Free!: The Series’ Story So Far, Before the Final Movie

The final installment of the swimming anime franchise Free! is arriving in theaters soon. After Kyoto Animation released a new teaser for the upcoming movie, we also know that Free! - The Final Stroke will be split into two films, with the first part premiering on Sept. 17 and the second on April 22, 2022.

To prepare for these two final movies, let’s recap what happened during Free!'s past three seasons and films.

Free! Is All About Friendship & Swimming

In Season 1, Haruka Nanase and his friends Makoto Tachibana and Nagisa Hazuki revitalize the Iwatobi High School’s swim team after running into their childhood friend, Rin Matsuoka. They hope to show Rin that swimming is fun and is what brought them together -- Rin is currently acting standoffish and sees it only as a competitive sport. They recruit Rei Ryugazaki to the Iwatobi team and start competing in tournaments, which increases the rivalry between Haruka and Rin. In the end, though, their friendship improves when Rin joins Haruka, Makoto, and Nagisa in a medley relay. Season 1 primarily focuses on the characters rekindling their friendships through swimming.

Continue scrolling to keep reading Click the button below to start this article in quick view.
Start now

In Season 2, titled Free! Eternal Summer, Haruka and Makoto are in their final year of high school. Haruka isn't sure what he wants to do after graduation. Makoto plans to attend a university in Tokyo and becomes a part-time swim coach at Iwatobi SC Returns. Elsewhere, Rin reunites with his friend Sosuke Yamazaki and hopes to swim competitively with him, but unbeknown to Rin, Sosuke severely injured his shoulder and needs surgery.

During the regional swimming competition, Haruka has a mental breakdown. To clear his mind, Rin takes him on a trip to Sydney, Australia, where Haruka regains his passion for swimming and decides to compete at the college level. Season 2 of Free! sees the Iwatobi guys mature as they try to figure out their futures, focusing more on self-growth rather than friendship.

The series' second and third films are part of a trilogy project. The second film, Free! Timeless Medley (2017) is a compilation of Season 2 and is divided into two parts, “The Bond” and “The Promise.” The third film, Free! Take Your Marks (2017) sets viewers up for Season 3. It consists of four original side stories: “Fateful Choice!,” “Cooling Down at the Secret Hot Spring!,” “United Butterfly!,” and “The Eternal Blue of Journeys to Come!.”

Humble Beginnings: High Speed! Free! Starting Days

High Speed Free Starting Days

The first film of the Free! franchise, High Speed! Free! Starting Days, was produced right after the first two seasons in 2015. The story is set during Haruka’s junior high days, right after Rin left for Australia. During his first year at Iwatobi Middle School, Haruka and Makoto join the swim club alongside Asahi Shiina and Natsuya Kirishima’s younger brother, Ikuya.

During their first swim practice, Asahi and Ikuya see how talented Haruka is when he races the team captain, Natsuya. This causes Asahi to lose confidence in himself and Ikuya gets jealous of Haruka. Conversely, Natsuya praises Haruka, causing Ikuya to try to imitate Haruka’s swimming style to get his brother's attention. Meanwhile, the swim team's vice-captain Nao Serizawa questions Makoto’s interest in swimming, which puts a strain on Makoto's friendship with Haruka.

The swim team has a joint practice with Sano Middle School, where Sosuke attends. Sosuke challenges the Iwatobi team to a medley after hearing about Haruka in Rin’s letters. The Iwatobi team loses the medley, further straining their friendship. However, Haruka, Makoto, Asahi, and Ikuya reconcile and Nao advises them about their strengths as individuals and as a team. They would later place first at the prefectural tournament.

Soon after, Sosuke gives Rin’s letter to Haruka. The letter describes Rin's swimming struggles in Australia, motivating Haruka to become a better swimmer. High Speed! Free! Starting Days provides a backstory to Rin’s character in Season 1, and introduces viewers to significant characters who are part of Season 3 and the upcoming Final Stroke.

Swimming Forward: Dreams & Competition

The third season, Free! Dive to the Future, takes place after the third film, Free! Take Your Marks. Haruka attends Hidaka University and reunites with his junior high friends, except for Ikuya Kirishima. Ikuya is still upset over Haruka for quitting the swim team due to a falling out with Rin. To amend their friendship, Haruka begins training in other strokes in hopes to compete alongside Ikuya in the Individual Medley race.

By the end Season 3, Ikuya and Haruka reconcile their friendship. However, while training, Haruka realizes there are swimmers, such as Albert Volandel, who are beyond even Ikuya's skill level.

Meanwhile, Makoto is on a self-discovery journey. With the help of one of his students, Misaki, Makoto realizes he should become a professional trainer. Rin is training in Australia and catches the attention of professional swim coach Mikhail Makarovich Nitori, later returning to Japan. Rin finally reunites with his friends and reassures them about Sosuke’s operation on his injured shoulder. While he and Haruka continue to train for the All-Japan Invitational, they take a break and visit Rei and Nagisa to see their final swim match as high school students.

In Season 3's last episode, “Dive to the Future!,” Haruka and Rin compete in the All-Japan Invitational to qualify for the global competition. Rin wins the 100m butterfly race, but Haruka loses his 200m freestyle. After the competition, Rin, Haruka, and Makoto share their personal goals and Haruka shouts that he will take on the world when it comes to swimming. Season 3's ending perfectly sets us up for what's ahead in Free! - The Final Stroke. We shall see whether Haruka or Rin earns the title of the world's best swimmer.

About The Author