Free! The Final Stroke: Kouhen is the second and final film in the series and has kept the essence of the Free! franchise. It was produced by stunning animation studio Kyoto Animation, with Eisaku Kawanami as the director. This sports movie delves into the world of competitive swimming and the struggles that come with it.
The story continues with Haruka, fondly called Haru, and Matsuoka Rin, who go their separate ways after competing in the world-class swimming championship. While Haru embarks on a solo journey to reach new levels of competition, he battles with his inner demons and questions his true purpose of swimming. Will Haru reach his target level? What will the fate of his relationships with his friends be? Will they all reunite to achieve their goals together?
The movie unfolds with elusive conversations between Haru and Rin where they argue and express their opinions. Haru says something unpleasant to Rin, but in reality, he doesn’t want to say that. After his debut in the world championship, Haru feels the pressure of being defeated by Albert, who becomes the champion. He feels lost and questions his motive behind swimming. Memories of the past continue to haunt Haru, where his relationships with his friends become strained. He struggles with his past, starting from when he first discovered his attraction to water, meeting his friends, and becoming a competitive swimmer.
Haru finds himself battling with his decisions from his past as he plunges into the dark depths of his mind. While his restlessness pushes him further, his rigorous training regime intensifies, and his coach, Azuma Ryuuji, trains him harshly. However, Azuma secretly worries about Haru’s physical and mental health, which no one else knows about. Haru realizes that he is pushing himself beyond his physical and mental limits. His friends can only trust him and keep an eye on him.
On the other hand, Haru’s friends, including his juniors, are delighted to watch the upcoming swimming tournament, where Haru will participate. They can’t wait to see Haru’s beautiful swimming techniques. Before the tournament, Nagisa and others create something astounding to support and encourage Haru. Rin complains to the coach about Haru’s ineptitude, but Azuma suggests that he should share his worries and doubts with Haru himself. He believes that valuable concerns and worries should be conveyed to Haru directly.
Rin and Makoto embark on a journey to find Haru after hearing Azuma’s advice. They visit their favorite spots and various swimming pools. After Rin finds Haru, he requests Makoto not to disturb him. Rin approaches Haru, and their conversation is a pivotal moment of the movie.
The movie focuses on Haru’s battle against his inner turmoil and how he struggles to overcome it during swimming. His character development is central to the movie, and other characters, including Matsuoka Rin, Tachibana Makoto, and Kirishima Ikuya, also have significant development. They all strive to achieve a common goal in the swimming tournament and learn to trust and support each other.
The movie beautifully portrays the essence of friendship through Haru’s bond with his friends. Despite the occasional altercation, they overcome it with undying support and encouragement. They relentlessly cheer Haru on when he is close to giving up, which is an essential aspect of the movie’s heartwarming storyline.
In conclusion, Free! The Final Stroke: Kouhen is a must-watch for sports enthusiasts who enjoy anime movies. It is an evergreen movie that conveys the essence of perseverance, determination, and bonds of genuine friendship. The title character, Haru’s struggles and his psychological turmoil while hitting the swimming pool are relatable and entertaining. This movie is a heartening tribute to the franchise’s history, and its conclusion leaves the audience wanting more.