Review: Free!

Anime: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Episodes: 12

Original Run: Jul 4, 2013 to Sep 26, 2013

Genres: Sports, Drama, Slice of Life



Nanase Haruka has a deep love for water and swimming. It’s not competitions that matter but to him but the purity of feeling the water down to his bones. All the same, one of his fondest childhood memories is of winning a relay race in elementary school with his three friends – Makoto, Nagisa and Rin. He’s ceased swimming competitively since then but still yearns for the water.

In high school, Haruka and Makoto reunite with Nagisa and a twist of fate brings them face to face with Rin who goes to another school with a renowned swim club. But what should have been a sweet reunion turns bitter when Rin acts hostile to them, renouncing their earlier friendship in favor of announcing his determination to win over Haruka.

The incident prompts the boys to revive the swim club of their own school in hopes of running into Rin at competitions. They even bring in Rei, a former track team member who’s swayed over to swimming by Nagisa’s persistence and Haruka’s grace in the water. As the boys attempt to win and mend old bonds, new ones start to take shape among them.



I’ve heard a lot of praise for Free and I have developed a great liking for sports anime so I was expecting to be blown away by this anime. I was… not blown away. I barely felt a breeze. It’s not that I disliked this show, more that I was bored for most of it and the parts that were engaging didn’t really make up for the boring bits.

As always, positives first: the characters are very likeable and their relationships with each other are quite sweet. There are five main characters with a number of others of varying prominence in their periphery and every single one of them is charming from beginning to end. They’re not terribly deep or complex individuals but they are figures who’re developed enough to make you sympathize with them and become interested in their story. Free is, at its heart, a story of friendships and the way such bonds endure the passage of time, and it deals with these aspects in a delightful and even realistic manner.

The aforementioned elements are also why the show was boring to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate friendship feels but Free didn’t really tug at my heartstrings the way it should have. I could see that the boys were very important to each other and that was nice to see but I wasn’t invested in any of it.

But my major criticism for Free isn’t its inability to evoke emotion in me but rather its sports aspect. I’m used to sports anime using the games or competitions to explore the emotional states of its characters while at the same time making the sports fun and exciting. In Free, the actual swimming takes a backseat to the boys’ bonding. It makes sense narrative-wise because the story was never about winning competitions and that’s fine but when the actual sports sequences end up being forgettable, it affects the story negatively. It hasn’t been long since I watched Free but the only swim-meet I remember is the unusual relay in its final episode.

To sum it up, Free made me feel nothing. And since it’s an anime that’s heavily sentimental, that’s a definite fail. I can’t say why I never got invested in the story despite liking the characters well enough. It just didn’t happen and am probably going to forget all about this show in a matter of months.

Though I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first season, I did try watching the second one but gave up after one episode. This is not an anime that’s to my taste.



Free’s main gang includes the eponymous Iwatobi swim club members Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei, plus Rin, a boy from another school who has a complicated relationship with Haruka.

Haruka, the main character, has an intense fixation on water that would cause anyone to doubt whether he’s a fish trapped in a human body. Or a merman – that works too. He’s stoic and blatantly out of touch with his own emotions but as the story progresses, we get to see him understand his own feelings and act on them as he wants to. It’s slow and not-so-smooth process but the end result is rewarding. Despite being the most composed out of the characters, Haruka is also the most amusing due to his rather obsessive love of water and propensity to chuck his clothes at the first sight of it. Makoto is Haruka’s bestie and the nicest of the lot. He’s no pushover though. He’s just kind, compassionate and understanding in a ways that would make anyone wish they had a friend like him.

Nagisa is the manically energetic guy who straddles the line between irritating and endearing and sometimes trips into the former. Still, his drive is a blessing for the show since nothing would get done without his initiative. Rei is a bit of an odd case in that he comes across as serious and severe but quickly proves that he’s as quirky and dorky as the rest of them.

As for Rin, he’s probably the most interesting among the whole cast. He acts like a jerk some of the time only to turn around and be a fluffball. His feelings and motivations are also quite tangled and it’s easy to see that he’s struggling with the memories of his past and the way they interfere with his perception of the present. One of the best moments in the show is when he manages to reconcile the two and pursue his happiness.

There are a number of other fun characters in Free such as their efficient, muscle-obsessed manager Gou/Kou, the faculty adviser with a curious past Amakata, their old swimming coach and Rin’s teammates.


Art and Music:

Whatever its faults, there’s no denying that Free’s art is gorgeous with an abundance of cool colors that are soothing to the eye. As it’s an anime about swimming, we get to see a lot of water and each and every shot of it is stunning to the point that the water feels like a character of its own. The character designs are meticulous and distinct and there are barely any off-model faces.

Free has good, though not amazing, music going for it. The opening is Rage On by OLDCODEX (they also worked on Kuroko no Basket so are sports anime their thing?) is pretty fun to listen to, with some parts that are actually pretty great. The ending theme, SPLASH FREE by STYLE FIVE, is hilariously over the top in a good way. The dubstep (?) OST is nice as well.



