The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide Dive!!
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I can see this conversation (or something like it) having happened:
“Hey, Kyoto Animation had this huge hit with female audiences called Free! Is there anything we can do to capitalize on that which is similar but not so exactly the same that we're just blatantly ripping it off?”
“Well, there is this novel series about a male diving club. . .”
Whether this conversation actually happened or not, and regardless of the fact that the first episode does establish the series' own distinct identity, there can be no disputing that this series is riding on the coattails of Free!. After all, it makes no bones about showing off hot, buff young guys in swimsuits, and that's an unavoidable component of the premise's subject matter. It will also doubtless appeal to much the same crowd.
That being said, it is its own series. Whereas Free! primarily focused on the idiosyncrasies of its cast, this one builds a distinct plot line right from the start. It is clearly aiming to be one of those classic inspirational and personal growth stories, where the young hero strives to walk in the footsteps of (swim in the wake of?) his idol, and it ends its first episode by definitively stating its end goal: prepping its divers to take a shot at qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I'll definitely give the series credit for ambition there. Accompanying it is a side story about the young hero being unclear about what dating at his age actually means – though in a cynical light, you can't have him getting too cozy with a girlfriend since that would interfere with all of the built-in potential for BL shipping. Mild humor comes in the way the junior high boys speculate about goings-on concerning the club in the way that boys that age will.
Perhaps the biggest point, though, is that this isn't a Kyoto Animation effort. It's instead done by Zero-G, and the different in companies really shows. The animation, though not bad, is flatter, less sharp, and generally less vibrant in its coloring. Still, this one promises characters that are good enough and a lot of heart. It also should speak to anyone who spent parts of the summer jumping off the high dive at his school's pool; I know those views from the 5 meter board did that for me, anyway. Nice nostalgia reaction, though I'll likely not be watching more.
Judging by the first episode, Dive seems like it could be a decent genre title. The production values are solid if unspectacular, and the writing is competent if somewhat bland. That's both the good and the bad news; a premiere like this is neither bad enough to turn away its core audience nor good enough to catch the attention of a larger viewership. Simply put, it's just OK.
The characters are part of the problem. While most of them are perfectly tolerable, there's not enough variety here in terms of personalities. Tomoki and his fellow divers all seem to fall into a very narrow spectrum between “silly but earnest” and “serious but earnest.” This is a sports anime, for crying out loud! We need passionate rivals, snarky antagonists, and quirky underdogs, not a bunch of generically competent kids. Even Tomoki doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the sport, and he appears to be motivated more by the desire to keep pace with his friends than by any great personal ambition. If these guys are going to carry the narrative all the way to the Olympics, then they're going to need some more energy.
The other big issue for me is that Dive has yet to fully articulate the appeal of its chosen sport. We're given the impression that mastering it is difficult and occasionally painful, but that's only half of the equation. What's missing is the big epiphany, the moment of clarity where the protagonist (not to mention the audience) genuinely understands what makes diving, figure skating, or swimsuit sumo wrestling worthwhile. I'm tempted to attribute this to a lack of competition; without some kind of rival to beat, there's no urgency behind Tomoki's slow and steady progress. Dive needs to give us the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, preferably as soon as possible.
Much of this may just be a matter of time. Given another couple of episodes, this series could certainly piece together a more compelling hook. For now, though, there's not much to get excited about as the narrative wanders between Tomoki's personal life and the trials and tribulations of the MDC. Genre fans may want to give it a second chance, but I don't see much here that would tempt a casual viewer into sticking around.
Well that sure was a bust. DIVE!! seems to be aiming for the same cute boys and vague swimming-related drama appeal of Free!, but if you're looking for the second coming of Kyoto Animation's water boys, I wouldn't seek it here. Based on its first episode, DIVE!! is only going to please those incredibly desperate for a boy-focused sports/fanservice hybrid. And even within that space, it's gotta fall near the bottom of the heap.
This first episode's biggest, most debilitating weakness is that it's just incredibly boring. I went into this episode wondering how DIVE!! would work to instill a sport that takes two seconds to execute into something that's exciting in sports drama terms, and left no closer to an answer. The actual diving here isn't given much dramatic significance at all, and we learn nothing about what makes a dive good or bad. The show simply expects its enthusiastic horns to do all the dive-related dramatic lifting.
Outside of the dives themselves, this episode is totally unfocused and lacking in any sort of hook. The episode spends far too long explaining the tedious specifics of protagonist Tomoki's diving club (it's owned by a sports brand, the original founder has deceased, there's been something of a leadership struggle, etc), and far too little time making sure we care about Tomoki in the first place. The episode jumps haphazardly between a variety of flashbacks, but none of them build up to any sort of larger dramatic narrative, and they mostly just drain what little forward momentum the show might possess. On top of that, Tomoki just isn't a very likable protagonist - so far, all we really know about him is that he's obsessed with his diving idol and constantly blows off his girlfriend.
Even as pure boy-focused fanservice, DIVE!! isn't likely to impress. The show's angular designs look awkward and not particularly attractive, and there's very little animation to speak of. The backgrounds look even worse, offering flat digital shapes and very little personality. DIVE!! feels visually tossed-off in all the worst ways.
