It’s been a week longer than anyone expected, but Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is finally back. Week before last, the boys worked together to help newcomer Rei overcome a few key difficulties in becoming the swimmer we all knew he could be. This week, everyone’s swimming prowess is put to the test. But are the difficulties too much for some of them to overcome?
Now that Rei knows how to swim (or at least knows how to use the butterfly stroke), it’s time for the entire team to start preparing for the upcoming prefectural tournament. Not only will a good performance secure them more funds for the future, but Haru and Rin still have their rematch to take care of. Training is more important than ever now for the Iwatobi boys.
And Gou has a great idea how to get them all in shape. She happens upon an old swimming regimen left over by Iwatobi’s last swim club and pitches it to the team. It involves swimming a circuit between four “deserted” islands out in the open ocean. Despite the fact that the last Iwatobi swim club was sub-par at best (they placed in sixth at the last tournament there’s any record of), the idea is taken up by the whole team with varying levels of excitement. Nagisa is thrilled, Rei is a little overwhelmed, and Haru is indifferent as usual; but it’s Makoto’s reaction that is strangest. While he smiles and goes along with the plan, it’s clear that there’s something about the ocean that is making him hesitate. Out of the whole gang, it’s only Haru that takes notice. It’s obvious he knows something about Makoto’s past that we don’t.
There’s just one thing keeping the team from following their dreams, just like it has in previous episodes: their budget. Ever the leader, Makoto is the one to suggest that they camp out the old-fashioned way. That cuts out the cost of room and board. And transportation? After thinking about it, the team calls up their old swim coach. Coach Sasabe just happens to have inherited a squid fishing boat and has the license to drive it, and he agrees to help.
The team finds out when they land on the island that Rin’s swim team is already there utilizing a large indoor swimming complex for their training. Haru insists they avoid any confrontation; but despite that, Gou runs into her brother accidentally later on and the two share a short but warm sibling moment. It looks like Rin will be leaving the group alone during their special sea training. He does wonder about how Makoto feels swimming in the ocean, to Gou’s puzzlement.
Meanwhile, the Iwatobi boys have given their new training regimen a go- and only finished half of it. None of them are entirely in-shape, but it’s Rei that is falling the farthest behind. Because of his weak swimming ability, he needs to use a kickboard and isn’t able to keep up. When the boys go to sleep that night (Amakata-sensei and Gou got a room for themselves in a nearby lodge to keep out of the elements), Rei sneaks out of the tent he’s sharing with Makoto to do some training of his own under the cover of night.
That ends just about as well as you would think. Swimming alone at night under the best circumstances is a terrible idea, and it only gets worse when a storm rolls in. Rei loses his kickboard and is left floundering in a turbulent ocean. Makoto wakes up to find Rei missing, and the episode ends as he catches the barest glimpse of Rei barely keeping his head above water in the midst of the storm.
Was it just me, or did this episode just fly by? While some shows might have split up the events of this episode into one or two parts, Free! does a good job of keeping the pace quick and to the point. There’s never a lull.
I like the nice subtle buildup of Makoto’s mysterious history with the sea. Does he not like swimming in the ocean? It’s heavily implied that he lost someone to the sea at one point in his life, but the hints are so vague that we really can’t tell if that’s the case, or just how bad his aversion to the ocean is. He swims in it just fine, but Haru and Rin are worrying for a reason.
Then there’s Rei. As someone who grew up around pools and the ocean, this writer can tell you that swimming at night- particularly in the ocean, when things like sharks are most active (not talking about you, Rin)- is a terrible idea and should never be done. Ever. Especially alone. That Rei makes this mistake in a misguided attempt to try and be less of a burden does a lot to show his inexperience with water and his dedication to the team. I just hope he makes it out of this situation alright.
Episode 5 did a good job of relying on the already established personalities of each character. We’re done building up each individual and figuring out who they are; now viewers get to see how they react in times of crisis. I’m waiting on the edge of my slightly-uncomfortable chair for next week’s episode.
Watch episode 5 of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club over at Crunchyroll!