If you’re into stories that heavily focus on intimate friendship, then Free could work for you. If you want a sports-centric narrative, then look elsewhere.

Rating: 5/10

About D

Just another avid anime fan.
This entry was posted in Anime, Free and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Review: Free!

  1. Ruki says:

    Might this be the first time I actually read your blog on a COMPUTER? Because let me tell ya, we totally use the same theme, gurl.
    That’s it. That’s what I wanted to say in this comment.

    Also because, you know, just like you, I didn’t actually enjoy Free! either. It kinda made me feel like I wasted my precious time and, the sad part, aside from Makoto, I don’t even think the guys are good looking. Dull story. Iîh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry that you did not get the same enjoyment many others have gotten from this series. I am also very happy that this review gave some very good examples on why you did not enjoy the series which is always good to see. I’m not against perceived negative reviews as long as the reviewer can back up what they are saying and you have done this wonderfully with your review!!! It’s always very refreshing and fun to read reviews with a different opinion to my own.

    Liked by 2 people

    • D says:

      I’m a big believer in backing up my words with concrete reasons so I try to make it clear in my reviews why I did or did not like a show. I appreciate seeing it from others so I want to do the same. 😀 It’s a pity Free didn’t work for me but ah, well, can’t love them all, right?


  3. kawaiipaperpandas says:

    Is there anything you do like? Lol this is why I try to stick to non-conventional topics when it comes to talking about anime. I mean…I like doing reviews but I would rather talk about other thoughts and ideas besides reviews. I do like seeing your perspective on things considering we all can’t have the same taste in anime! It makes for good conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      Plenty, actually. Sometimes, I just watch things I don’t really like in a cluster. Try anything rated 8 and above on my review list if you want to see what I sound like when I’m pleased with a show.

      I enjoy writing reviews since they help me sort out my own thoughts. Reading differing opinions are fun too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. raistlin0903 says:

    Wow, that really is a surprise to be honest. I have heard a lot of high praise for this series. But seeing as I already have a sportsanime lined up based on your recommendation, I’m glad this one isn’t one that I need to watch right now 😊
    But that’s what I keep saying..everyone experiences series/movies/anime differently. I for one did not enjoy Wonderwoman for instance as much as everyone else did. And that’s why I love reviewing stuff abd reading these reviews. It’s always fun to discuss things like this.
    Honestly Free did not really appeal to me in the first place, but then again, Yuri on Ice didn’t either, and I loved that one 😊
    As always a great review though…always a pleasure to read these 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I’ve seen both extreme love and extreme hate and everything in between for Free. I’d say I’m solidly in the middle camp. I don’t hate it but I sure as hell don’t like it.

      You’re right though. Nothing is really universally liked. Not even chocolate and ain’t that a crime? 😀 But yeah, we’re all different when it comes to taste and it’s usually more fun that way.

      Yuri on Ice is a very different monster tbh. But if you ever find yourself craving friendship-focused slice of life, maybe give Free a go? Might work better for you than it did for me.


      • raistlin0903 says:

        Well….maybe one day…but my Crunchyroll que is already way too big at the moment.😂 Time to at least finish a few things before adding new things. It is a crime that chocalate isn’t universally liked though….that really makes me mad lol 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Karandi says:

    I still never finished this. I put it on pause after they attempted to drown a character in the ocean and everytime I try to go back and pick up the story I kind of freeze so click away. I actually did enjoy the characters and their relationships a lot in the early episodes but not enough that I’m feeling a need to sit on egg shells while watching characters in water even though I’ve been reassured that they don’t routinely have almost drownings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I remember you posting about that a while back. True that there are no more near drownings after that scene but there’s no need to keep at it if it makes you uncomfotable. Nothing’s worth that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Artemis says:

    I enjoyed this show quite a bit. Having said that, I’m heavily biased in that I’m a swimmer myself – and getting to see such pretty water (no, really) and such well-animated visuals that actually did this particular sport at least some level of justice… yeah, dumb as that sounds, it was kinda my jam for the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I can completely understand that. I’m no swimmer but I do love water a lot and the visuals in this show made me want to jump into my computer screen.


  7. Remy Fool says:

    I’ve seen some people claim this is as their most hated show and others claim Free! as their favorite. Opinions seem quite split haha.

    Thanks for the lovely review as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. heyitszel says:

    ❤ I love free! But I would agree that this isn't so much a sports anime as it is more of a slice of life! Even though Free! is one of my absolute favorite animes, My rating of it i's actually between a 6-7, which is not too far off from your scoring 🙂 I'm sorry that you didn't get as attached as most of us did! But again, you can't love them all! I think this is the one anime you've written about that we haven't completely agreed on D:. It's a little shocking! But I still love you regardless ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I rememeber from the FMK post that you’re a fan of this 😀 And honestly, I can see why people would adore this and get attached even though I don’t feel it myself

      Love ya too, Hazelyn! What’s a differing opinion or two between friends.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: [Take Two!] June 18 – 24 – ARCHI-ANIME

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s