Kyoto Animation’s Free! Iwatobi Swim Club is a sports anime that has been around since 2013. Over the last nine years, the franchise has produced three anime series, five films, several character music CDs and a wealth of other popular merchandise for fans to enjoy.
The anime has been around for almost a decade but, after the two-part Free! The Final Stroke film, fans are wondering if it is really the final stroke for the original Iwatobi High School swim club members -- or if there are still more swim meets ahead to come.
Free! Proves Swimming & Friendship Go Well Together
The entire Free! series focuses primarily on the friendship between three childhood friends: Haruka Nanase, Makoto Tachibana and Rin Matsuoka. All three of them bonded over swimming and further developed that passion as they got older, becoming professional swim competitors and coaches. The trio also share their love for the sport with other swim enthusiasts.
Free! sets itself apart from other sports anime by not being about winning or competition, but the importance of friendship; swimming became a mechanism to rebuild the main characters' bond. Haruka, Makoto, Rin and Nagisa Hazuki compete in a medley relay at the end of the first season and, despite being disqualified, the four of them rekindled their friendship. This focusing on friendship rather than competition suggested to viewers that there is more to life than sports.
The Unique & Realistic Issue With the Sports Anime Formula
Most sport anime share a similar storyline formula. The main protagonist is an individual filled with passion and vigor for a sport but is confronted with a challenge: either they have to restart a sports team, or they may not have any talent for the sport. As a result, they must overcome this challenge by practicing and performing well in the competition, resulting in them transforming and learning what it means to be a champion.
After its rather unique first season, Free! draws more on the classic sports anime formula. Haruka and Rin compete in several swimming tournaments to determine the best swimmer, and every time they compete, there is some growth and development in their swimming skills and mindsets. Even though this generic sports storyline formula may have drawbacks, it continues to captivate audiences.
The generic sports storyline concept will never be outdated and sports anime will remain popular among fans. There will always be a challenging competition or tournament that an athlete desires to win, and so they undergo extensive training and growth to be the ultimate competitor. In Dive to the Future, Haruka meets Albert Volandel, the world’s freestyle swimming record-holder. Haruka loses to Albert in a casual race, resulting in the former realizing he is facing his greatest opponent to date.
Even if pretty much all sports anime share the same formula, the storyline is still realistic. Whenever fans watch their favorite sport in real life, it’s always a new season of competition where a new champion will be declared the winner in the final stage. Similarly, animators and writers for a sports anime can always create a new tournament consisting of a new set of characters and another roadblock for the main protagonist to overcome. There are always more opportunities to create a new story. Likewise, it isn’t always a given that the lead character is going to win it all: the creators may have different intentions for their development.
The Final Stroke may seem to be the last installment in the Free! franchise. Yet with how sports anime usually run, creators can write another competition between Haruka and Rin if they desire. Therefore, there is always a chance for Haruka to swim freely into another series or film installment in the future.