Take Your Marks
Free! is an anime series based on the light novel High☆Speed! written by Ooji Kouji. Rather than a direct adaptation of the light novel, Free! is closer to being a sequel of the original work as the timeline of the anime takes place years after the events depicted in the light novel. The anime is produced by Kyoto Animation and contains 25 episodes spanning across two seasons: Free!-Iwatobi Swim Club and Free!-Eternal Summer which aired in Summer of 2013 and 2014 respectively. As of the creation of this fanpage, Kyoto Animation has announced plans for the novelization of both seasons of the anime which is scheduled to be released sometime in 2017.
As a series that falls under the sports genre, Free! loosely follows the typical sports anime formula where the protagonist’s club strives to qualify and compete in a tournament for the sports being highlighted at the (Japan) national level. Rather than focusing on the protagonist and the club’s struggles and progression until eventually reaching their goal and even winning the whole tournament, Free!, with its protagonist, Nanase Haruka, motivated by his innate desire to be with water rather than being the best swimmer in the competitive swimming circle, puts its emphasis on team dynamics in a traditionally very individualistic sport with very few team events (namely freestyle relay and medley relay) and presents its viewers with an alternate perspective on competitive swimming.
Iwatobi High School Swim Club
Driven by the lack of a swim club at Iwatobi High School, Nagisa suggested making their own to Makoto in order to swim together with his friends (including Rin) like old times. With the nonchalant blessing of Haruka, the Iwatobi High School Swim Club was born.
Amakata Miho, Teacher Advisor.
Haruka and Makoto’s homeroom teacher. She has a past related to swimsuits that she’d rather forget about. Although Nagisa doesn’t know the whole story, he used this information to convince Amakata-sensei to become the club’s adviser.
Sasabe Gorou, (Part-Time) Coach.
Coach Sasabe used to teach swimming at the Iwatobi Swimming Club before it closed down and now delivers pizza for a living. Sasabe is often seen cheering for the boys at the tournaments and coached them after the prefecturals.
Tachibana Makoto, Captain, 2nd year student.
Makoto specializes in the backstroke, and has an easy-going, kind and caring nature. Makoto and Haruka are best friends and he is often shown to be able to read Haruka's mind without Haruka uttering a single word. Despite his tall stature, he tends to be somewhat of a scaredy-cat and is often shown to be afraid of the things like ghosts and monsters jumping out in the dark.
Nanase Haruka, Vice-Captain, 2nd year student.
The main protagonist of Free!, affectionately called "Haru" by some of his friends, Haruka only swims freestyle (front-crawl), and is often shown to be aloof, quiet, unemotional and often in his own little world. Despite his depiction, Haruka cares deeply and is often concerned about his friends’ feelings. Aside from swimming, Haru's favorite things seem to be his many (extremely similar) pairs of swimming trunks and eating mackerel.
Hazuki Nagisa, Treasurer, 1st year student.
Nagisa used to swim at the Iwatobi Swimming Club along with Haruka, Makoto and Rin when he was in grade school. He specializes in the breaststroke, and is often shown to be cheerful, optimistic and child-like. Nagisa has an innate ability of getting others to follow his own pace and has a habit of making up nicknames for people he met, usually by shortening their names and attaching the –chan suffix.
Ryugazaki Rei, Secretary, 1st year student.
The newest member of the swim club, Rei can only swim the butterfly stroke and is formerly a pole-vaulter in the track club. Initially, Rei gave in to Nagisa's persistence and agreed to join as a temporary member so the swim club can go to a joint practice between Iwatobi High School and Samezuka Academy (Rin’s school). After watching Haruka swim at the joint practice, Rei was captivated and joined as a full-fledged member.
Matsuoka Gou, Manager, 1st year student.
Gou is Rin’s younger sister and has an almost unhealthy fascination with muscles but she cannot swim. As the manager of the swim club, she helps to take care of the boys’ training routine and nutrition from time to time. She believes that her brother’s former friends and relay teammates (Haruka, Makoto and Nagisa) are the only ones who can change Rin back to the way he used to be.
