January 27, 2023

Free! The Final Stroke Part 2 is the perfect conclusion to this beloved franchise. This film gives every character their moment to shine. It is a touching and uplifting final chapter with the best visuals the world of anime has to offer.”

At the beginning of the year, I reviewed Free! The Final Stroke Part 1. So, it only seems fitting to end the year with The Final Stroke Part 2. I had the chance to the final chapter of the saga and I do have a lot things to say about it.

A GRIM BEGINNING

The Final Stroke Part 1 ended on a dark note with Haruka loosing himself and becoming like Albert. Thus, the beginning of this one couldn’t be all joyful. Indeed, it starts on a rainy day so it does set the tone. Even though, the first scene isn’t dark itself what follows is. Haruka isn’t the only one affected, Rin is left extremely distressed by his confrontation with him. So, we witness both being completely lost. By being away from each other and on bad terms, they can’t move on. Plus, by being alone Haruka is withdrawing into himself which is never a good thing.

Though, don’t worry the whole film isn’t dramatic. The issue with Haruka is resolved within the first act. Obviously, Makoto and Rin are the only ones who can truly reach him. Rin and Haruka are inseparable in the world of swimming. Undoubtedly, they need each other, they are like brothers. While Makoto is Haruka’s moral support. He loves him, they are soulmates.

The trio scene is a callback to the scene they shared in Road to the World – The Dream. It is also a classic Makoto and Haruka scene with Makoto ending up in the water with his clothes. You love to see it. This is the best way to resolve Haruka’s situation.

NAGISA, REI & AIICHIRO

The one thing that bothered me in Part 1 was that Nagisa and Rei were sidelined with nothing really to do. However, this changes in Part 2. And this makes me incredibly happy. In fact, there is actually a storyline with them and Aiichiro. We finally see them going to college in Tokyo. Rei and Aiichiro join Ikuya and Hiyori’s college. While Nagisa enrolls Kaede’s college.

Despite being in different colleges, the three gather outside of classes and enjoy time together. It is so sweet to see them like this. All of their scenes are so enjoyable and are definitely some of my favorite moments of this final film. They do share scenes with Makoto as well. It feels so natural to have him with them. Makoto has been Nagisa’s friend for so long.

BACK IN BUSINESS

Morever, Nagisa does find a new friend in Kaede. It is an unexpected pairing as Kaede is rough and not the most sympathetic character. But, seeing it happen is not that strange. Nagisa is the nicest person there is and he always finds the best in people. I do think this relationship does help Kaede to soothe. Plus, yellow is Nagisa’s color so going to this college is actually a perfect fit for him.

So this time, Nagisa and Rei are not just sidelined characters, they are back. After being a mystery for some time, their goal has finally been revealed. And they seem to align. Indeed, they decide to continue swimming and participate in official Japanese competitions. They have a lot of work to do but they are determined. Nagisa, Rei and Aiichiro get their time to swim and that is exactly what I wanted to see. They are more than just supporters for their friends. Speaking of supporters, Nagisa and Rei are the best at what they do. Indeed, they create friendship bracelets to give to everyone with the word “Free” on it.

ON THE SIDES

Although Nagisa, Rei and Aiichiro are back to a more prominent role, there are still some characters who don’t have much to do – Momotaro, his family and the new Iwatobi team. However, I can’t complain about this as the characters I wanted to have a more prominent role do have it this time. Plus, Momotaro and the others still have a decent amount of screentime compared to last time. They are all here to support the ones who compete. Momotaro and his family do recount the events of Part 1 at the beginning of the film. It is nice to see them interact again, they are one funny family. The others have some fun scenes as well. So, I think fans of these characters will still be satisfied.

However, my one complain would be about Kisumi. The franchise ends without Asahi and Hiyori playing a basketball game with him. That is the one thing he ever wanted. But we don’t see it. So, it does make me a little bit sad. Especially since this time, he doesn’t even have a lot of screentime. On the bright side, he still has his eyes on Hiyori.

PUSHING TO THE LIMITS

Despite, Haruka’s situation being handled at the beginning of the film, the story doesn’t go easy on him. To succeed, he has to push himself to his limits. Which is not only dangerous but leaves him completely tired. But he is not alone, all his friends are here to help him. Ryuji remains Haruka’s trainer but Makoto takes an active role in the training process. It is something I have long waited to see. And, it doesn’t get better than this. You love to see a couple working together.

On top of that, Haruka is not the only one working hard. In fact, all the characters are working to be part of the professional Japanese swimming team. It is a challenge for all of them. We get an amazing montage of the characters training together. They all get to shine in their own way and spend time together. This is a group journey. And for this group, you need the best trainers, which are Nao and Makoto. This way all the characters are involved in the process. Everyone has something to do.

SWIMMING RELAY

The relay has always been an important part of Free!. And for this final chapter, Kyoto Animation is offering us the best relays we have ever seen. This is the final act of the film and it is part of the official competition. To help Haruka recover, there is a first team composed of Hiyori, Kaede, Ikuya and Natsuya. Each has a close connection which creates a great dynamic for victory.

