Kyoto Animations are renowned for their stunning artwork and compelling stories. Before watching the show, Free had a reputation for its shipper fan-service. However, what people fail to see is the shows emotional depths and layered characters. The animation is vibrant and captivating, but the heart of this show is carried in the personal and professional struggles of characters in the world of competitive swimming. It’s a show that is both relatable and heartening and is the kind of feel-good show everyone can enjoy. Need more convincing? Here’s why you should be watching Free!
Rin has one of the most heartwarming arcs on the show. The first season introduced Rin as an antagonist for the Iwatobi Swim Club. He’s Haru’s childhood rival that’s looking to prove he can beat him. However, the further we dive into the season, we see the cracks beneath his facade, and as his desperation shows, the more we understand Rin’s doubts. He targets Haru because of their history as friends, teammates and as rivals, but beyond that, we see his loneliness and fear of not being a good enough to reach his dream. He chose to isolate himself from his friends and teammates to become a better swimmer, but throughout the show, he comes to understand that he’s stronger with his team and his friends. In time, Rin turns into a leader that inspires his teammates, someone they can rely on, but to do that he had to face his fears and trust in himself.
Quite possibly the most innocent character on this show, his childlike glee of being able to swim with his friends is contagious. Nagisa is the one that re-establishes the Iwatobi Swim Club and is responsible for recruiting its final member. Over the three seasons, we witness Nagisa go from strength to strength in the breaststroke while also bridging that gap between Iwatobi and its rival school, Samesuka, by building camaraderie between himself and their fellow competitors. While his childlike manner seems immature at times, he displays a certain stubbornness that’s both determined and persistent in achieving his goals, earning the respect of his friends and peers.
Makoto is easily the most rational of the group. He has a steady presence that garners respect from his teammates and is the character that people would often turn to for advice. It’s these qualities that make him a fitting captain and coach. Makoto is closely linked to both Rin and Haruka, having been friends since childhood, and while their bonds are tested throughout the show, there’s no denying the depth of their friendship. It’s Makoto that sees reason when others lead by impulse and is the type of friend you’d love to have by your side.
Rei is the one character that has no prior affiliation to the Iwatobi Swim Club. He’s pursued by Nagisa to join the swim team, only to discover that he can’t swim.However, when he sees Haruka swimming, he decides to join so he can learn to swim as freely as Haru. He and Nagisa become quite the double act, but throughout the show, we see him go from novice swimmer to a butterfly specialist and discover his passion for swimming. Being the only one on the team to not be associated with Rin, he often questions his place on the team. It’s this feeling that pushes him to be better, but it also lands him in a world of trouble by pushing himself too hard. Rei’s journey is about accepting his role within the team and balancing logic with heart. In three seasons, we see him mature as he seeks advice from a former rival to improve his swimming, fuelling his growing passion for a sport he once loathed, turning him into a supportive leader that inspires new swimmers. Swimming has never been so beautiful. 😉
Haruka’s affinity for swimming is driven by the freedom found in water, and his grace and skill unknowingly inspire many of his competitors. He’s reserved but fiercely protective of his friends, especially when morale is at a low. His obsession with water is comically played at times, but as questions on his future arise, viewers are privy to Haruka’s vulnerability. Haruka, at times, is intimidated by his strength in the water and as his friends pursue their goals, Haruka is left searching for his own purpose. His struggle is relatably moving as we come to understand Haruka’s passion for swimming. Watching him soar through the ranks is a sight to behold, and his rivalry and close friendship with Rin adds another layer of depth to this notoriously quiet character. His journey in competitive swimming is not without its struggles as new rivals make their presence known, forcing Haruka to develop his skills and lean on the support of his friends.
Free! is not an anime you should pass upon, and even non-anime fans can appreciate this heartening story of friendship. It’s not just our main characters that shine as there is a slew of compelling supportive characters that are equally as endearing. Free gives us an insightful look into the world of competitive swimming in all of its highs and lows. We follow the losses, the injuries, the glory, the dream, and the journey shared by a group of individuals that are bound by friendship.