Another Guy with a Girly Name
Name: Ryugazaki Rei [竜ヶ崎 怜]
Nickname: Rei-chan (by Nagisa), Four-eyes Speedo [ブーメラン めがね] (by Rin)
Birthday: December 14
Zodiac Sign: Sagittarius
Specialization: Butterfly stroke
Ryugazaki Rei is a main supporting cast member in Free! and a first year student at Iwatobi High School. Unlike the rest of the main cast, he does not share a common past of swimming at the Iwatobi Swimming Club with them as kids.
Initially, Rei had no intention of joining the swim club as he had already set his heart on joining the track club when he was briefly introduced during Nagisa's initial recruitment scene in Episode 2. As Nagisa continued to badger Rei, he told Nagisa that he is only interested in sports that are beautiful like pole-vaulting, where he can achieve perfect form through theories and calculations, and that swimming makes no sense to him as human have evolved from swimming in water to walking on land.
Eventually, Nagisa's persistence persuaded Rei to join the swim club as a temporary member so that they could participate in the joint practice between Iwatobi High School and Samezuka Academy. After watching Haruka swam at the joint practice, Rei was captivated by the beauty of Haruka's swimming style as he felt Haruka has something that he lacks (but wants to achieve) that goes beyond theories and calculations. In the end, Rei decided for himself that he wanted to join the swim club as a full-fledged member because he wants to be able to swim freely like Haruka does.
Beneath the Surface
Rei seems stern and unapproachable when he was first introduced as Nagisa tried to recruit him for the swim club. He is also shown to be a technical athlete as he tends to run calculations in his head and mumble to himself before he takes his jump as a pole-vaulter and dive in as a swimmer. This technical approach to sports allowed Rei to achieve perfect and beautiful form both as a pole-vaulter and a swimmer but would only be able to take him so far, as pointed out by his track coach when he failed to make a jump and him sinking to the bottom of the pool after diving in at the beginning of the series.
From the beginning, Rei is established as a logical thinker obsessed with theories, calculations and his own ideals of beauty. As the series progresses, his obsessions are played up for comedic effect especially when he became self-absorbed, explaining things based on those themes causing the others to ignore him and he himself getting upset for being ignored. In fact, Rei’s obsession with both theories and beauty are an integral part of his character that feeds into both his strengths and weaknesses.
Rei’s obsession with theories came from his obsession with beauty. Part of what Rei identifies as beauty is perfection, and he feels that perfection is something that can be achieved through theories, as demonstrated when he explains the sport of pole-vaulting to Nagisa in Episode 3:
Rei: I am only interested in sports that are beautiful.
Nagisa: Like track?
Rei: Yes. It’s a sport known for beautiful events such as pole vaulting. You can attain the perfect form through theory and calculation!
In actuality, Rei is a perfectionist. He is self-critical when he feels he is less than perfect or not up to par with his teammates, which is demonstrated during the training camp in Episode 5 & 6 of season 1. After the first day, Rei felt that his inability to swim as well as the others was hindering the team from their training since the team was only able to complete half of the proposed menu, ignoring the fact that he was new at this and it was his first time swimming long distances in the ocean. Despite being self-critical, Rei is always persistent and determined to find a solution to his own imperfections, as he is also a hardworker. Rei’s dissatisfaction with himself led him to practice swimming in the ocean in the middle of the night (which was a dangerous thing to do).
In season 2, when the boys were deciding on which events they wanted to enter for the summer tournaments in Episode 3, the team suggested that Rei should probably be able to swim the other styles since he has been swimming for a while. When Rei ultimately failed to swim anything other than the butterfly, he got frustrated and felt that he wasn’t good enough even after Haruka told him that he doesn’t have to force himself to swim the other styles as long as he has his own. Rei eventually went to Rin for help to teach him how to swim the other styles, and Rin was impressed with Rei’s determination. When Rei presented his “improved” self to his fellow members, Haruka acknowledged that Rei worked really hard to get to where he is, at which Rei was thoroughly touched by Haruka's remark.
