The Iwatobi team took a heavy blow to their pride in last week’s episode of Free!. But the regional tournament isn’t over yet! We still have three events to go and a lot of swimming to do. Let’s go!
Haruka disappears after his loss to Rin in the freestyle event, leaving the rest of his team perplexed and worried. They know that Haru doesn’t care that much about winning or time, so why has the loss hit him so hard? None of them know about Rin’s proclamation that he’ll never swim with Haruka again. Shortly after Coach Sasabe arrives to the tournament Makoto, Rei, and Nagisa go to find Haru.
It’s not Haru that they end up running into first. Instead, Rin is the one the team finds in the halls of the swim complex. He’s still riding the high of his win, and it makes him even happier to hear that Haruka is taking his loss hard. The Iwatobi team knows better though, and they tell Rin as much. Makoto in particular looks Rin in the eye and makes it a point to say that it wasn’t about winning or losing for Haru, which throws Rin off. He storms off, and the rest of the team agrees to let Haru take his own time recovering. They have their own events to swim.
Unfortunately, their attempts go no better than Haru’s. No one on the team qualifies for the final round in any of their respective events. Despite the fact that they continue to lose, the entire team (including Gou, Amakata-sensei and Coach Sasabe) continue to cheer each other one with no lack of enthusiasm. Despite their agreement to let Haru be, Nagisa makes it a point to find him and drag him out to at least watch them all swim. Haru hangs back and doesn’t join the rest of them on the benches, but he does watch each of them compete, and he seems almost impressed by their drive.
The day ends, and the team meets up without Haru, who has disappeared somewhere. And that’s when Gou drops the bomb: without telling anyone on the team, she signed them all up for the relay portion happening on the second day of the competition. If they can place in the relay, the team still has a shot at the finals.
Of course, no one is able to find Haru in order to tell him that they are competing again. Nagisa, Rei, Makoto and Gou wait for Haru at his home until it gets late. When Haru does eventually return, he finds Makoto asleep by the front door and holding Haru’s cell phone in his hands. He finds a silly but encouraging voicemail there left by the rest of the team and Gou, telling him about the race and encouraging him to participate. When Makoto wakes, he’s surprised to find Haru not only there, but ready to compete again, inspired by everyone’s determination and support.
The next day, the team reconvenes at the tournament. Rin is there as well, though his mood has soured. He’s thinking a lot about when he used to swim with the Iwatobi team, and what it meant that Haru didn’t care about losing after all. Nitori is the one to find Rin and tell him that the Iwatobi team is competing in the relay. Shocked, Rin hurries to the pool to watch. He recognizes both Makoto and Nagisa’s strokes from when they swam together as children, and he’s almost angered by how bad Rei’s butterfly stroke is. Then Haru steps up to the pool, meets Rin’s eyes- and the episode ends.
This was another one of those episodes that just flew by. The swim competitions were fun to watch, but what made them even better was watching each swimmer get cheered on. Not only did it help make the competition feel even more authentic, but it really showed off a major theme of Free!: it’s not about victory, it’s about the team. This is a show about swimming, yes, but it’s even more so about friendship and the bonds between people and how that helps them succeed. Even though none of the team qualified for anything, we still get the sense that they come out of it alright because of the emotional support they lend one another.
This is especially hits home for two characters in particular: Haruka and Rin. Haru is only saved from his post-loss funk by the enthusiasm and support of his team. The entire team is also only given a second shot at victory because the relay event will take all of their efforts. They literally cannot gain any sort of victory at this point without working together.
Conversely, we have Rin, who until this point has only been concerned with winning against Haru. He spends the episode reminiscing about his time swimming together with Haru, Nagisa, and Makoto. Near the end, he seems almost jealous that Rei is swimming with the rest of them despite being a poor swimmer. He does not have the same sort of bonds with his own team, and it’s weighing on him. Just as he doesn’t have anyone to support him when he loses, neither does he have anyone around to help him understand that competition isn’t just about winning.
This was really a great episode that hit some of the major themes of the show. It’s also gradually setting up an even bigger contrast between Rin trying to move forward solo and the Iwatobi team being strongest as a unit.
As always, you can watch the newest episode of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club over at Crunchyroll right now with an Anime Membership!