Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: Free – Dive to the Future

Original Run: July 11, 2018 - September 26, 2018
Number of Episodes: 12
Genre: Sports

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Free – Dive to the Future. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Haruka Nanase (voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki), the prodigy swimmer, has graduated from Iwatobi High and his beloved Iwatobi Swim Club. Although his high school career is over, his professional one has just begun. Haruka now has his sights set on the international stage.

During his time with the Iwatobi Swim Club, Haruka had to face many challenges, and rediscover why he loves the water so much. However, it turns out he still has much to learn.

The competitors Haruka faces are the very best of the best. Everyone has put in the time. Everyone has faced their own struggles. Everyone is gunning for the top. To slow down here would mean undoing years of growth.

That is a prospect Haruka cannot accept.

If being the greatest were easy, then everyone would do it. Therefore, Haruka is determined to prove to the world he has what it takes.

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Series Positives

I always believed there was going to be a third season to the Free series. The ending of the second, Free – Eternal Summer, didn’t seem definitive enough to indicate this story was over. Sooner or later, we would get a return of the Iwatobi Swim Club.

Low and behold, here we are. It only took four years after the release of season two (not to mention, two and a half years after my review of the last installment) for this follow up to air.

Let me emphasize, it has been a long time since I have looked at this series. Both Free seasons one and two were among my first 100 reviews. For context, I am about to release my 400th. As such, there were details, plot points, and characters that I didn’t fully remember when beginning Free – Dive to the Future.

But to this day, there is one thing I have never forgotten. The first two seasons of Free, particularly that first season, were outstanding sports anime. I highly recommend them. As I’ve seen it, this series’ success has been due to its unwavering focus on its chosen sport, swimming, and the athletes who have competed within it.

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The obstacles faced by the Iwatobi Swim Team and others have been personal. The battles, the struggles, and the breakthroughs have never hinged on someone versus someone else. It always has been someone versus themselves. This series’ climatic swimming meets have been so intense because there was no doubt a swimmer was giving everything they had.

The first two installments of Free were exciting and put you on edge. They were great.

I never got that same sensation from Free 3. Instead, it was: You’re right show. I have seen the first two seasons. When are you going to stop retreading the same stuff and do your own thing?

I’ve got to be honest. If Free – Dive to the Future was the next chapter in the Free saga we were always destined to have, I wish it had never come. This was sloppy, and it was clear why. But we’ll get to that in due time.

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As part of the Free series, this was awful. As a stand-alone anime, it still wasn’t very good. Be that as it may, there were some positive things to come out of this installment.

For starters, this had the look of a Free season; it was beautifully animated. All the swim meets, although not as exciting as what has come before, remained the best parts of this show. The artwork and the visuals were in top gear.

Free 3 was undoubtedly pretty, but it had no substance. That was a shame too because there almost was.

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Returning Characters

Let me clarify two things.

One: There were no good new characters. Two: When I say “Returning Characters” I am referring to only three: Haruka Nanase as well as Makoto Tachibana and Rin Matsuoka (voiced by Tatsuhisa Suzuki and Mamoru Miyano). Although there were others from the previous seasons who made a return, if they weren’t one of the three I mentioned, they left no impact or were irrelevant.

As for the stated trio, they made up the bulk of the few indications that Free 3 was a true sequel. These three’s stories moved forward in a significant way, and that allowed them to become the most interesting characters of this season.

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Haruka was more open than ever. He was no longer the mindless machine that could only comprehend swimming. In other words, he was not as exhausting as he used to be. From what was in Free 3, it was almost as if Haruka had actually grown from the experiences he had in the first two seasons.

In addition, Haruka served as an anchor for characters who were struggling. He could connect with others through his words and actions.

There were points in this season when Haruka, unprovoked, apologized for past wrongs he committed. Had it been earlier in this series, he would have just given a thousand-yard stare and then wondered why people didn’t understand him. More than anything, though, Haruka was willing to step outside his comfort zone to show he meant the things he said.

The best part was, Haruka wasn’t even the highlight.

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Makoto’s personal growth could have been the basis for an entirely new spin-off series; one I would happily hype myself up for.

Unlike Haruka, Makoto had moved away from competitive swimming. He found his calling behind the scenes and seemed far more fulfilled with being a coach.

Makoto as a mentor was a fantastic way for this series to demonstrate how he and his friends had interpreted the events of the first two Free seasons. Everything swung back around when Makoto met a young swimmer who was in a similar situation he was once in.

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Finally, there was Rin who was not nearly used enough. When he was around, he had some of the best scenes in this season. Compared to Haruka who had, at last, broken out of his Free 1 shell, Rin was enjoying the results of his full one-hundred-eighty transformation.

The glum, self-doubting swimmer we had known was nowhere to be seen. Free 3 gave us a rising athlete. No longer was Rin held back by his perceived weaknesses. He was driven by his rivals — a.k.a., his friends — to get better at the sport he loved and had dedicated his life to. Powerful competitors were no longer roadblocks, but rather opportunities to become stronger.

