On the day of the regional tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club watches Rin swim in the 100m relay, but he performs terribly, and they learn from the program that he was removed from the relay. After yelling at Nitori, Rin says he’s done swimming and storms off. Rei tells the others what Rin told him, and offers to give up his spot. Haru and the others go off in search of Rin. Haru finds him, and after an emotional exchange, Haru tells him he can swim with them again after all. Rin takes Rei’s place for the relay and they win their heat, only to be disqualified later, but they vow to return next year even stronger.
The water is alive. Once you dive in, it will immediately bare its fangs and attack. But there’s nothing to fear. Don’t resist the water. Thrust your fingers into the surface and carve an opening.
So says Haru in his final monologue. The words apply just as much to life as it does to swimming. Rin dove in, trying to follow his dad’s dream, and the world bit back, shaking his confidence both while in Australia and being cut from the relay. Haru reminds him of that which Rin originally taught him, and still applies in the present: winning is meaningless if you don’t know why you swim. Swimming with the team and bringing out the best in one another made them happy, and does so again. Rin’s quest to achieve greatness for his father’s sake made the pool a prison. Haru helped to free him, but he had help: we can’t overstate how awesome Rei is in this episode.
When Rei learns the full story of Rin’s turmoil, and that turmoil spreads to Haru and the others, he knows the best thing for his team is to let Rin swim in his place this once. So he gracefully steps aside, and he – and we – are rewarded by the finest swimming sequence the show has yet shown, with gorgeous water animation and all four swimmers entering “the zone” on their laps (with those zones varying by swimmer).The episode doesn’t cheat, as Iwatobi wins the heat but are kicked out of the tournament for their stunt, and even messes with us a little when Rin pretends to transfer to the school. The “See You Next Summer” suggests Free! could be back for a second season next year, and we’ll most likely be watching.
Rating: 9 (Superior)