When Rei feels that others perceive him as less than perfect, he tends to get defensive and shifts the blame to something else. This tendency was shown during the week that Rei was to learn how to swim in Episode 4 of Season 1. First, Rei blamed the fact that he wasn’t in condition the day before, and then he blamed the fact that he didn’t have a proper coach to teach him. Finally, he blamed the fact that the swimsuit he borrowed from Nagisa wasn’t streamlined enough for him.
This defensive response can be seen as a reaction to one of Rei’s insecurities. Although Rei generally puts up a confident front -- sometimes even being over-confident, he is insecure to show imperfections, failures and mistakes in front of his peers. Rei often gets extremely embarrassed when he shows his imperfections unexpectedly, thinking it as not beautiful. For example, after finding out that Rei could not swim at the joint practice, Nagisa asked Rei why he didn’t say anything earlier and Rei said that he couldn’t because it would go against his sense of beauty. In another instance, Rei got embarrassed and felt humiliated afterwards when Nagisa played a trick on Rei making him think that the teacher was calling on him, to which the half-asleep Rei blurted out “yes” and caused the teacher to ask him if he has to go to the washroom.
While Rei’s obsession with beauty is shown through his perfectionist tendencies, his obsession with theories is often shown through his methodological nature of doing everything by the book. This tendency often shows up as irritation and nitpicking, and often for comedic effect. This is demonstrated when Nagisa and Gou repeatedly called the islands they were going to for their training camp as “deserted islands” when in fact they are not deserted at all. Rei felt the constant need to correct them and felt irritated when they ignored him for the most part.
Internally, Rei strives to be recognized for the results of his hard work and efforts. In instances where the recognition is genuine, Rei tends to get bashful but is genuinely happy to receive such compliments.
The Bonds Shared
As Free! is a series that focuses on the camaraderie between its main characters, a large part of Rei’s character development revolves around the evolution of his feelings towards the swim club. Rei initially wanted nothing to do with the swim club and acted cold not only towards Nagisa, who tried to recruit him repeatedly because Rei has a girly name, but also towards Haruka and Makoto when he went over to them at the school’s gate to tell them his conditional offer to join the swim club as a temporary member for the joint practice. After being captivated by Haruka’s swimming, Rei seemed to have found a new respect for the swim club, especially towards Haruka. When Rei went over to the members to request them to let him join the swim club as a full-fledge member, he addressed Haruka as “Nanase-senpai” (a more formal/respectful way for an underclassman to address an upperclassman) instead of the initial “Haru-chan-san” (due to not really knowing Haruka at all and Nagisa kept talking about “Haru-chan” in front of Rei).
As Rei became a part of the swim club and began getting closer to its members, it became apparent that Rei thinks and cares for them as friends and comrades. Rei is often quick to notice when things are off with the others and gets worried about his comrades when he knows something is bothering them, causing them to not act their normal selves. Since Rei is an innate logical thinker and problem solver, he tends to be vocal about his concerns and would often try to confront the person he is worried about in hopes to help them come up with a solution. This was demonstrated in Episode 5 of Season 2 when Nagisa ran away from home due to his parents wanting him to quit the swim club to focus on his grades, and Rei helped Nagisa realize that he should face his problem head-on by talking to his parents about his feelings rather than running away from home.
In the latter half of Season 1, although Rei felt strongly about being one of their comrades, he started feeling like an outsider because everyone seemed to be more concerned about competing against Rin than making it all the way to the nationals as a team. In Rei’s eyes, Rin is someone that has caused Haruka grief during the prefectural tournament and initiated a change in Haruka’s swimming becoming less free, but everyone just kept talking about Rin without taking the time to explain to Rei their relationships with Rin. Even after confronting the others and getting Haruka to explain his relationship with Rin, Rei was still worried about Haruka because he couldn’t understand why Haruka hasn’t been freed from his guilt after Rin beat him in the prefectural and is left feeling more excluded when Nagisa told him that there was no need for him to get involved in something that happened in the past.
