Free! – 12 (Fin)

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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.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

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Free! – 11

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Rei confronts Rin, asking why he’s swimming in the prefectural relay, what happened in Australia that led to him abandoning the others, and what he wants from Haru. Rin turns it around and asks Rei what he wants, and Rei says he wants to swim as a member of the best team in the tournament, and warns Rin not to interfere. Believing him ill, Nagisa, Makoto and Haru stop by Rei’s house, surprising him with how much they care.

The next day the team heads up to the city hosting the regional tournament, check in to their hotel, have a meal, and go to bed, but Haru can’t sleep and goes for a run. He runs into Nagisa on the street, who’s looking for Rei. Rei meets up with Rin, who tells him about his woes in Australia, and how Haru didn’t cause him to quit, but rather inspired him to keep swimming when he returned to Japan. Later, Rin’s captain informs him he won’t be in the relay.

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As evidenced by his bookshelf full of books on swimming, Ryuugazaki Rei is someone who doesn’t enter into any activity lightly, preferring to thoroughly study the theory before putting it into practice. As Nagisa warns, that can get him into trouble where swimming is concerned, but it’s how he operates, and it obviously served him well at track. Last week, Rei had gathered enough theory on the perplexing dynamic between Rin and Haru and Rin and the team he used to be a member of. Armed with his theories, he’s approaches Rin and doesn’t mince words. It’s the most fired-up we’ve ever seen him.

Like us, he wanted answers, and while he doesn’t get them immediately, Rin is moved by his passion and forthrightness, and decides that it’s alright after all to confide in Rei, and by extension us. He confesses that, far from killing it in Australia, going abroad made him feel inferior and hopelessly outmatched. He comes to blame his past relay swimming for his troubles in individual swimming, though he doesn’t blame his old teammates. Now that we know his side of things, Rin’s become someone we can empathize with. When he learns he won’t get to swim in the relay with Iwatobi, it’s as much a blow to us as him.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Now that they’ve won something, the club’s fanbase is gradually growing.
  • We loved the two birds eye views of the hotel rooms as the four swimmers couldn’t sleep. Tellingly, Nagisa’s side was a mess while Rei’s was immaculate, with everything at right angles.
  • Haru really warms up in this episode, assuring Rei that he’s a crucial member of the team, then later thanking Makoto for being there for him, and thanking Nagisa for making him join the team.
  • The pool where the regionals take place looks awesome, especially at night with its tranquil blue glow.
  • If Nagisa and Rei are 15 (10th grade) and Haru, Makoto and Rin are 16 (11th), they’ll all be 22 or 23 in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo – the same age as Michael Phelps when he won eight gold medals at Beijing in 2008.

Free! – 10

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In a flashback, Rin transfers to the same school as Haru, Makoto and Nagisa, and convinces them to swim with him. Back in the present Sasabe Goro starts coaching the team, and whenever they reminice about the past with Rin, Rei gets more upset. He confronts the others about what caused them to drift apart from him. Haru tells him about how he raced and beat Rin. Afterwards Rin said he’d quit swimming, which led to Haru quitting out of guilt. Rei confronts Rin outside the practice facility.

This week we see some sustained flashbacks in which the guys with the girly names have girly voices as well, but they’re very much the same people, just younger, smaller, and higher-pitched. The series finally dives in the past that formed the lads we’ve followed thus far, but also presents the perspective of someone who had nothing to do with that past, namely Rei. He’s not delighted to be constantly reminded that he hasn’t always been around, nor does he like what the past is doing to Haru.

Once Rei learns what actually happened between Haru and Rin, he’s even more upset with the one he essentially replaced on the Iwatobi Swim Club. Returning from Australia, a cocky Rin challenged Haru and lost, but then made such a meal of his loss that he manipulated Haru into quitting altogether. What’s worse, Rin was lying – he returned to swimming, gaining a head-start on Haru. Sure, no one told Haru to nail himself to the cross by quitting, but the fact Rin has such a strong power over him irks Rei to no end, and he can’t abide standing by and letting him get away with it again.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • The multi-angle film sequence was pretty cool, though we kinda wonder how Sasabe has the time to coach these guys gratis. Who delivers the pizza…ITSELF?
  • Hot pot on a hot summer day with no A/C…kinda sweat-lodgy. Sounds healthy, in any case.
  • We finally learn about Amakata Miho’s past too: she was a swimsuit model, not merely and Coach Sasabe recognizes her because he has a stash of her mags lying around his flat. Sweet, gross, or both?
  • Rin is strangely absent from all the flashback scenes.

