In recent episodes (11 episodes at the time of writing) of Free! Eternal Summer, we saw avid swimmer Nanase Haruka struggles to deal with the expectations from people around him. As a talented freestyler, Haruka was well sought after by universities but he wanted nothing of it. As he tries to find his place in the swimming arena, Haruka repeatedly told his friends all he wanted to be is “free”.
As a person who never had such high expectations rested on his shoulders, Haruka found it extremely difficult to manage. After all, we’re talking about a guy who has been swimming casually. Since day one, we viewers have been told that he swims because he enjoys swimming. He swims to have fun experiences with his friends. Haruka is competitive, but at the end of the day, he always swims for his own reasons.
The pressure mounted as expectations heat up during the Nationals qualifying rounds. We saw Haruka stopped dead on his swim lane, unable to swim. He felt bound by unnecessary high hopes of strangers. He, as a self-declared free spirit, felt chained.
Now, I don’t think Haruka doesn’t want to pursue a career in swimming. We know he loves swimming and would want to continue swimming for as long as he can. Being hesitant is often a reaction that comes after there’s a sudden change of pace in one’s life. In Haruka’s case, he was discovered, so to speak. With such immense talent, comes high expectations.
And I think most of us can relate to Haruka’s current dilemma. Sometimes teachers, parents and even friends expect us to do something. And we’re expected to do that something well and make them proud. It doesn’t have to be grand stuff like what’s happening to Haruka. It can be a very simple thing. More often than not, we feel pressured to meet those expectations.
Haruka’s at a place which I call the worst case scenario. Scouts and friends unknowingly set a par for him to achieve. Someone else is hoping him to achieve something he didn’t ask for. Others dream for him a dream he never dreamed. And if he fails to meet their expectations, he’ll be automatically seen as a disappointment. A failure, even. Look at Rin, Haruka’s friend and rival. He pulled Haruka aside in episode 9 and questioned him in anger when Haruka gave up his race. Why does one have go through so much emotional pain for something he didn’t ask for?
To be fair, what is expected of Haruka isn’t unrealistic. He is a good swimmer. He swims fast. And more importantly, he is passionate about swimming. But not everyone dreams big. Some stays content with what they have. It’s a lifestyle choice. Maybe that’s Haruka’s meaning of being “free”.