Free! is an anime by Kyoto Animation that is a Sports Story surrounding the lives of High School swimmers. It premiered on July 3, 2013 and it is based on High Speed!, a novel by Kouji Ouji. The novel was originally entered into the 2nd Kyoto Animation Award contest and received an honorable mention. A commercial released before the series was officially announced gained a sizable fanbase on both Tumblr and Pixiv due to the shirtless Bishōnen featured. The show was quickly dubbed "Swimming Anime" before its actual name was revealed. It is co-produced by Animation DO (a subsidiary of KyoAni), and is directed by Hiroko Utsumi (marking her directorial debut) with script supervision by Masahiro Yokotani and character designs by Futoshi Nishiya.When he was young, gifted freestyle swimmer Haruka Nanase competed in an elementary school relay team with his childhood friends Makoto Tachibana, Nagisa Hazuki and Rin Matsuoka. After winning a championship together they parted ways, with Rin leaving the country to follow his dream of reaching the Olympic level.When Rin returns years later with a nasty new attitude and a major grudge against Haruka, his reappearance sets in motion a series of events that lead to the founding of the Iwatobi High School Swimming Club. Along with Makoto, Nagisa, rookie Rei Ryugazaki and manager Gou Matsuoka, Haruka reawakens his passion for competitive swimming in the hope of getting through to Rin.The media distribution service Crunchyroll is streaming the series under the name Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club, while Funimation has licensed the second season Eternal Summer.Click here to read the chapter summaries, and the (in progress) chapter translation of the light novel prequel, High Speed!
Adorkable: Rei is book smart and serious, but still does ridiculous things as if they were normal, like trying on silly patterned swimsuits with gusto, calling Rin "Rin-chan-san" note since Nagisa calls him "Rin-chan", and pretending to be a detective and making sound effects while spying on Rin.
Arc Words: "I'll show you a sight you've never seen before."
Art Evolution: There has been quite a shift from the original commercial to the actual series, mostly through a change of emphasis from softness to more of a sharp cleanliness. A larger change can be seen between the original concepts of the characters' designs; most notably, Rin had shorter, spiky hair and an accompanying Shounen look to him.
Beach Episode: Both inverted and deconstructed in episode five. The inversion comes in where it's only the guys dressed in swimsuits - though Gou is seen in one at one point, albeit still relatively covered up - but this is justified in that they're there to train. The deconstruction comes in at the end, when the weather turns sour...the minute Rei decides to have a sneaky practise swim at night.
Birds of a Feather: Nagisa and Ama-chan-sensei mirror each others behaviour adorably-creepily well.
Bishōnen: The entire main cast but they are much more muscular (due to their athletic activities) than your regular bishonen.
Cast Full of Pretty Boys: The explosion of popularity over the CM debut that featured nothing but pretty boys in water being pretty boys in water (and also participating in Female Gaze-indulging exercises) before the anime was officially announced is frequently cited as the reason for it being greenlit into a full animated series, true or not.note Considering production time, "not" would be the correct assumption.
Heck, when even the nerd and The Cutie are ripped, you know you're watching a great show.
The Cast Show Off: Apart from singing the OP, "Rage On", Makoto's voice actor does his character songs as Makoto.
Applies to the main cast to some extent: the ED is sung by the boys's voice actors, and they all have their respective character songs too.
Cherry Blossoms: Used a lot in this anime, most of the time to symbolize Rin and Haru's relationship. When they were kids, Rin declared to Haru he was going to show Haru a sight he had never seen before while they were standing under a cherry blossom tree. Though it was out of season, when he said that the tree was symbolically in full bloom.
In the last episode, Haru finds a cherry blossom tree that looks like the one in their elementary school. Later, when Rin is missing, Haru is the only one to realize that Rin probably went to see the tree also. After their fight, Haru repeats the words Rin told him when they were children, "I'll show you a sight you've never seen before," and once again the tree appears to be in full bloom.
