I went into this episode without having seen either the High Speed! – Free! Starting Days or the Free! – Take Your Marks anime films, but I think this first episode gave enough background on most of the new characters that I was able to follow what was going on.
This episode primarily spends its time reintroducing us to the main characters from the first two anime series and showing what they’re up to, or getting the audience used to the new characters.
The main focus is on Haruka and Makoto, who are both in Tokyo in order to attend college. Haruka is still swimming competitively at his school, but Makoto isn’t. They are reunited with Asahi, a guy they used to swim with back in middle school. There was another friend with Asahi, who Makoto and Haruka seemed to know from middle school, but I admit that I didn’t catch his name. I’m sure I’ll get to know him better as the series goes on, though. We also hear references to Ikuya, another guy they swam with in middle school. We see hints of him early in the episode, but if you haven’t seen the prequel movie, then you don’t realize who he is until Haruka, Makota, and Asahi mention him… then, it clicks.
We also see Nagisa, Rin, and Gou at Iwatobi High School, continuing the swim club. We see they’ve gained two new swimmers and a new girl who will help Gou with managing the club. We don’t get much development for these new members, but hopefully this will change as the series continues.
We also see Rin in Australia, where he is still swimming competitively. A guy named Mihail comes to see him swim, and it turns out Mihail once lived in Japan. I liked how this was going at the same time Haruka was swimming on his first day on the college team as part of introducing himself. I thought the split screen showing the two of them swimming was neat.
We also see Sosuke as he recovers from his injury that has kept him from swimming. Of the characters, he probably got the least screen time in this episode.
We get to see Haruka and Asahi swim in the intercollegiate newcomer race, and Haruka sees Ikuya right at the end of the episode. I have a feeling that the drama will be happening between Haruka and Ikuya as the series goes on, and will likely serve as one of the driving forces of the plot.
Admittedly, after not seeing an episode of Free! since the end of Free! Eternal Summer, and not having seen either of the two films I mentioned earlier, there was a lot to absorb here. I’m glad to see what’s happening with various groups of characters, but I hope the writers aren’t spreading themselves too thin by trying to cover these various groups (Haruka and his group, the remaining high school members at Iwatobi, and Sosuke). If they can give each group and their respective stories good development throughout the remaining episodes, this could work. We’ll just have to see how it goes, though.
And even though this first episode was primarily setting things up, it’s not bad for what it is. But hopefully more action will start taking in the next episode.