After Rei confronted Rin, and Rin eventually decided to tell Rei about his past and his relationship with Haruka (that losing to Haruka wasn’t the cause of why he wanted to quit swimming in the past), Rei's initial hostility towards Rin subsided and he became empathetic towards him due to realizing that Rin shared the same feelings as he does towards swimming. When Rin performed poorly in his individual event at the regional tournament due to being taken off of Samezuka’s medley relay roster, he angrily declared that he’d quit swimming to Nitori Aiichirou, one of his teammates, who tried to comfort him. Overhearing Rin’s declaration, Haruka began to shut down from the realization that he was never going to swim with Rin again. Recognizing Haruka’s desires to swim with Rin and seeing Haruka in that state, Rei made the decision to tell his teammates the conversation he had with Rin the night before, encouraged them to go after Rin to save him, and gave up his spot in the relay for Rin in order for Haruka to be able to swim with Rin again.
After watching Haruka, Rin, Makoto and Nagisa swim the relay as a team, Rei was left with complicated emotions but decided that the performance put forth by the four of them was truly beautiful to him. At the end of Season 1 and more evidently in Season 2, in addition to the Iwatobi High School Swim Club, Rei considered Rin a rival, a comrade from a different team, and a friend.
Each member of the Iwatobi Swimming Club (plus Rin) has an animal that represents him, acting as spirit animals (lit. image animals イメージアニマル in Japanese) of sorts. During the last relay race of each season, these spirit animals are shown as part of the "sights" the main cast sees while they swim their part in the relay. However, Rei’s spirit animal, the butterfly, was only shown during Haruka's leg of the race in the second season due to the fact that Rei did not take part in the last relay race from the first season, and each person was shown the spirit animal of the person that swam before himself in the last relay race of the second season.
While the butterfly serves as Rei’s spirit animal, oddly enough, unlike the other four main cast members, it is not an aquatic one (or at least one that can swim) but an insect that can fly. This is probably related to Rei’s own narrative within Free!.
Rei started out as a track club member that eventually joined the swim club without being able to swim. After Nagisa, Makoto and Haruka taught him their individual specialization, Rei was unable to swim any of them but eventually discovered that he was able to swim the butterfly stroke after trying to swim it as it was the only style he had not tried yet at the time.
Throughout the rest of the first season and part of the second season, Rei was only able to swim the butterfly stroke, but eventually, through hard work and tutoring from Rin, Rei was able to swim the other strokes, albeit not as beautifully as he swims the butterfly.
In some cultures, the butterfly symbolizes change and transformation, which is reflective of Rei and fits into his narrative in Free!. This is most evident during the first season as Rei has transformed from someone who is unable to swim and doesn’t want anything to do with swimming, thinking that it is not a beautiful sport to someone captivated by Haru’s swimming, becoming able to swim one of the more difficult strokes for beginners (from personal experience, beginners are usually taught the front crawl or the breast stroke first, depending on where you are from, i.e: Asia vs North America) and enjoying swimming together with his friends.
As I was getting into Free! and noticed all the characters' names, Haruka, Makoto and Rei's names indisputably reminded me of characters from my favorite anime from childhood, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. Haruka, Makoto and Rei shared the same first names as Sailor Uranus, Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Mars, and I couldn't help but think if first names are the only things these characters have in common with each other (although the majority of this section will be about Ryugazaki Rei for the purpose of this fanpage). To avoid confusion, I will be using "Ryugazaki" to refer to Ryugazaki Rei from Free! and "Sailor Mars" to refer to Hino Rei from BSSM.
Ryugazaki's first name is written in kanji (怜) while Sailor Mars' name is written in katakana as (レイ). Although both first names have the same pronunciation, the kanji in Ryugazaki's name means clever, which is reflective of his actual character as Nagisa has mentioned that Ryugazaki scores well on tests in Episode 4 of Season 1, while Sailor Mars' first name is usually written as 麗 (meaning beautiful or pretty) and sometimes 靈 (meaning soul or spirit) in the Hong Kong localization. Personally, I think the character meaning soul or spirit suits Sailor Mars better as she is a miko (Shinto priestess) in her civilian form and often uses her spiritual training to aid her in fighting as a sailor senshi. Interestingly, although Sailor Uranus and Sailor Jupiter's first names are both written in hiragana (はるか [Haruka] and まこと [Makoto], respectively), in the Hong Kong localization, they are written like the kanji characters used for Nanase Haruka and Tachibana Makoto's first names (遙 [Haruka] and 真琴 [Makoto], respectively).
