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Free! Season 4 Release Date, Cast And Plot - What We Know So Far

Ever since "Free!" Season 3's cryptic sign off — "see you in 2020..." — fans of the swimming-themed anime have been desperate to dive into more content. Little did anyone know what a year 2020 would turn out to be, and with production delays throwing the calendar into disarray, we've all been left treading water.

Loosely based on the light novel "High Speed!" by Kōji Ōji, "Free!" follows the story of Iwatobi Swim Club. Captained by protagonist Haruka Nanase, the club's talented team of swimmers showed their promise in the pool from childhood. Sporting successes and setbacks see friendships ebb and flow between the boys — and, of course, bitter rivalries spill over onto dry land.

The series made a splash in the sports anime subgenre and beyond when it began in 2013, with season two hitting screens the following year. It was four long years before Season 3 finally aired in 2018 — but "Free!" fans weren't left totally high and dry for all that time. From 2015 onwards, co-creators Kyoto Studios and Animation Do released a film series that recapped familiar storylines from the first two seasons, plus some extra prequel content teasing the events of Season 3. Likewise, the 2019 movie "Free! Road to the World – the Dream" recapped Season 3 — but left the waters of the future looking pretty murky.

While we're poised for the starting gun on Season 4, let's take a look at what we know so far.

What's the release date for Free! Season 4?

Anticipation has been building for a fourth season of "Free!" ever since the end of its third — as The Cinemaholic reports — when the parting promise of more in 2020 left fans hopeful. As reported by Keeperfacts, the series creator's had planned the release of new material to coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics — a fitting occasion for the anime's swimming stars. However, like pretty much everything else last year, the Olympics were postponed until July 2021 — and "Free!"'s release date was postponed, too.

Kyoto Studios have now confirmed that part one of a new two-part movie series titled "Free: The Final Stroke" is slated for release on September 17, 2021, with its follow-up arriving on April 22, 2022. However, with speculation still simmering that the Olympics could be delayed or cancelled, who knows if this is set in stone.

Here's where it gets confusing: Despite this confirmed movie news, we still don't have any official confirmation about Season 4. If "The Final Stroke" takes after the other movies in the "Free!" franchise, it will act as a prequel to the coming season four — but perhaps its title signals that it'll depart from its predecessors to deliver the final installment of the swimmers' tale itself? Though it's too early to say how they'll play out, let's take a look at whose stories are left to tell.

Who's in the cast of Free! Season 4?

With original protagonist Haruka still very much at the centee of the story, Nobunaga Shimazaki looks sure to reprise his role. Likewise, old rival Rei Ryugazaki is still in the frame, so it's likely we'll see the return of Daisuke Hirakawa too. Fun fact: aside from his "Free!" role, he's also the official Japanese voice actor for Orlando Bloom. We can't see Orlando taking on the role of Rei for the English dub, but crazier things have happened.

Makoto Tachibana's ambitions to train pro swimmers like his best friend Haruka at the end of the last season means he's likely to play a sizeable part in whatever's to come, so we can expect a return from voice actor Tatsuhisa Suzuki. Having taken up the baton from Hiroko Utsumi in Season 3, and stuck with "Free!" throughout its subsequent film installments, it looks probable that Eisaku Kawanami will return to direct.

Neither the cast of "The Final Stroke" nor the fourth season have been officially announced yet, but that hasn't stopped speculation — like Herald Journalism's — that there could be some new faces on the horizon. Let's take a look at the plotline possibilities for new and returning characters.

What's the plot of Free! Season 4?

Given the tie-in with the Tokyo Olympics, you don't need a gold medal in good guessing to predict where the plot of Season 4 or the film series could go. Season 3 ended with Haruka resolving to push his swimming career on to compete at a global level, so we reckon its follow-up could see him realize his international aspirations and take a shot at the Olympic podium. Your guess is good as ours, but we can't be the only ones wondering whether his ambition will float or flounder.

When we last saw them, our protagonists were split in two: one plotline staying with the Iwatobi high school swim club, and another following those who'd graduated to college competition.

As anime review channel KANJIC points out, there's still plenty of potential to develop both of those threads — and with some of fans' best-beloved characters like breast-stroke champion Nagisa now helming the high school club, we're pretty sure delving deeper into character relationships would be a popular option.

All being well, the release of "The Final Stroke" this September should make the future of "Free!" as clear as an Olympic pool.