Free! – 09

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Haru swims the final leg of the relay and seals a victory for Iwatobi. Rei watches as they celebrate and is reminded of the past. After the school acknowledges their win, Gou gets them back to training for regionals immediately. Haru seems down, so Nagisa, Makoto and Rei take him to the Hachiman-sama summer festival. When Rei and Nagisa discover Rin is there too, Rei follows Rin to keep Haru away. Later that night, Haru decides he’ll swim in the relay, and the next day Gou informs them her brother will be swimming in it too.

The cold open wastes no time showing the result of the relay, as Haru overtakes everyone and ekes out a win, complete with plenty of warm camaraderie and jubilation, all witnessed by a gobsmacked Rin. In that moment, Rin is starting to realize that merely beating Haru and winning isn’t enough, just as Haru is realizing that simply feeling the water isn’t enough either. And so by episode’s end, Rin goes back on his impulsive promise never to swim with Haru again. And let’s not forget who to thank for their future rematch: Gou, who only wanted her brother and Haru to get along and enjoy swimming together like they used to.

The theme of both characters going with their guts and finding the results lacking, Rin also learns that Haru wasn’t just a hurdle to clear on his path to Olympic glory. Haru is and will ever be his rival, and as much as he may think he’s surpassed him, he can’t help but compare his progress and achievements with Haru. On the other side, Haru thought he didn’t know he had to have a reason to swim, and didn’t think he needed to win. Losing to Rin taught him otherwise. And now that Rin realizes Haru is actually competing for a reason (to help his friends), he wants a piece of the action.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Rin and Nagisa don yukata for the festival, while Haru and Mako wear street clothes. It’s almost like a double date…
  • This episode was a most effective commercial for numerous preparations of squid. We must pay a visit to the H-Mart soon.
  • Rei does his best to get detected following RIn, but somehow Rin never notices him, or possibly just doesn’t care.

 

Free! – 08

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Dejected by his defeat and unsure why, Haruka hides in the showers, but the others drag him out in time to watch Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin. No one advances to the finals, but Gou suprises them by announcing she’s entered them in tomorrow’s medley relay. The team goes to Haru’s house, doubtful he’ll agree to swim. When he comes home, everyone has left but Makoto. Haruka hears the voicemail they left him and agrees to swim. The next day Rin catches wind that Iwatobi is swimming again, and gets to watch them swim, recognizing their strokes from years ago.

Wallowing in what is obviously a rare loss, Haruka protests not becoming “free” after racing Rin. He wasn’t supposed to care about winning; he didn’t think he cared about winning. But he clearly does care. When Makoto, Nagisa and Rin bump into Rin in the hall, Makoto sees the attitude Rin has adopted and takes him down a peg by reminding him it was he who taught Haru that there was far more to swimming than winning. Rin snubs it off, but he knows Makoto’s right, and thus can’t even go the rest of the day feeling good about his win.

Rin was just as happy about winning as he was showing up Haruka, but the next day when Haruka is right back out there, ready to swim, it shocks Rin as much as losing shocked Haru. Worse still, watching Makoto and Nagisa dregs up memories of swimming with all of them, and he’s reminded how well he knows them all. He’s also disgusted by Rei’s “excuse” for a butterfly, and even a little jealous that Rei’s swimming in his place. We don’t see Haru swim, nor do we learn the result of their medley, but there’s a possibility Rin’s vow to never again swim with Haru may have been premature.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • In the individual events, Haruka and Makoto are close, but no one ends up advancing. Realism!
  • It was incredibly sweet for Haruka’s concerned friends to break into his house and hang out there awaiting his return. Those are some friends right there!
  • We love being reminded that yes, there remain some people just don’t give a shit about cell phones. Good for them; it’s an extraneous device (though one would have been quite useful to the protag in White Album).
  • Haru’s moonlight swim, like most of the swimming scenes, made us want to go swimming really bad! Unfortunately the public pool is closed for the season, so the creek it is!

Free! – 07

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With five days until the prefectural tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club continues to train. They visit a shrine for good luck, and Gou scouts the other teams. Meanwhile Rin has a dream about being unable to catch Haruka. His teammate Nitori notices something’s up with him, and wonders aloud why Rin is only entering the 100m. Rin tells him the story of how his dad was the best swimmer in Iwatobi until her got married, had him, got a job as a fisherman, and died in a typhoon. The tournament arrives, and in their first heat Rin beats Haruka, who doesn’t even advance. Afterwards, he tells him he’ll never swim with him again, ever.