Then, the second team is Haruka, Ikuya, Rin and Sousuke. This team also makes sense. And it is the best one to go up against Albert’s group. This final relay is the confrontation between Albert and Haruka. It is a liberating one because they both needed it. By beating Albert, Haruka helps him find joy in swimming. It is also a way for them to end their rivalry and start a more friendly relationship. There is no greater achievement for Haruka to beat the master of the sea. Obviously, this doesn’t come without consequences but it is worth this feeling of satisfaction.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

There isn’t a character you cannot love in Free!. Whatever character you may have disliked at the beginning, I can guarantee you he grew on you overtime. It is the power of this franchise. And the key is character development. It is what makes all the difference. And Kaede Kinjou gets this treatment. He was first introduced as an handsome but despicable character who was extremely aggressive. Part 1 scratched the surface with him. While Part 2 finally sheds the light on his character. He is still the grumpy character but I do appreciate him now. Because behind this aggressive shell, there is a kind person who just wants to be loved. And I think he has found his place within the team now. This is the beauty of Free!.

FILLING THE GAPS

Furthermore, since it is the final chapter of the franchise, this film does fill the gaps left from the previous entries. We get several flashbacks of the original characters when they were kids. This includes the full scene when Makoto is chasing Haruka during the festival. And this one has so much meaning. The film also reveals what Haruka wrote in the box they buried at the end of season 2. It is little things but they do matter a great deal.

END CREDITS

The end credits is really special. Indeed, it is a montage of the different illustrations of this saga throughout the years. So, it brings back a lot of memories. And, it also so clearly show us the evolution of our favorite characters since the beginning. They have come a long way. All of this happens as we listen to ‘This Fading Blue’ by OLDCODEX and then a track by Tatsuya Kato. It is actually a long end credits, longer than the usual as you can expect there is a lot of illustrations to showcase. Plus, it does thank the fans for their support. I am forever grateful for this franchise.

POST CREDITS SCENE

Stay until the end because there is one last scene to enjoy after the credits. It takes place some time after the tournament. Each character gets a little bit of screentime. Thus, it allows us to say goodbye to all of them, one last time. This is obviously an emotional scene for us the audience because we know it is the end. Though, the scene itself isn’t sad. On the contrary, it is a beautiful and uplifting scene. Indeed, we see what all the characters are doing. And this leads our main swimmers to Hungary for a new competition, which marks the return of Haruka to the world stage after his break.

Plus, he reunites with Makoto and Rin who both share a moment with him. The scene with Makoto is tender and intimate. And the scene with Rin calls back to the railway scene when Rin ran away or the ending of Part 1 when Haruka couldn’t say how he felt. Tears of happiness is what happens. Everyone is there to support each other.

Finally, this scene ends on an intriguing note as it features a newly introduced characters watching over Haruka’s billboard. It is unclear what is the meaning of it. Is this a tease of a new spinoff? Maybe, we will learn more during the tenth anniversary event.

VISUALS

I have already said it before but there is nothing better in the world of anime than the visuals of Free!. It is the visuals every other anime wish they had. The scenery just looks like a painting and it is so faithful to the world it represents. Whether you go to Australia or Tokyo or Iwami (Iwatobi in the series), you just find the exact places you see in the series. It transports you around the world. And let’s not forget the water, it is so perfectly animated. Furthermore, the character designs too are so beautiful with finely detailed muscles, you can only love these characters.

SOUNDTRACK

Once again, Tatsuya Kato returns to compose the score. He does a wonderful job as usual. It is a score that knows when to be moving, dynamic and hopeful. There are also some tracks with vocals. These ones really pump up the swimming scenes. Moreover, OLDCODEX who has now disbanded, returns to sing two songs. The first one is a more touching version of ‘Dried Up Youthful Fame.’ This was the opening theme of season 3 Dive To the Future. It is perfectly used at the beginning of the film. And the second song is ‘This Fading Blue,’ an original song that we can hear during the end credits.

VERDICT

Free! The Final Stroke Part 2 is the perfect conclusion to this beloved franchise. Endings are never easy to make and they often can’t satisfy everyone. But this one hits the mark. Indeed, this film gives every character their moment to shine. It is a touching and uplifting final chapter with the best visuals the world of anime has to offer.

Saying goodbye is never easy especially when it is a massive franchise. Free! is 3 seasons and 7 films over 9 years. This is a lot. We have our favorite character(s) but we all love and care about each of them. We have seen them struggle and grow. Undoubtedly, it has been an incredible journey. One that we will never forget. And as OLDCODEX says in ‘This Fading Blue’ “This story will never be over because these blue will never fade.” And in a way, it is true, this story will never be over. The characters will continue to live on within us.

Nevertheless, I still hope we will continue to get birthday illustrations of the characters every year. This way we would still get new content to enjoy. And I still believe there is more story to tell. So, we will see what the future holds.

All the seasons of Free! and most of the films are now available on Crunchyroll. The Final Stroke Part 1 was released on blu-ray earlier this year in Japan. It was also released in cinemas this year in some countries. And Part 2 was released in April in Japanese cinemas. The international rollout started not long after. The blu-ray will be released in Japan in April 2023.

Author

Feel the Force on Social Media.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: