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Free! Eternal Summer Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read
Free Eternal Summer Cover Regular Edition
Free Eternal Summer Cover Regular Edition

It’s always safe to go back in the water with the swimming boys.

What They Say:
The cherry blossoms are blooming, the sun is shining, and it’s the perfect time to hit the pool! Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei are anxious to get into the water and warm up their winter muscles ASAP, but things aren’t all flip-turns and finish lines. Haru’s passion for swimming is drying up, which dashes Rin’s hope for a true rivalry. With their futures after high school looming over them, Makoto and Haru are having a hard time focusing. And a gruff new Samezuka student, Sosuke, appears just in time to jeopardize Iwatobi’s chance at nationals.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and an English language adaptation that gets a 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD codec. The series is one that uses the sound design well when it can, which is mostly with the swimming sequences themselves. These have a good design about them as there’s a fuller feeling where needed and the impact of the water feels like it’s stronger and more engaging. The flow of it is solid and makes for something that definitely enhances the show. The bulk of the show is still mostly dialogue and that means fairly standard scenes there. That’s not a bad thing as it handles it well and competently with a clean sense of placement and depth where needed while generally working an engaging forward soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes and OVA are spread across two discs with nine on the first and the rest on the second. Animated by Kyoto Animation, the series is one that’s simply beautiful to watch play out with its colors, vibrancy, and the general pop of everything that it wants to do. There’s a lot of very fluid sequences as they almost over-animate some of the swimming sequences, but it’s designed to make it highly engaging and rich looking, which it succeeds in. The end result is a fantastic looking show that this transfer captures beautifully. There’s a lot of detail to be had throughout both in character and backgrounds and all of it comes across wonderfully clean and problem free. Having enjoyed the look of this show in the simulcast, this just takes it to another level.

The packaging for the limited edition release is fairly standard in that we get the DVD/BD combo form with a slipcover that replicates what’s in the case itself for the cover. The slipcover definitely looks better because of the cardstock as the color pops more and the quality of the designs just look more striking because of it. The front cover goes for a fun piece of them all with their shirts open and in their swimsuits set against the water with lots of smiles across their faces. The back cover carries the blue feeling with some nice dolphin silhouettes in the background so that it has a little more richness to it without being distracting. THe premise is covered well and everything is very easy to read with the white text on the blue shaded background. The left side has a good selection of character visuals from the show while under the premise it covers the extras in a clean and easy to digest way. The remainder has the usual legal jargon and a solid technical grid that breaks down all the details for the DVD and Blu-ray formats.The case packaging itself is the same as that but it has some additional artwork on the reverse side where it has the series name across the top with a breakdown of the episodes by number and title. The bulk of this two panel spread is given over to the cast bursting with grins in the water as they’re all pressed together with just their swimsuits on. No show related inserts are included.

The menu design for this release definitely works the aquatic feeling well and I even come away from it feeling like I’ve just been to the New England Aquarium with how it works. And that’s a good thing because it does create the right atmosphere as we get a good blue bar along the bottom that has the selections in easy to read form while the logo set to the left of it. This doubles as the pop-up menu as well and it looks good when seen during playback. The motion of the rest of the menu is a nice change of pace as while there are scenes playing across it with some nice stylized enhancements to it, we also get character artwork popping up and swapping out of the main cast where they’re in swim mode. It’s something that gives it a bit of extra dynamic effect, making it feel more alive. This release is also a rare one in that it offers marathon mode. Not many releases do this and I’m not sure why this one got the treatment, but it certainly works during playback as the episodes do, for the most part, blend smoothly.

The extras for this release are pretty solid in that we get some very good promotional videos that were produced for it, the clean opening and closing sequences, and the various online episode previews to draw in fans. Add in a good look at the end card collection that shows off some great stuff as does the illustration collection and it shows that they know their audience. Fans of the English dub cast also get to enjoy a few commentary tracks from the team there where we get to see just how much fun they had with it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a successful first season that went far better than I think Kyoto Animation was expecting, a second season of Free under the subtitle of Eternal Summer arrived in the summer of 2014. I had thoroughly enjoyed the first season during its simulcast as it delivered a very fun show with friends coming together to form a swim club and delving into the bonding period of these young men. Those stories are relatively common in the anime sphere, but when you have a group like KyoAni doing it and working with a setting like this, it can move on to a whole other level. At its core, Free is a very straightforward coming of age story and growing up. But the polish and ease of how they make it look combined with some stunning visual sequences just took it up several notches. That it appealed heavily to the whole shipping crowd is what pushed it over the edge, but you can enjoy it without ever thinking about that since it is, at best, subtext here.

