After almost losing their chance to keep competing last week, the boys of Iwatobi’s swim club are getting a second chance at victory. But that isn’t all that’s on the line: the relationship between Haruka and Rin is strained on both ends and only getting more tense as the action amps up. Who will come out in better shape this week?
Episode 8 left off with Rin catching the relay portion of the competition, and that’s right where we pick up in episode 9. As he watches the Iwatobi team swim and cheer one another on, Rin can’t help but remember their childhood together when he too was a part of the team. It all comes to a head when Haruka jumps in to finish the race and pulls into first. The team has won their first event and have qualified for nationals.
Back at their school, the Iwatobi team is recognized for their win and are celebrating their imminent funding from the school. But Gou insists that they don’t get too carried away. After all, they have a lot of room to improve, and then there’s the national competition to think about. Everyone is motivated by this- except for Haruka, who still seems to be in a strange mood after his loss to Rin.
Meanwhile, Rin is also struggling. The high of his win against Haruka has definitely died. But that doesn’t stop his swim team from dragging him to a local festival to pray for their future victory at a local shrine. Makoto and Nagisa drag Haruka out to the same festival, hoping to distract him from all things swimming and Rin related.
The plan seems ready to backfire though when Nagisa and Rei spot Rin in the festival’s crowd. So they devise a plan: Rei follows Rin around, relaying his movements back to Nagisa. Nagisa in turn does his best to keep Haruka away from wherever Rin is. It works to a point, but then Rin wanders away from the festival and ends up at his old elementary school.
While he’s there, Rin stops by the old pool and has a painful moment reminiscing about his childhood with Makoto, Nagisa, and Haruka. His isolation is weighing heavily on him. Confused and concerned, Rei watches Rin become more and more upset before he runs off, causing Rei to lose him.
Back at the festival, Haruka catches on to the fact that something is up and gets Nagisa to talk. The news that Rin is close by doesn’t seem to have the negative effect the team was worried about, to their surprise.
Haruka admits that learning he would never swim with Rin again made him question his reasons for swimming in a way he’d never had to do before. When he saw the Iwatobi team trying so hard at the tournament though, it dawned on him that he does have a reason to swim: not so he can swim with Rin, or just for the sake of swimming. He wants to be able to swim with their team because it makes him happy. It’s as simple as that.
But the episode ultimately ends on a complicated note when Gou reveals that her brother has signed up for the relay competition at nationals as well, bringing together Haru’s old and new reasons for swimming.
This episode focused more on emotions than action, and it did a good job of it. The entire cast was affected by the events of the past couple of episodes, Rin and Haru in particular. We needed to see them both having time to process and come to terms with what happened.
We haven’t seen Haruka this at ease with his situation since… well, ever in the series so far. Haru has realized that he doesn’t swim just for the sake of swimming; it’s for the sense of community and companionship. It’s not something he can truly enjoy to the fullest solo. He’s strongest and happiest as a swimmer when he’s with the rest of the team.
Perhaps the same could be said of Rin, so far as him being happiest with a team of close friends. His victory against Haru doesn’t last in the face of his loneliness, though it’s not clear how much he understands that. In this episode, we really see Rin finally realizing that being the best isn’t what really makes him happy. Whether his decision to swim in the relay is an attempt to bolster his feelings by winning again, or because he wants to swim with Haru and the rest of the team after all, is uncertain. It does add some drama either way.
This was a fun episode, despite all the drama- it was genuinely funny while still pulling a lot of emotional weight around. While one of the slowest episodes action-wise, it’s still really enjoyable.
You can watch episode 9 of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club over at Crunchyroll!