Overall, while DIVE!! isn't necessarily the worst show I've watched this season, it probably does the most to squander its potential. Maybe check it out if you're really intrigued by the concept, but both the writing and visual problems here seem pretty insurmountable.
There are two plotlines struggling to be born in Dive!!'s first episode: the story of Mizuki Dive Club and its beautiful boy divers and Tomo's adolescent life struggles. What's interesting is that although both are given equal time in the episode, neither of them quite come off as being particularly worthwhile, which is a problem. This is partially rooted in the fact that in an attempt to make us understand Tomo's history with the sport (and the girl), the story is told in partial flashbacks: we open with little Tomo meeting his idol Yoichi for the first time and being invited to dive, spend half the episode in the present, and then the third quarter is once again devoted to flashbacks, which makes things feel uneven if not downright awkward. We never get a real sense that Tomo loves the sport, just that he's determined to do it and do it well. That may certainly be more relatable for non-sporting viewers, because I'm sure we've all been sucked into that loop of determining to be good at something just because, but for a sports-themed show, it's definitely problematic. That diving is all about flashy moves in a short space of time also makes it a bit difficult to fully appreciate the difference in skill level between Tomo, his yearmates, and Yoichi – we can generally see when landings look awkward, but the flips all look about the same.
Another issue here is that Yoichi talks like he's a motivational poster. Almost every word out of his mouth is canned encouragement, making him feel less like the awesome upperclassman and more like a walking advertisement for diving. A good looking ad, to be sure – if you like your boys lanky and svelte in tiny swimsuits, this may be the eye-candy show for you – but still not much of an actual character. Yes, it is only the first episode, but we should be able to understand why Tomo idolizes Yoichi so much, and that's not really coming through.
Of course, Yoichi does have one brief moment of personality: when he mentions Tomo's sort-of girlfriend to derail a conversation about his dad possibly having an affair. The way Yoichi looks at Tomo as he says it indicates that he knows full well what he's doing, so there may be a person in that sleekly muscled body after all, just one who keeps himself to himself. In any event, his comment is the trigger for Tomo's bigger worry – Mayu. Mayu either is his girlfriend or thinks she's his girlfriend (I got a bit confused as to whether he agreed to date her and then dumped her or if they're actually dating), and Tomo is not pleased with the situation. He doesn't get what “dating” really is and Mayu makes him uncomfortable when she meets him at his shoe locker or walks with him, but he's too shy to tell her to stop it. There's a potential love triangle brewing with Tomo's younger brother, who seems to like Mayu more than Tomo does, but the plotline seems to be there more to show that Tomo has trouble not just in physically jumping from a high point – it's an emotional metaphor too. Depending on how it's handled, this could be a nice metaphor for adolescence or a very clunky bit of symbolism.
Dive is trying, I'll give it that. It needs to strike a balance between plot and character that hasn't happened yet (and that little gossipy twit needs to go away), but once it gets its feet under it, this could pan out.
Dive!! Is going to invite inevitable comparisons with free, and they're not unwarranted. Both focus heavily on showing off as many pretty young boys as possible, and both are heavily focused on the competition and joy of participating in watersports (not those kind). Free! Was a big hit back in 2013, and it's very easy to see why. Anime is an industry dominated by the effects of the male gaze, even though women make up a huge percentage of the fandom. Even though anime has for decades been filled to the brim with cheesecake, very little of it has been made to appeal to those women (and men!) whose tastes align more with washboard abs than voluptuous bouncing bosoms. Free! Proved that there is a killing to be made in appealing to historically marginalized audiences, and Dive! Seems to be chasing after that same golden goose.
There are only a couple of problems. The first is that in a show ostensibly focused on a cast of appealing and sexy boys, none of the characters stand out much at all. Despite the homoerotic undertones that come with the territory of following a team of male divers, Dive! doesn't have the overt romance of something like Yuri on Ice, so the focus here is going to be on Bros being Bros. This would be great if any of these bros were unique and interesting characters, but so far they all seem to fit in to the mold of “enthusiastic and generally nice”, with only a little variation to distinguish any one boy from another. Tomoki as the lead falls especially flat, because his particular blend of youthful determination and puberty-laden self-doubt is the go to archetype for this kind of story. He isn't a bad character; he's just kind of flat and stale.
This leads to the series second inherent flaw: For a show about showing of pretty young men, it sure is kind of ugly. The character designs have a roughshod quality that makes them look just a little bit off at all times, and the choppy animation doesn't help things either. The boys all have weirdly elongated abs that almost look airbrushed on, which means that the illusion of animation is failing to make these characters, you know, sexy. I'll admit that I am by no means the target demographic for this particular brand of fanservice, but I still can't imagine these papercraft looking ken dolls to outshine any of the boys from Free! Or Yuri on Ice.
Tomoki makes a point about how the performance of diving is a lot of flash in a very short amount of time, and in order to make that visually engaging (especially for twelve weeks in a row) there needs to be some heft and fluidity to those diving scenes. Dive! doesn't have any of that, instead having its boys limply fall through the air and land with ineffectual artifice. I can see the Olympic Training plotline help the storyline pick up speed, and it's entirely possible that the boys become much more interesting over time. Still, this is a show about diving and fanservice, and on both of those counts it falls quite short, so I can imagine this winning much more than a pity trophy with its target audience.
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