I missed? Was the whole scene where everyone remembered the past and showcased some “memorable” flashbacks supposed to be emotional? If so, I clearly missed the train of feels, because I didn’t feel anything at all.
The first half was cheesy, generic and full of people crying and being sad or happy over nothing. We got a short conclusion to Haru’s discovery of himself upon his return, which was necessary, but I felt like the rest was a bit over-the-top, even for guys. Maybe I’m just too mature to care about people “separating” after high school (really, I thought we were in an era where cellphones existed…), but I just thought it was really cheesy and unnatural to see Rei and Nagisa cry over such a small matter.
The second half of the episode was much better, if only because Free!‘s swimming animation is always cool and enjoyable to watch. The way they portrayed every swimmer being encouraged by a member of their team, how much they felt that they should work as a team, and how that caused them to win in the end, was truly much better than the flashback bit from earlier in the episode. Their win afterwards combined with the Swimming Fest in the cherry blossoms with Rin was fun and pretty, and it was interesting to see that after a few years Rin would still be Haru’s rival in later competitions. Overall, this was a good conclusion leaving us without any plot holes… Not that Free! was a complicated story which would have any trouble closing them up.
Overall, this second season was probably much more interesting than the first, if only because the drama at the end was a lot more realistic than it could have been last season. In the first season, we were presented all the characters and we got to know more about them, but the second season managed to provide us with a stronger plot overall and focused on character development much more than character presentations. The pacing was fair, the animation was really good, and the innuendoes were even more obvious in this season than in the other.
If I had a single bad point to add to this, was that despite being really well done, the show limited itself with the type of audience it wanted to attract. When the first season came out the sexy fan-service for ladies was a novelty, and no one really cared whether it had a solid storyline or not; this is the reason why the show worked so well in the first place. The second season followed with the same feeling, but after 25 episodes it got more obvious that the story was lacking… The producers still managed to end things well, but the anime remained very audience-specific, and anyone who wasn’t part of that audience… Well… Too bad. Don’t watch Free! (And yet, I pulled through 2 seasons of it…)