This more confident Rin resulted in a more lighthearted individual. He was willing to laugh and be silly. Again, the only downside associated with Rin was that he was not in this season as much as he should have been.

Through Haruka, Makoto, and Rin, Free 3 could have been something worthwhile; on par with its predecessors even. Too bad these three were only a small fraction of what made up this season.

All around them was a never-ending barrage of setbacks, repeats, and nonsense.

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Series Negatives

As I said in the beginning: Free 3 was sloppy, and it was that way for one reason.

This series had shot itself in the foot long before this season ever came to air.

A major piece of Free has always been the Iwatobi Swim Club: Haruka and Makoto as well as their two underclassmen Nagisa Hazuki and Rei Ryugazaki (voiced by Tsubasa Yonaga and Daisuke Hirakawa). These four were the first two seasons of Free. However, Free 2 ended with the graduation of Haruka and Makoto from Iwatobi High.

Do you see the issue yet?

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Free 3 took place while Haruka and Makoto were in university. The Iwatobi Swim Club that we had come to know had broken up. Plus, since this was mainly Haruka’s story, it would make sense that the younger club members would have a difficult time playing any sort of role in this season.

Nevertheless, that sure as hell didn’t stop Free 3 from trying.

This season spread itself thin. Not only did it follow Haruka and Makoto’s story, but we also got Nagisa and Rei running the swim club with its newest members. Then on top of that, there was Rin’s training in Australia, too.

That was three separate plotlines, and they each had problems.

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Rin was underutilized, Nagisa and Rei were utterly irrelevant, and what was going on with Haruka was infuriating because it was just season one all over again. Making matters worse, it was the latter of these three that resulted in the majority of Free 3. Is it any wonder why this was a giant slog to get through?

Did I completely fail to mention that this season was boring? Holy Christ, this was dull. I guarantee you, if you have seen Free 1, you could watch this entire third installment while continually pressing the skip-forward button, and you will not miss a damn thing.

That’s a pretty useful tidbit to know when you need to watch a five-hour series in two. Too bad that does make for a rather pointless sit. If you take my advice, don’t bother with this show at all. Should you decide to watch this season anyway, though, there is a silver lining.

Free 3 ended in episode eight. Due to that, the obvious next question is: What of the last four episodes? I wouldn’t worry about them. Other than being a set up for Free 4 — I’ll come back to this — the conclusion to this season was beyond stupid.

There were plenty of things to illustrate why this finale was dumb, but the biggest centered around the introduction of Albert Wåhlander (voiced by Jeff Manning).

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I don’t care if what I’m about to say is a spoiler, Free 3 had no idea what it was doing with this character.

Whenever the subject of Albert came up, the music turned menacing, and everyone spoke in a foreboding tone. If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed this guy had just gotten through pillaging a small European village.

This wasn’t some supervillain. Albert was simply the best swimmer in the world. This season needed to calm the hell down.

Even if we disregard what people were saying, here are two things Free 3 got wrong with Albert.

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First: Do you want to take a stab at how this show introduced Albert as the world’s most badass swimmer? Did he put up an unbelievable race time? Was he a cocky prick? Did he have water jets coming out of his butt? All good guesses; all of them wrong. Are you ready for this? He crushed somebody in a video game. I mean, how else would you do this? It’s a known fact that every gamer out there is also an internationally ranked swimmer. They’re practically the same thing.

Second: If any upcoming show wants to establish someone as a threat to be concerned about,  do what Free 3 did. Have this person speak in only nice-guy English (I wish I were joking). Also, to complete the immersion, make sure your final boss character only talks to the main hero with compliments and encouraging statements. That will surely get people pissing their pants.

What was this?

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Lastly, there was the issue with Free 3 setting up for the next installment. To be fair, there was an explicit declaration of a new Free project at the end of episode twelve. So there should be something coming — in 2020, that is.

Outstanding. Not only are we getting a follow up to a season that was a drag on the Free brand, but we get to wait two years for it, too. Yippee.

Seriously, two years. Why? It’s not like there is some massive international sporting event coming in 2020 that a Japanese swimming anime, whose story is based in Tokyo, would possibly care about. However, if such an event did exist, then maybe said anime might be trying to milk an idea that was already one season too long.

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Final Thoughts

I know I will be watching whatever this series does next. I kind of made it my job to do so. As for everyone else, though, why do that to yourself?

I could say this was a case of oh-how-the-mighty-have-fallen, except, I don’t believe that to be the case. This series may have been open for a third season after the end of the second, but I never said a continuation was necessary. Therefore, you’re still left with two really good sports anime, while totally disregarding the third.

Although there was some growth with some returning characters, there wasn’t enough here to make this installment worth your time.

Free – Dive to the Future is one you can skip.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Free – Dive to the Future? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

Post Editor: Onions

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