Rin tells Haru when they're children that he wants to swim in a pool full of cherry blossom petals. Unfortunately, he leaves Japan before the tree blossoms. In the current time, Haru is seen looking at some cherry blossom petals floating in the newly renovated Iwatobi pool.
One of the songs that plays during a Rin and Haru flashback is called Cherry Blossoms on the OST.
In the first episode of Eternal Summer, the Iwatobi team fills their pool with cherry blossoms, then abducts Rin to show him. They urge him to swim in it, but it starts raining.
Childhood Friends: In elementary school Haruka belonged to the same swim team as Makoto, Nagisa and Rin, but once they won a tournament they'd strove toward improving for, they all went their separate ways (except for Haruka and Makoto)...until Rin came back to challenge Haruka many years later, anyway.
Color-Coded Characters: Haruka is blue, Makoto is green, Nagisa is yellow, Rei is purple, and Rin is red. However, in some material, like the promotional poster above, Haruka and Rei's colors are stylistically swapped.
CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable): Zigzagged in episode 6. On one hand, the head tilt/chin lift to open Makoto’s airway is animated realistically, and Haruka correctly moves the victim to safety, checks for responsiveness, and attempts to call for help. And it certainly wasn’t a Kiss of Life ploy on Makoto’s part. On the other hand, Haruka uses a Walking Assist on an unconscious victim note which would be difficult if not impossible. Supporting from the side only works if the victim can walk on his own , and Makoto’s breathing is just about the last thing he checks. Then Haruka almost gives rescue breaths while Makoto is clearly still breathing. And it ends with no mention of Makoto going to the hospital although he nearly drowned.
Cry Cute: Rin, when he opens up to Haru and after they all swam in the relay together.
Cute Little Fangs: Rin, as a child. He outgrows it as a teen because ALL his teeth become sharp and pointy.
In episode 4 his shark teeth were much less prominent for whatever reason, returning his cute fang status for the time being.
Darker and Edgier: Episodes 5 and 6. Five ends with Rei being out in the ocean and a storm picks up. Episode 6 has everyone safe and sound but still, nobody saw this coming unless you had read High Speed! or the episode summaries beforehand.
Fanservice: Distinct in that it features eye candy for female viewers without it being a yaoi show.
Fan Disservice: Some fans (female and male alike) view the closeups of Rei's tiny yellow penguin speedo as this. Thankfully, he blames his inability to swim on it and goes out of his way to get a more...covered swimsuit later on.
Female Gaze: All over the place, this is probably the first non-yaoi anime series to employ this trope to such an extent.
Gou does this herself a few times when she starts admiring the boys' muscles.
A Friend in Need: The Iwatobi team chooses to help Rin instead of taking a shot at nationals. What's more, it's Rei, the new guy who wasn't one of the Childhood Friends, who suggested the idea to give up his spot in the relay for Rin.
Gender-Blender Name: All of the main five swimmers, plus Rin's sister Gou (who prefers to go by "Kou" for that very reason). Lampshaded in the very first episode...and many more times after that.
Nagisa specifically tries to recruit Rei because he has a feminine name. Rei is not amused.
Gratuitous English: Look up the lyrics to the opening song "Rage On" by OLDCODEX. A lot of the English isn't grammatically correct and doesn't really make sense. The pronunciation isn't great, either. But the song is still awesome.
The two B-sides for the opening single are almost completely in English (that's just as poor as Rage On's).
The trend continues: one of the B-sides on the Anime edition of Dried Up Youthful Fame, Abendsonne, is actually entirely in English (and has a German title. Go figure).
"SPLASH FREE" also contains its fair share of engrish.
Makoto also goes by the name "Mako-chan", another token of Nagisa's affection. Contrary to Haruka, he doesn't seem to mind.
Amakata is nicknamed "Ama-chan" by, once again, Nagisa.
Makoto sometimes calls Haruka "Haru-chan", but Haruka doesn't particularly like it.
Haruka: I told you to leave off the "-chan"!
