Easy Breezy
Tachibana Makoto • 橘 真琴

Something unknown

One difference between the light novel and the anime is the subject of Makoto’s fear. In the light novel, Makoto is afraid of the water in general. In the anime, however, he is afraid of the ocean.
105 Although the anime is based off of the light novel, it is unclear whether or not the two are directly related to one another. As the characters are in grade/middle school during the light novels and are in high school during the anime, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that the anime is a continuation of the light novels. For instance, I can imagine a young Makoto, afraid of water, growing up and becoming afraid of the ocean instead.

Despite sharing the same characters and similar stories, however, each medium has a different writer (or, in the case of the anime, writers). So why did they change it?

106 It’s an interesting question to consider. Perhaps the anime writers thought it would be easier to tell Makoto’s story alongside the overall plot if he was afraid of the ocean. It certainly fits well into the whole “team training and bonding” arc of the season, and it also allows the coincidental interaction with Rin to feel more natural. More importantly, it provides conflict—all the drama!

Although they did deviate from the novel, I don’t think that what the writers did was wrong. Whatever their reasons, the change allowed them to tell the story effectively. Moreover, they did it while also staying true to Makoto’s character.

106 In both media, Makoto’s fear originates from a terrible accident that occurred when he was a child. One day, he heard news that a large fishing boat sank, killing dozens of people. The boat had only been about three kilometers away from the harbor. Although he did not witness it himself, Makoto saw the funeral procession for the dead, accompanied by Haruka.

106 In the anime, one of the many who died was an old fisherman, who was kind to Makoto and sometimes played with him. During a summer festival, the old fisherman even gifted him with goldfish to take care of.

The idea that people drowned so close to shore shocked Makoto and confused him. Three kilometers was a distance that he and Haruka swam every day. How could someone drown in that stretch of space? Why couldn’t those people swim to safety? With those thoughts in mind, Makoto grew to believe that there is something else beneath the surface—something that caused the accident to happen.

It had nothing to do with whether the water was frightening, or whether he was able to swim or not. No matter how fast he swam, there was something hidden in the water that he couldn't escape from. Even if it looked like it was sleeping, it could wake up at any time and come to attack him. Fear of this hidden thing, fear of the shadows, all of these frightened feelings lived in Makoto's heart.

High☆Speed! Chapter Three: Free
This fear does not leave him. It only grows over the years, exacerbated by events that only seem to confirm his logic.

In both the light novel and anime, his pet goldfish eventually die. Once again, he is somewhat perplexed by their deaths. Despite taking care of them well—feeding them, cleaning their bowl—they still fell ill and perished. Although there is no real proof that the water caused their deaths, Makoto’s fear of it leads him to believe that it is nevertheless the case.

In the light novel, however, the death of his goldfish also causes him to recount Haruka’s accident that had occurred earlier.

Feeling feverish and clearly unwell, Haruka had attempted to retrieve Aki’s scarf, only to fall into the river and collapse. When Makoto and Rin find him unconscious, the former is notably devastated and shaken over the whole ordeal. Much like how it killed his goldfish, Makoto cannot help but feel that it is the water that hurt Haruka—nearly killing him in fact.

It's almost like the water that nearly swallowed Haruka that time.

He thought, and his hands began to tremble again.

High☆Speed! Chapter Three: Free

Despite the severity of his anxiety, however, Makoto keeps his fears to himself. Even so, he cannot hide it completely. Whenever the topic is brought up in conversation, his body language changes noticeably. His normally carefree expression becomes shuttered, his gaze oftentimes turning elsewhere as if distracted. His body also tends to tremble or shake slightly.
"Are you afraid of water?"

Makoto's heart pounded. His palms were sweaty. His throat was dry, and his chest felt tight. He felt like there wasn't enough oxygen in the air around him. Makoto tried to pretend that he was calm, but he couldn't force his breathing to stop being ragged.

High☆Speed! Chapter Three: Free
In the light novel, both Haruka and Rin at one point or another notice his odd behavior, but are unable to come to a full conclusion. When the subject is broached, Makoto avoids it, either saying that he does not remember or reassuring them that he is fine. Sensing his hesitation, Haruka and Rin also refrain from pursuing the matter further.
[Haruka] hadn't swum hard enough to tire himself out. Actually, Makoto was the one who was out of breath. Maybe he had also just finished swimming a thousand meters. He had probably done it at full strength, too.

That was how he had always been. When it came to swimming, Makoto never knew how to hold back. He certainly never let himself just swim with the flow. Haruka had never asked, nor even thought about asking, why that was the case.

High☆Speed! Chapter Two: Water
"When we pulled Nanase out of the river, you were shaking, weren't you?"

"Was I? It feels like I was dreaming, so I can't remember very well."

Makoto turned to face forward and started walking again.

Rin watched Makoto's back, thinking.

He was definitely shaking back then.

Though he had been able to give precise orders to Rin and Aki, Makoto had been shaking so hard that there was no way to miss it. His hands, his legs and his face - they weren't shaking from the cold, but because he was afraid of something. Even while they were riding in the ambulance, Makoto had gripped the hem of Haruka's shirt, shaking and calling Haruka's name the whole time.

Rin had never seen anyone that terrified by something before. The sight had stuck deep in his heart, and now his body wouldn't work the way he thought it should.

High☆Speed! Chapter Two: Water
105 In the anime, Makoto’s behavior is not much different. When the swimming club decides to conduct a summer training camp, he readily agrees despite being somewhat unsettled by the idea. Aware of his fear of the ocean, Haruka later asks him if he really is all right with it.
Haruka: Are you really okay with this?
Makoto: Huh?
Haruka: The ocean.
Makoto: (…) I’ll be fine. It was a long time ago.

