Free!

"That was when I remembered how it felt to swim in the same lane together, how it felt when everyone was waiting at the finish line. It made me just as happy!" - Haru

Free! is a sports anime series that revolved around high school students Haru, Makoto, and Nagisa as they started a swimming club together at their school. They had been on a swim team together in the past with their friend Rin, and the relay race they won together had left a very significant and lasting impact on each of them. Through forming the Iwatobi swim team they strove to recapture that transcendent feeling once again. When a very distant and hostile Rin returned from overseas and joined a rival swim team, Haru struggled with feelings of guilt at their last race against one another, while Makoto and Nagisa tried to keep their team's spirits up and focused. Nagisa pressured fellow athlete Rei to join the club, and after he finally agreed they all realized that not only could Rei not swim at all, he could do little more than sink to the bottom of the pool. Together the boys worked hard to get their club going by getting the neglected school pool ready for use, teaching Rei how to swim, and training for their races, all the while wondering how to rekindle their friendship with Rin.

For someone who really isn't a fan of sports in general, I have come to realize that it may in fact be my favorite genre of anime. I really love character driven series and watching relationships and friendships develop and endure throughout the stories. In sports anime in particular you get to see characters working together to achieve a common goal, support one another, and push themselves further then they ever thought possible for the betterment of the characters as individuals and as a team. In Free! it was inspiring to watch Rei put so much of himself into improving his swimming, or watch Haru, who was so indifferent to everything, agree to swim in a relay because his teammates wanted it so much. I also liked how you could really see the characters emotional states based on their performance, such as when Rin was so lost that he struggled to even pull himself out of the pool after a race. Through this series I really got an appreciation for what goes into the sport and the water animations were just beautiful.

The first season of this show was just about as perfect to me as an anime can get. The characters were all so adorably quirky that you couldn't help but fall in love with them. One of my favorite scenes in the show was when they were all shopping for new swimsuits because it really highlighted all of their different personalities - from Haru picking a new suit nearly identical to all his others to Rei proudly trying on really bold designs and insisting his poor performance in the pool was due to the speedo he had been wearing. I also loved how Nagisa asked their teacher to be their club supervisor because she knew all about swimming (in actuality she had been a swimsuit model). Despite the light heartedness of much of the series, it had some incredibly deep and moving moments as well, such as when Rin watched Haru and the others swimming together without him, or when Makoto dove into the ocean he was so afraid of to save Rei. The season finale was so unbelievably touching when Rei gave up his spot in the relay race that he had worked so hard for to Rin. His compassion for his teammates was beautiful to watch and the experiences they all gained from that race would carry through with them forever.

Season 2 had a lot to live up to following the first season and I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed in the season as a whole. I loved watching the progression of the friendships between the boys, especially with Rin and the others as their tentative relationships grew stronger. It was especially poignant to see Rei and Rin growing closer as Rin helped Rei with his swimming techniques. I also appreciated how Haru's downward spiral throughout the season felt so real and how it mirrored Rin's emotional state in season 1, culminating in Rin helping pull him out of it the same way Haru reached out his hand to Rin. Seeing Haru's open expression so full of joy when he was on the starting block in the pool in Australia was so worth all of the difficult scenes and struggles he went through. The main complaint I had about season 2 was I didn't really feel Sosuke was a necessary addition to the cast and I didn't like how so many of Samezuka's scenes took time away from the Iwatobi team. To me Sosuke felt like he had been shoehorned into scenes from season 1 and earlier, and I just felt like Rin and Sosuke's friendship felt too one sided for Sosuke's storyline to be genuinely moving. However, the raw emotion from the Iwatobi team during their race or when Rei and Nagisa cried over Makoto and Haru graduating was precious.

In addition to the story, characters, and animation, I also really loved the voice over work and music in the series. Each of the actors fit how the characters should sound so perfectly and delivered really memorable performances. I have all of the soundtracks for the show including the solo and duet albums which featured the voice actors singing as the characters. I love listening to their individual songs and there is just something so adorable about their duet tracks (I especially loved Nagisa and Rei's songs together). One of my favorite tracks from the series is Ever Blue where all five of the main characters sang together - it just ended the first season on such a special note.

Free! is one of my favorite anime series. The interactions between the characters could be so heartwarming and the swimming races could be so exciting. You really just wanted the boys to succeed because they had worked so hard to get to where they were. I loved Coach Sasabe, Amakata, Gou, and how supportive those around them were to the team. While Big Windup may have introduced me to how wonderful the sports genre could be, it was Free! which solidified my absolute love for it.

Favorites
Liz
Jen
Character
Rin, Rei
Rei, Nagisa, Haru
Episode
Hesitant Loosen Up, Distant Free, A Swim-Off in a Foreign Land!
Distant Free!, A Swim-Off in a Foreign Land!, The Eternal Summer of Beginnings!, Theoretical Dolphin Kick!, Shocking No Breathing!
Relationship
Rin/Haru, Rei/Nagisa, Rei and Rin
Rei/Nagisa, Rin/Haru, Rei and Rin