Representation in Colors
While Ryugazaki's "image color" is purple and Sailor Mars' "image color" is red, Ryugazaki is shown to wear red in an important piece of his everyday attire, his red framed glasses, while Sailor Mars' senshi uniform is adorned with purple bows on the front and the back. Although Ryugazaki and Sailor Mars' primary image colors do not match each other's, it seems that red is Ryugazki's secondary color while purple is Sailor Mars' secondary color.
Zodiac Signs & Personalities
Although Ryugazaki is born under the Sagittarius sign and Sailor Mars is born under the Aries sign, both Sagittarius and Aries are fire signs and it is believed in astrology that that people born under signs of the same element share similar personalities. Fire signs are generally associated to be outgoing, passionate, dramatic and flamboyant, which are traits that are present in both characters to varying degrees.
First of all, both Ryugazaki and Sailor Mars are generally not associated with being shy, especially compared to other characters in their respective series, such as Ryugazaki to Nitori or Sailor Mars to Sailor Mercury/Ami. Both Ryugazaki and Sailor Mars seem to be very straightforward and are not afraid to voice their opinions, while characters like Nitori and Ami tend to be more concern about others' feelings before/while they are voicing their opinions and will choose their words accordingly.
As for being passionate, Ryugazaki is shown to be passionate about things that he finds beautiful, which, when given the chance, will talk about non-stop, such as the time when he found Olympic butterfly swimmers beautiful when they touch the wall during a medley relay race. Sailor Mars is passionate about achieving her dreams of becoming a career woman, as shown in a Sailor Moon R episode about her school's cultural festival.
There are also many instances that Ryugazaki would boast about himself and tell the others that he is going to show his beautiful butterfly style at different tournaments. In Sailor Mars' case, she tends to want to "one-up" Sailor Moon/Usagi to annoy her, especially during the first season of BSSM, when she held a fairly low opinion of Usagi at the beginning of the series.
Ryugazaki has a tendency to get riled up very easily, quite often by Nagisa, when he feels he’s being undermined or when Nagisa makes him do embarrassing things or gives him illogical suggestions. On the other hand, Sailor Mars is often annoyed at Sailor Moon and the two often engage in petty arguments.
In addition to the traits both characters share based on their zodiac signs, Sailor Mars is very loyal to Sailor Moon and cares about her a lot, despite all of the bickering between them especially during the earlier seasons of the series. Ryugazaki is also shown to be very loyal and caring towards his fellow swim club members once he became a full-fledge member of the club. While Sailor Mars might not be the one that does the best in school out of her group of friends (that honor usually goes to Sailor Mercury), she certainly doesn't do the worst either (that honor usually goes to Sailor Moon). In addition, Sailor Mars has shown to have many other talents, such as skiing and singing, as shown in the anime. Ryugazaki, on the other hand, is the resident theory and calculation guy in Free! and Nagisa even explicitly mentioned that Ryugazaki does do well in school on his tests. In those regards, I think that both Ryugazaki Rei and Hino Rei do have a lot in common beyond just their first names.
My favorite character from Free! is probably Makoto after initially being inspired to watch the series from reading Lethe's Haru shrine and Andrea's Makoto shrine, but Rei is the one I found myself having the most in common with, mostly in the area where his insecurities lie. Although how I handle things tends to differ from the how Rei handles his own struggles in general, one of my hopes for this fansite is to shine a light on how some of Rei's actions and character quirks that are often played up for comedic effect reflects his internal struggles and insecurities.
At the moment, I do have plans to eventually expand this fanpage into a multi-page shrine, especially after the novelization of Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club and Free! – Eternal Summer comes out in 2017. But for now, I hope this fanpage is sufficent in offering some sort of perspective on the character known as Ryugazaki Rei.
Here are some buttons to use if you would like to link back to Theorist. Please save the buttons to your own server and do not direct link. A text link back to the URL http://cissnei.net/rei would also be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Here are some links to other Free! fansites. If you own a Free! related fansite and would like to exchange links, please feel free to contact me.