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!

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

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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.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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.

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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.