Rei once called Haruka, "Haru-chan-san" because Nagisa kept referring the latter as "Haru-chan". Haruka was a little annoyed.
Seems to be a habit - in episode ten he calls Rin "Rin-chan-san".
From the High Speed! novel, Haru and Nagisa came up with the nickname "Rin Rin" for Rin in order to pester him.
Nagisa brings the nickname Rin Rin back in the last episode.
Also in the last episode, Rin finally stops referring to Nitori by his surname and starts calling him Ai, short for his full name, Aiichiro.
Japanese Honorifics: Nagisa is fond of adding -chan to the end of all his friends' names. He gets away with it (mostly) because he's The Cute One.
Nitori always refers to Rin as senpai. Even when Rin starts calling him by his first name without honorifics in the last episode, Nitori just upgrades from 'Matsuoka-senpai' to 'Rin-senpai'.
Rei always uses the '-senpai' honorific with Haruka and Makoto, and '-san' with Rin.
The Knights Who Say Squee: Having admired Haruka's swimming since they were kids, Nagisa enters the same high school as him so that he can be on the same team. (Not that Haruka's in the swim team, since the school doesn't have one to begin with.)
Love at First Sight: It is implied that Mikoshiba, the captain of the swim team in Samezuka, falls in love with Gou at first sight when she came to look for Rin before he joined the swim team. With Mikoshiba graduating in season 2, his brother Momotaro makes his appearance in Episode 2 and falls in love with Gou at first sight as well, even saying the same thing his brother said when he first saw her. Poor Rin.
Melancholy Moon: After the first day of prefectural, Makoto looked to the moon worrying about Haruka. Haruka was gone swimming in the Iwatobi school pool reminiscing about his resolve for swimming and changed relationship with Rin.
Reaction Shot: All over the place so much that you could make a Drinking Game out of it.
Reality Ensues: When Haruka encounters Rin in their old abandoned school, they immediately start gearing up for an epic swimming match. This is interrupted when they discover why their friends were trying to stop them: the pool that hasn't been used in years has no water in it. They narrowly avert Empty Swimming Pool Dive.
In episode 5, the group wanted to go to a deserted island to train, but they couldn't go right off the bat because of their lack of money. Even Ama-chan mentioned that clubs automatically having money to go places only happens in anime and manga.
The Iwatobi members only had a few weeks to train before their first tournament. None of them make it past their individual prelims.
In Episode 12, Rei gives his spot in the Butterfly leg of the relay to Rin. The Iwatobi team wins, but they're disqualified for putting another school's swimmer on their team.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Rin and Haruka. Rin's more fiery personality and red hair contrast Haruka's cool, quiet attitude and blue eyes.
Nagisa and Rei could also qualify, though Nagisa's more of a happy-go-lucky red oni to Rei's bookish blue oni.
The uniform colors of both swim teams complement this as well.
Running Gag: Haruka willing to swim in any body of water. Including a fish tank.
Gou correcting anyone (Nagisa is the biggest culprit thus far) to call her "Kou" instead. It doesn't work.
School Festival: A drama track shows that Samezuka has a maid cafe each year.
Series Mascot: Iwatobi-chan. The part-rock, part-bird creature with a Thousand-Yard Stare. It was somehow selected as Iwatobi Town's mascot from over 900 entries, and Nagisa enjoys sticking it on everything.
Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Much of Rin's jerkassery and his obsession with beating Haruka stem from his self-loathing for not being able to improve his swimming in Australia, thus failing to live his father's dream. He gets better.
Spoiler Opening: Any suspense over whether Rei would join the team or not in episode 3 was pretty much dissipated by the opening (and ending) animation, which shows him alongside the others.
Sugar and Ice Personality: Based on his appearance in the initial Kyoto Animation promo video, Haruka was assumed to be a tsundere and was referred to as 'Tsun-kun' before his name was revealed. In the anime, however, his cool demeanor fits the kuudere stereotype more closely, with his dere side most obvious when talking about his romantic encounter...with a waterfall.