Nanase Haruka & Tachibana Makoto
Free! Episode 05: Trial in Open Water

So why doesn’t he confide in his friends? As someone with a natural tendency to care for others, it may be that Makoto simply doesn't want others to worry about him. It's not so much that he doesn't want to appear weak as so much that he doesn't want to be the cause of others' concerns. On the other hand, in the light novel, Makoto notes that he does feel a sense of embarrassment and shame from his anxiety.
(...) Makoto felt ashamed of how weak he was.

High☆Speed! Chapter Three: Free
The very nature of his fear also renders any sort of explanation to be rather difficult on Makoto’s part. Even though he states that he is afraid of the water/ocean, given his own reasons on the matter, it doesn’t really seem to be the case. What is he really afraid of? He is afraid of the “something unknown” that is hiding beneath the surface. That “something” is not represented by anything tangible; it is more of a feeling that he experiences.

106 During the summer training camp, Makoto does not seem to be too affected when swimming in the ocean. When he goes to rescue Rei during the storm, however, he is suddenly reminded of the people who drowned during the boating accident. That memory—not necessarily the ocean—is what petrifies him and what puts him in danger as well as a result. Likewise, when Haruka collapses on the riverbank and ends up in the hospital, Makoto’s fear returns as he recalls how dangerous the water can actually be.

Haruka: You’re still scared of the ocean, aren’t you?
Makoto: I thought I’d gotten over it. But when I saw Rei drowning, I completely froze. The memory of that day immediately surfaced. Sorry I dragged you into this.
Haruka: It’s not your fault.

Nanase Haruka & Tachibana Makoto
Free! Episode 06: Shocking No Breathing!
Because his fear is obscure, it is hard to put into words. Rather than expending his energy in trying to explain himself, Makoto, perhaps, finds it easier to stay silent.

There is also the possibility that he believes it’s futile to share his feelings. In the light novel, he suggests that his fear is something he cannot escape from no matter what. Perhaps he thinks that there is no solution to his problem, making it pointless to discuss it with others.

Ultimately, after having kept this part of himself secret for so long, it becomes natural for him to hide it. While there is a part of Makoto that wants to tell someone, he is so used to not talking about it that it just doesn’t happen. It is only when Haruka asks him directly that Makoto confesses his fear of the water for the first time.

Makoto didn't mind being asked by Haruka. Actually, he even felt like he wanted Haruka to know. Maybe he had even been waiting for Haruka to ask him. (…) It wasn't that he wanted to hide anything; it was just that he had been keeping this locked away deep in his heart for a long time.

High☆Speed! Chapter Three: Free

Even though he refrains from sharing his troubles with them, his friends are the ones who compel Makoto to confront his fears. The water and ocean terrify him, yet he chooses to swim anyway because he wants to swim with his friends. Swimming is a way he can be together with the people that mean the most to him; if he cannot do that, then swimming is no longer something he is interested in.
"I want to try swimming in the medley relay, and not just because Matsuoka-kun asked me to. So... Haru, let's swim it together. If you're not there, if it's not you, then it's no good. I want to swim with you, Haru!"

Tachibana Makoto
High☆Speed! Chapter Three: Free
I was the one who decided to hold a camp. And I chose to start the swim club. But that was because I wanted to swim with you again. I wanted to swim in a relay with everyone again. But… If you’re not there… It’s meaningless without you! I want to swim with you!

Tachibana Makoto
Free! Episode 06: Shocking No Breathing!
As mentioned before, Makoto’s fear affects him not only mentally but also physically. When his anxiety overwhelms him, he becomes immobilized and unable to move forward. Swimming with his friends, however, allows him to overcome this obstacle. When he swims with his friends, Makoto no longer feels trapped.
Nagisa: Hey, can I ask you something? If you’re scared of the ocean, why did you participate in this training camp?
Makoto: Because I wanted to swim. Because I wanted to swim with you guys. When the four of us swim together, I feel like we can go anywhere.

Hazuki Nagisa & Tachibana Makoto
Free! Episode 06: Shocking No Breathing!
106 But what really carries him and the team further is trust.

After he and Rei nearly succumb to the storm out at sea, Makoto realizes how worried his friends were for them. In that moment, he grows to understand that while his fear of the ocean may worry them, hiding this part of himself from them will only make them more concerned. Knowing that they care deeply for his well-being, Makoto learns to place as much trust in them as they do in him.

Makoto: (...) It’s okay. This is something I want to tell them. I suddenly felt scared.
Rei: Scared?
Nagisa: Scared of what?
Makoto: I’m scared of the ocean.

Tachibana Makoto, Ryugazaki Rei & Hazuki Nagisa
Free! Episode 06: Shocking No Breathing!
106 In sharing his burdens and trusting his friends, he is able to lay his fears to rest. The next day, Makoto actually volunteers to swim back over to the main island to inform Kou and Miss Amakata where they are. When the others protest, he reassures them that he is okay—truly now—because he is not alone.
Makoto: I’ll swim over and let them know.
Rei, Nagisa: Huh?
Haruka: Don’t be stupid!
Rei: He’s right!
Makoto: But the ocean is so calm right now. Plus… Everybody’s here with me.

Tachibana Makoto, Ryugazaki Rei, Hazuki Nagisa & Nanase Haruka
Free! Episode 06: Shocking No Breathing!
106 With the sky sunny and the storm now over, Makoto looks at the expanse of ocean with a calm and content smile on his face.

As Rei and Nagisa dive in first, he gives Haruka a reassuring look before entering the waters after them, unafraid. Soon after, Haruka follows, and together they swim their way back.