[Ten]; On Your Marks!

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*I apologize for the delay in these Christmas posts – December has been quite a busy month for me, ranging from intense exams to preparing for and organizing family weddings. But that’s all said and done now, so let’s get back to main priorities – anime, and the anime that touched my heart over this year!

The year of 2014 for me, in many ways, was a year of sports. We had Ping PongYowamushi Pedal, Kuroko no BasketDaiya no Ace, and even Baby Steps. Out of all the intense and adrenaline-packed shows, the one that touched my heart the most was interestingly none of these, but a humble little show called Free! Eternal Summer.

I did not expect to enjoy Free! Eternal Summer as much as I did. The first season of Free! was a bit rough for me – while I enjoyed the animation and the bits of drama here and there, the characters seemed too two-dimensional for me, and Rin’s attitude often dragged the appeal of the show down. I hesitatingly jumped into the second season, hoping for something more memorable, but was expecting nothing too interesting – after all, Free! seemed to have its priorities arranged differently than mine, and Ping Pong had me hooked anyways. What could possibly be better than a fantastic Yuasa x Matsumoto combo that hit all the sweet spots of competition and failure?

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I was taken completely by surprise. Not only was Eternal Summer a step up from the first season of Free! in terms of storyline and character development, but its writing itself had matured and become much easier to follow and invest in. Characters were memorable and their actions and dreams were finally in the main spotlight. The drama was more palatable, but on a smoother, more well built manner.

Nearly every episode of the second season brought me to tears, but for me, personally speaking, Episode 12 of Free! Eternal Summer is quite possibly one of the biggest highlights of the year, if not one of my favorite episodes. On the surface, it’s nothing truly special – Haru, having broken down after realizing that his passion for swimming lacks any competitive drive, is forced to join Rin on a trip to Australia in the hopes of finding a dream for himself. Rin shows Haru glimpses of his life while he was away at home – memories touched by sadness and bitter frustration as a young Rin realized that he was never good enough to compete at the level he desired and wanted to find something to motivate him to become better – a motivation that came in the shape of Haru. It is only through train rides and patient walks that Haru and Rin arrive at the grand world stage in Sydney, where swimmers come to compete on an international level. Haru finally realizes that as much as he enjoys swimming with his friends, he truly loves swimming to the point where he wants to continue it for himself, on a competitive level. It’s a beautiful moment that parallels the opening monologue of the first season – “There’s an old saying my late grandma taught me. At ten, you’re called a prodigy, at fifteen a genius. One you hit twenty, you’re just an ordinary person.”

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What I see in Haru – a naive but caring individual who desires a world without the burden of success (and failure) – I see in myself from time to time. Unfortunately, we live in a world where you can’t have the cake and eat it too, and walking the fine line between passion and commitment is a dangerous one. These realizations can be crushing if not detrimental to one’s dreams in life – a struggle I’ve felt all too well for the past 12 months.

If 2013 was a heavy year of many realizations for me, 2014 is about attempting to make those changes a reality – including finding out what I personally want to do for the rest of my life. Episode 12 came at a wonderfully natural time where career decisions were huge for me, as I decided to put a pause on one path and start another one. But even without coinciding with the changes in my life, Free! Eternal Summer Episode 12 is an episode of beauty. It’s strangely quiet, departing from intense laps of swimming to inspiring us to self reflect and remember why we do the things we do – for passion, for friendship, for love, for yearning and for ourselves. But most of all, it’s an episode I choose to go back on when I feel like I’m lost and forget why I’m motivated to pursue a different path – a fear I think we all wake up with from time to time, especially when we bog ourselves down with the details and overwhelming burdens of life. Sometimes all you need is a slight push, whether it be from a friend, a certain sight or memory, or a certain animated series, and Free! Eternal Summer Episode 12 is exactly that for me.

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