Haruka never asked for this. In the immortal words of Dave Ryder, he didn’t “need this.” “This” being being lured back into competitive swimming, only to lose and be discarded like a torn speedo. By the end of his 100m race, it’s clear Rin didn’t enter it seeing Haruka as a friend, or a muse, or even a rival or nemesis. He saw him as a hindrance; a hurdle to clear on his way to achieving what his dad never did: Olympic glory. Rin convinced himself that beating Haruka was the key to moving forward.

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It’s not a role Haruka actively sought, it was one assigned to him, just as his friends assigned him to be their ace, even though all he ever says is “I only swim free.” He may not have just been talking about freestyle, but about simply swimming just for the joy of it, not as a means but as an end unto itself. So Rin had a lot more emotional investment in the race than Haruka, and we can imagine the devastation he would have felt had he lost. What we didn’t expect is how quickly and how deeply Haruka is wounded by his sudden and unexpected defeat. How could he lose at the one thing he loves most?

It’s as if all of the weight that was on Rin’s back was transferred to Haruka’s. It broke his armor of aloof perfection and brought him low, which makes him more interesting (let’s face it, without adversity there’s not much to the guy). Rin did more than just beat Haruka; he snatched away the joy he wants and needs to feel from swimming. He poisoned his water. And if Rin’s to be believed, there will never be a rematch. Rin got what he wanted and is currently drunk on victory and confidence…but his trials are hardly over.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Finally, a real honest-to-goodness race, and it only took till halfway into the season! We liked the camerawork during the swim, though the streaking backgrounds behind the closeups of Haru and Rin kinda reminded us of Speed Racer.
  • Rin’s win puts Gou in an awkward position. Officially she was cheering for both, but she is the manager of Iwatobi, so Haru’s loss is her loss.
  • More importantly, she was hoping if Rin swam with Haru and the others it would help bring them together…but it seems to have had the opposite effect.
  • Hurt feelings aside, if no one in the club wins anything, the club won’t get any extra funds, meaning no indoor pool in the off-season, meaning to training during the offseason. So winning about more than just glory. We’ll see how the other three guys do.

Free! – 06

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Makoto swims out to save Rei, but his thalassophobia freezes him, and he must himself be saved by Haru, while Nagisa saves Rei. Makoto comes to just as Haru is about to give him the kiss of life. The four find themselves on Sukishima island, find shelter in the rest house, and find some food. Nagisa comes up with a game for them to play, which leads to Makoto telling everyone the story of how he came to fear of the sea, which only Haru knew about. Makoto, buoyed by his friends, leads the way on the swim back to shore the next morning.

Free! returns from a weeklong break with, among other things, the rather obvious fact that Rei was not going to end up drowning. His three swimmates went out for him – not necessarily a smart move either, considering once Haru gets Makoto out of the sea, he seems initially clueless about how to revive him (though he eventually almost gives Makoto mouth-to-mouth). The episode briefly transitions into a haunted house scenario and then the equivalent of truth-or-dare by the campfire, in which Makoto admits his secret to all (except Haru, who already knew and tries to protect him by telling Rei to drop it).

Set off in any direction in Japan and it won’t take long until you hit ocean, making it significant that Makoto fears the ocean. He was traumatized by the deaths at sea of a fisherman friend of his and the crew of a boat that sank in a storm, the same distance away from land the swim team has been swimming in their regimen. The thought of Rei meeting the same fate momentarily suspends Makoto’s phobia, but not long enough to save Rei. Had Haru and Nagisa not woken up, Rei and Makoto could well have drowned, but it wasn’t their time to go. They’ve got a tournament to win!

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

Free! – 05

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With 48 days until the prefectural tournament, the Iwatobi Swim Club needs to train to build up stamina. Gou finds a training regimen from the old swim club that involves swimming between deserted islands. The Club has no budget, so they have to rough it. Makoto provides camping equipment, and Sasebe agrees to take them to the islands with his squid fishing boat. They aim to complete the 4-kilometer circuit three times, but only get halfway there on the first day. In the middle of the night, Rei goes out by himself and gets caught in a storm, and Makoto swims out to rescue him…

Sometimes it’s not enough to just go through the motions. Sometimes an adventure is called for. If you can’t afford to train at a 50m pool, then why not make things interesting by traveling to an island chain and training there on the cheap? That’s what Iwatobi does, and for the record, it looks a shitload more fun than Samezuka’s regimen in the stuffy-looking indoor pools. Leave it to Free! to make swimming between islands, which isn’t easy, look like one of the most fun things in the world…especially if pizza and mackerel is waiting for you on the shore! It’s not all shits and giggles, though. Makoto clearly has an unpleasant past with the ocean.