The second season is one that I certainly enjoyed when I watched it as a simulcast, but I’ll admit I came away from it not quite as enthusiastic as the first season. A lot of that has to do with the narrative change that occurs as it’s less about the bonding of the four main characters and instead a look at the changes that they’re going through with the involvement of others. The biggest problem for me here is that it really does shrink down Nagisa and Rei’s time significantly and even Makoto’s role is reduced a lot. This comes in favor of spending more time with Rin in the mix as he and Haruka certainly have their competitive side to deal with, but Rin also brings in the “baggage” of the entire swim team from the school he’s in. With the show taking place at the start of the new school year, Rin’s found himself captain, has some new members to deal with, and coping with the pressures of the position the expectations. They also bring in a friend from his past with Sosuke, who himself has come back into the swimming world after struggling due to an injury because Rin’s performance at the last swim meet from the first season inspired him.

For Haruka and the guys, the early part of the season focuses on them trying to get new members in the club but striking out hard. Since it’s April and they have an outdoor pool they’re unable to show off anything and they end up with nobody new. This is actually an interesting source of material to work with since Haruka and Makoto are graduating this year and they really do need fresh blood in order to continue on in the next year. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, unfortunately, as most of the season is focused elsewhere. But I do like that towards the end of the season we get some really good and honest time between our four main leads as they talk about their fears of the different directions that they’re all going to take because of graduation. It’s some honest material, particularly from Rei, but it works to reinforce the bonds from the first season and just how much they’ve all been through together. There’s a strong sense of how good these guys are together and how much they mean, but it also comes on top of events towards the end about Haruka really realizing what it is that he wants out of life when it comes to swimming. He’s so unlike others, mostly in comparison to Rin when you get down to it, that it takes time for him to really understand himself. And that’s quite well done overall.

The series does its light material as well as these characters really do enjoy swimming and being in the water – and with those that are like them. I really like Makoto’s expressed desire to take his love of swimming to being an instructor for younger kids as his career goal as there’s something noble about it in a really good and earnest way. We also get plenty of time with the guys just enjoying the tournaments and swimming there with each other, though there’s obviously tension along the way as well because it is competitive. What we don’t get as much of is what made up the first season in how they all trained together and the like, but there’s truth in the been there done that aspect of it. Because of this we also get less of Gou overall and that’s probably the biggest travesty of the show since she’s just so much fun.

Because of the greater focus on Rin and the guys on his own team, there are a few subplots that run along those lines and they’re all decent. We get some good material in brief about Rin taking over the team and how he works them, taking cues from his predecessor, as well as the general leadership/senpai aspects to the younger members. A good bit of time is used to explore the past and relationship between Sosuke and Rin as well, which goes back to Rin’s originally leaving to go to where Haruka and the others were when they were younger as well as Rin’s time training in Australia. There’s good material here and I did find it more engaging when marathoning the series in full, but I’m hesitant to say that it works in favor of the downgraded status of the other guys from the first season with Gou. That’s where it gets a bit dicey is all for me.

This set also includes the OVA that never saw streaming or release here previously, which is a good deal of fun that I wish the show itself had more of. It’s an episode that takes place within the series itself where the Iwatobi kids head over to Rin’s school for the culture festival. There’s hilarity in seeing an Evil Maid Cafe that’s run in this all boys school as part of the deal is that first and second years wear the maid outfits while third years get the butler getup. Where the episode really goes is for some fun in them taking part in a survival game with water guns across the campus. It meshes the two schools sides between the eight of them that participate and it’s just a whole lot of fun in watching them work together with each other and taking down their fellow teammates at the same time. It has a lot of good character humor along the way that just works exceptionally well overall.

In Summary:
Free ~ Eternal Summer ~ is a very fun series overall and one that I think works better as a season as a whole as opposed to taking it on weekly as I originally did. In terms of story, I found myself coming away from it feeling stronger about it in this form as you see the various plot threads coming together in a more engaging way. Visually, they really do take it up some mild notches from the first season and just delivers in spades here. Funimation’s release delivers it well with a clean looking transfer, an engaging mix for both tracks, and some fun extras that add to the experience as a whole. Fans of the series should end up simply being delighted by what they get and having the ability to watch their favorite swimming boys anytime they want.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Web Previews, Extended End Card Collection, Illustration Collection, Memorial Promo Video, Promo Videos, Textless Opening, Textless Closing

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 16th, 2016
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer

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