No matter how much your body grows and changes […] but for how long? If I’m a prodigy at ten, and a genius at fifteen, after I hit twenty, I’ll be…an ordinary person.
Haruka Nanase echoes these words at the beginning of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club when he begins his junior year at Iwatobi High School. For Haru at the time, little matters other than swimming; his future, his grades, his personality – all are secondhand to the relationship he has with the water, which makes him extraordinarily talented in his technique and speed, but far less aware of social cues and friendships. The first season explores this to great detail as Haru begins his journey to create a swim club with three other members, and must learn a great deal about working as a team while also balancing his old time rivalry with Rin Ryugazaki. Rin and Haru’s relationship is portrayed as difficult; due to Haru’s immense talent but also lack of communication, strain is put between them which leaves Rin ‘behind’ as Haru enrolls in a different school and Rin goes to Australia to compete at a higher level.
In Season One, Haru is quiet but affirmative. However, a constant thread still remains: he remains blissfully unaware of his attitude and talent on other people, leading to further conflicts. It’s a selfishness that is swept under the rug until the last half of the first season, where Rei must call out Haru and Rin on their unhealthy relationship that is weighing down the entire team. At the end of it all, the team’s bonds are restored, and Haru has gained a degree of self awareness in how his actions have affected others’ desire to win.
Free! Eternal Summer takes this a step further with Haru and Makoto in their last year of high school and deciding what they want to do in the future. The introduction of a long term friend of Rin, Sosuke Yamazaki, also serves as an excellent foil to the naive and kind Haru, who is terrified of moving onward and fears both success and failure. In contrast, Sousuke has trained to compete nationally and is prepared to meet anything head-on, but overdoes it to the point where he suffers a long term injury. As each of the members of the Iwatobi Swim Club face their own internal dilemma as to what to do in the future, Haru’s fears and inability to communicate properly result in another conflict, this time with Makoto. To Haru, dreams are inconsequential, but time comes along, and changes have to be made, whether it’s in the form of realizing that Makoto’s dreams are different than his, or leaving the swim team he’s so tightly attached to. Haru’s fears are finally resolved with a parallel as Rin re-ignites his passion to a competitive level by taking him to the place that kickstarted his professional dreams – Australia. Eternal Summer finally ends with Haru coming to terms with his passion for swimming on a competitive and personal level and moving on with Rin to a new world while maintaining his friendships with the swim club and Makoto.
If Iwatobi Swim Club allows Haru to establish new bonds with other people, then Eternal Summer gives him a dream and allows him to recognize his own setbacks and come to terms with other’s goals. These finally result in Haru to become a self sufficient, self aware individual with personal goals – an ordinary person, but special to the people that he cares about and who care about him. It was at this time that I believed Free! had completed its thematic circle. With the announcement of a third season, Dive to the Future! I was hesitant. What more could they build on with Haru and his development to step into the spotlight and become his own person?
Luckily, Dive to the Future! answers this on two important decisions. The first is a new and improved Haru who’s far more comfortable in his own skin. Starting his first day of college, Haru warmly greets an old childhood friend, Asahi Shina. He confidently swims alongside new teammates, while still chatting with Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei. He practices other strokes other than freestyle.
“I’m never going to be an ordinary person. It’s a saying.”
“You’re not gonna turn ordinary. You’re Ikuya, you know.”
In the prequel movie, Free! High Speed, young Haruka Nanase is paired together with Makoto, Asahi Shina and Ikuya Kirishima. Haru’s incredible talent and quietness make him a star that stands out while he must learn to work with others to form a relay team in middle school. Once again, his talent and lack of communication skills lay the foundation for shaky relationships – Asahi is so overwhelmed by Haru’s talent that he becomes afraid to commit to a style of his own, and Ikuya, an equally quiet and somewhat shy boy, ends up imitating Haru out of insecurity. While much of this is patched up by the end of the movie, Ikuya follows his older brother to America, and much is left unknown after that regarding his fate.
Dive to the Future! addresses my concern with the second, and perhaps most important, decision, of including Ikuya as a main character and foil to the current Haru. Unlike Haru, who has branched out of his comfort zone with constant reprimands from friends and rivals alike, Ikuya has seemingly confined himself to a Makoto-like friend that only feeds into his need to be extraordinary – a need that has persisted so completely that his style is identical to Haru’s. Whether this is the result of younger Haru’s inability to express himself better to his friends, or Ikuya’s deep insecurities about who he is and standing out from both Haru and his older brother remains to be determined, but it’s clear where Free! Dive to the Future is stepping in: what was once Haru’s turn, is now Ikuya’s turn. However, it’s not Rin or a swim club that’s helping him out. It’s Haru himself, who now must be the beacon of support for his lost friend and show him the meaning of being free and becoming an ‘ordinary’ person.
How Haru will help Ikuya – either through swimming or more interestingly, verbal confrontation – remains to be seen, but either way, it’s safe to say that I’m on board with Dive to the Future! and the amicable progress it’s established for our cast.