Someone must’ve died, and Makoto was either traumatized as a result, or feels responsible for that death. and when Rei is caught at sea in a storm, it’s as if Makoto is being tested again. Rin almost accidentally makes Gou privy to that traumatic event. When she bumps into him, sees that he cares about Makoto, then heads back to the other four guys, Gou wonders about why the five of them aren’t together, and why her brother says he cares more about beating Haru than swimming with his old friends. Maybe he’s moved on, or maybe he’s trying to renounce those old bonds as relics from a life when he was weak and unaccomplished.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Free! – 04

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When it gets warm enough to swim outside, the Iwatobi Swim Club starts their training regimen, with the priority of teaching Rei how to swim. Nagisa and Makoto try to teach him the breatstroke and backstroke, but he sinks like a stone. They go shopping for swimsuits, and Haruka bumps into Rin, who tells him he “can’t move on” until he and Haruka have a proper race. Haruka agrees, but only if Rin doesn’t cry when he loses. Newly motivated, Haruka tries teaching Rei free, to no avail. But on the last day he has, Rei finds he’s able to swim with the one style he hadn’t yet attempted: butterfly.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration

Amakata-sensei uses this famous Edison quote this week, and the whole episode is imbued with that age-old question of hard work vs. talent; artificial effort vs. natural ability. In the midst of the Iwatobi club’s concerted, seven-day effort to train Rei to actually swim so they’re not immediately eliminated at the regional tournament, the series elaborates on the source of Rin’s angst. It would seem that Haruka possesses more raw talent than Rin, which has always hung over Rin’s head throughout his development. He wants to be an Olympic swimmer, but won’t be able to make that leap without proving to himself he can beat Haruka in a fair race when they’re both in peak condition.

What irks him is, Haruka isn’t in peak condition. While he can’t let past losses go, Haruka is weary of grabbing on to them in the first place. But when Rin finally confronts him and they talk, Haruka gets it, and implies he’ll put more effort into things. Meanwhile, we never see precisely what (if anything) Haruka says to Rei, but he still seems to have an effect on him, to the point he finally figures swimming out. Gou believes her brother can better achieve his dreams if Haruka and friends help him out by swimming with him. She’s hoping all that perspiration will lead to the spark of inspiration he needs.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Gou may have given up correcting Nagisa. Hooray!
  • Among the awesome little KyoAni moments in this episode: an impeccably-animated kitten; a litle bit of spray hitting Gou when Haruka dives in; a line of ants by the side of the pool, and the butterflies that land on Haruka, possibly inspiring Rei to try that style.
  • Continuing its trend of reversing typical anime gender roles, the boys go shopping this week and try on swimsuits so long, Gou gets bored. And no, Gou doesn’t try anything on.
  • When Rin pins Haruka to the fence to insist he swim “for him,” their brief, tense closeness reminded us of Chitanda and Oreki’s many close encounters in Hyouka.

Free! – 03

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In order to secure membership to a gym in the colder months, the new Swim Club needs a budget that the school will only provide if they deliver accomplishments. That means placing in a tournament, which requires a fourth member. Nagisa takes pains to recruit Ryuugazaki Rei, but he’s on the track team. When Gou arranges a joint practice with Samezuka, Rei agrees to accompany them as a trial member, but only if he doesn’t have to swim. He ends up having to anyway, and everyone learns he can’t swim when he nearly drowns. But after watching Haruka, he decides to formally join.

Ryuugazaki’s multiple and concerted rejections of Nagisa aside, the promotional art, OP and ED all heavily featured Rei as a main member of the cast, so his joining the club was never really in doubt; this episode was more about what swayed him after he was so insistent on not joining. He’s a bit of a nerd, you see, with a strict “sense of beauty”, and believes splashing around in the water to be beneath a species that had already crawled out of the ocean eons ago. He dedicates himself to track, particularly the high jump, but while he has perfect technical form, he lacks anything else, which will hamper his growth no matter the sport.

What sways him is Haruka, and the promise, through watching him and swimming with him, of finding the “freedom” he sees in Haruka’s form. That is to say, freedom from theory and calculation. Haruka possesses something that cannot necessarily be taught, but it can be emulated through observation. Rei is mindful that Haruka’s isn’t just a step-by-step method of swimming; it’s a totally different way of thinking and looking at the world. Yet despite their many differences, in a way Haruka and Rei are alike in that they both lack the drive to improve without support and inspiration from others.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

 Stray Observations:

  • Gou and Nagisa’s “Call me Kou” routine calls to mind a similar situation with Norie and Kaoru in Tamayura. In both cases, it’s not that funny, and we wish they’d stop it already.
  • That  said, we like Kou’s role as the club’s manager, getting them a practice with Samezuka quickly thanks to her charms.
  • We like how Nagisa shuts down Rei’s nerdy ranting, though the ranting itself is pretty damn funny. Rei’s one weird kid!
  • Whatever female-centric fanservice the likes of Monogatari can dish out this season will be evened out by the male-centric fanservice in this. Look at those deltoids!
  • Rin proves he’s not a total detached jerk when we see him sneaking a peek at his old friends as they swim practice laps.
  • Not only did this episode make us want to swim, but the ED had us wanting to go clubbing as well. And traveling to some Arabian trading post.

