Anime Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club: The First Season

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club: The First Season includes two Blu-ray discs and two DVDs that include all 12 episodes of the first season. The set has both an English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club: The First Season
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Release Date: May 9, 2017

Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club is an anime about a group of four boys who swam competitively when they were younger: Haruka Nanase, Makoto Tachibana, Rin Matsuoka, and Nagisa Hazuki. However, Rin moved to Australia to go to school to become an Olympic swimmer. Haruka loves to swim, but he gave up swimming competitively during middle school.

Haruka, Makoto, and Nagisa end up attending the same high school. Their school used to have a swim club, but it disbanded. Nagisa gets the idea to try to start the swim club back up, and he receives help from Haruka and Makoto.

Rin’s younger sister, Gou, also attends their high school. They learn through her that Rin has returned from Australia and is now attending a boarding school that’s a major swimming school. Gou becomes the manager for the new swim club.

They need a fourth member in order to be officially recognized by the school. After much persistence from Nagisa, a young man named Rei Ryugazaki joins the group. He’s not a swimmer when he first joins, but with some help, he learns to swim well enough in order to compete.

Over the course of the series, the Iwatobi swim team keeps running into Rin, and this becomes a major source of drama for the series.

When I finished the first episode of the series, I thought the pacing was a little on the slow side. But I was willing to chalk that up to having to establish the characters and their world. However, by the end of the second episode, I became so interested in the characters and their story that I wanted to watch more.

The early episodes of the series focus on establishing Rin’s relationship with his former teammates, as well as on the others’ attempt to get the swim club going at their school. After Rei is introduced and becomes a member of the group, the series started taking the logical steps of seeing the club train and competing in tournaments. Overall, I thought the pacing and progression of the story felt very logical.

The most powerful portion of the series comes in the last few episodes. As the team is getting ready for regionals, the first three members of the Iwatobi swim team focus a lot on Rin and the fact that he’s going to be swimming in the relay against them. Rei, meanwhile, doesn’t understand what the fuss is, since he doesn’t have the history with Rin that the rest of them do. Rei goes through some turmoil and character development during the last three episodes.

However, the character that went through the most change over the course of the series was Rin. He gets a major redemption scene in the final episode. It was a touching scene, but there were times when I felt that Rin was being a little “over the top.” But this scene is very crucial for bringing the episode to its conclusion.

I watched this set with my husband, who was on the swim team back when he was in high school. This was his first time watching Free!, and he kept commenting on how realistically the swimming and meets were being portrayed. But he did have one nitpick with the animation during the episode where Rei is trying to learn how to swim in the pool. Makoto and Nagisa comment at one point that the dive Rei did was perfect, but my husband pointed out that the way this particular dive was animated made it look like off. Outside of that, though, he appreciated how the sport was depicted.

I thought the animation for this series was rather impressive. I especially thought the swimming scenes were animated beautifully.

Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club became one of my favorite anime of the Summer 2013 season. I liked it enough that I went on to watch the second and third seasons of the series when they were streamed as simulcasts on Crunchyroll. In my opinion, this franchise is one of the better sports anime that I’ve seen. While the sport of swimming plays a major role in the series, the lives and personalities of the characters play just as important of a role. And the characters become developed on more than just a surface level.

The Blu-ray video is 1080p High Definition 16:9 (HD Native). The audio on the Blu-ray has Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 and Dolbu TrueHD: Japanese 2.0, while the DVD has English 5.1 Surround and Japanese Stereo. I had no complaints about either the audio or the video quality of this release.

As a bonus feature, three OVAs from FrFr! are included. These are shorts featuring the characters, and the stories are done in a comical fashion. These shorts were kind of amusing to watch. The only other bonus features on the release are a textless opening, a textless closing, and trailers for other releases from FUNimation Entertainment.

If you’re a fan of the Free! franchise, this release is worth picking up in order to add the first season to your anime home video library.

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