Free! – 02

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After Haruka and Rin race, everyone gets into trouble for trespassing. Nagisa and Makoto bump into Gou/Kou, who arranged for Rin to meet them at the abandoned swim club. Nagisa suggests they start a swim club so they can swim with Rin again. Their teacher Amakata Miho agrees to serve as their advisor. Kou visits Samezuka and learns her brother isn’t on the swim team. Haruka, Nagisa and Makoto commence restoration of their school’s dilapidated pool.

Kou learns that Rin beat Haruka in their night race, but wasn’t happy about the win. Kou decides to join the swim team as their necessary fourth member, in hopes they can help bring the “old” Rin back. Later that night Makoto learns the old swim club is being torn down, and runs into their old coach , Sasabe, who tells him Haruka and Rin met while Rin was home from Australia. Haruka beat him in a race they had, frustrating Rin. Knowing his win hurt Rin, Haruka quit competitive swimming.

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When you have a situation in which two good friends are really good at the same thing, there’s always going to be the possibility of a rift forming. No matter how tight the bond of friendship may be, there can still be only one winner, and winning it all is what it’s all about, right? That’s why Rin went all the way to Australia to train, presumably. And when he came back and Haruka beat him anyway, that rift grew even wider. Haruka was no longer a treasured friend – he was an obstruction.

When Makoto learns of this pivotal event in Haruka and Rin’s lives, he corrrelates it to Haruka’s sudden loss of interest in competitive swimming that followed up until the present, when Rin reentered their lives and re-lit some kind of spark. If that’s true, Haruka is a more layered character than we initially expected. In joining the swim club founded by his friends, Haruka seems open to giving swimming another chance, perhaps hoping the same sport that rended his bond with Rin can mend it as well.

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Kou may be far more forthright in her desire to get the “old Rin” she loved and admired back, but Haruka seems to share her sentiments on some level. 
  • Kou knows nice muscle when she sees it. At first we thought she was into Haruka, but she had the same reaction to the Samezuka swimmers.
  • We also loved Kou’s reaction to being called cute by one of the Samezuka guys: “Thank you! Where’s my brother?”
  • We understand his reasoning, but we still thought Nagisa’s suggestion that they start a swim club seemed a bit…sudden
  • We dig the club/desert/oasis-themed ED.

Car Cameos:

Free! – 01

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Nanase Haruka is a boy who has always loved water and swimming. Back in elementary school his swim club, consisting of Tachibana Makoto, Hazuki Nagisa, and Matsuoka Rin, won a swimming tournament, but went their separate ways afterwards. Now 17 and in high school. Haruka no longer competes, but is reunited with Makoto and Nagisa. Rin returns to Japan from Australia with a bad attitude and enrolls at Samezuka Academy a swimming powerhouse, with plans to become an Olympic swimmer.

What do we have here? A series that focuses on four/five guys, with no major female characters? That’s as refreshing as a crisp dive into the pool. We’re not usually viewers of sports series (except for Chihayafuru, which taught us that yet, karuta is a sport!), but when a highly anticipated new KyoAni series comes along, one is obliged to take a look. It’s an amiable, straightforward story: a group of friends (with girly names) bound by their love of swimming drift apart, but then come back together.

Nanase Haruka is your typical KyoAni male lead; talented but of dubious motivation. He loves swimming, but snickers at his past idealism, remembering instead the words of his grandmother: once you turn twenty, you become ordinary. In the beginning, he seems to be looking forward to crossing the threshold into adult mediocrity, but when Rin, formerly chipper and friendly, now a bit of a dick – returns to his life and challenges him at that which he does best, he’s shaken out of complacency. We’ll see how things shake out.

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • This episode was replete with shots of shirtless (and sometimes pantsless), muscular guys. That being said, we can’t really call it fansevice, since that imagery is kind of a given where swimming is concerned.
  • Rin’s estranged sister Gou (who wants to be called Kou because Gou is manly) wants to find out more about her bro through Haruka…or maybe her interest is in Haruka alone.
  • Why “Free!”? ‘Cause Haruka only does FREEstyle.