Free! -Dive to the Future-
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Free! -Dive to the Future- ?
By centering on just one character, this episode was the most successful of all Free! Dive to the Future so far. Whether you like Makoto or not (and if you like Free!, how could you not?), it's a relief to see the story this week from just one point-of-view. In “The Grab Start of Hope!” Makoto is our avatar and connection to the Free! universe, but he is not a passive one. As Makoto interacts with the people around him, he grows too. After weeks of whipping around from one character to the next every other minute, this steady focus on one person's story and development is a relief.
While the majority of the episode focuses on Makoto, it actually begins with Rin. Visual repetition makes the hand-off go smoothly. While Rin and Sousuke catch up and Rin asks an emotionally-charged question about Sousuke's surgery, a water droplet on a cafe glass is a stand-in for Rin's unseen tears. Almost directly after that, while Makoto and Nao discuss Haru's devastating (though informal) loss against the Swedish powerhouse Albert, a drop of pool water punctuates a heavy moment. It's the first of two effective instances of nonverbal storytelling. The second comes later, when Makoto lets a ladybug take flight off his fingertip, a gesture that only crystallizes for the viewer and Makoto all at once near the end of the episode. The ladybug represents the next generation of swimming talent right as Makoto realizes his purpose: to be the person to guide that talent into their future success.
Makoto and his extremely Dad chic outfit (complete with a purse) continue to be our window to the story throughout, offering a consistent thread to hold onto when the swollen cast of characters gets to be too much. He chats on the phone with Nagisa and Rei, and we learn that Shizuru calls Haru's coach “Grandpa?” (There's no way that guy is older than 45, and yet he somehow has a grandkid in high school. I get that the show is trying to connect its giant cast with lots of family ties, but that one is hard to swallow.) It's fun to see Rei crack a joke with his underclassmen—it's hard to imagine the uptight Rei from season one doing something like that, and it's another one of those moments that shows how everyone is growing up. Another moment comes when Haru takes Makoto's advice and ultimately does what his coach is telling him to do: work on polishing the basics of his technique. In the past, Haru might have gone all emo and inward for a few episodes before deciding to trust the people who care about him. Makoto understands Haru's mindset from a lifetime of friendship, but later he's able to tap into what his young protege Misaki is thinking too. This conclusion is particularly true to Makoto's nurturing character, while also showing his evolution into a more ambitious coach.
We have far more than twelve characters, but after this Makoto-centric episode, I think it might have been cool to focus each one on a different swimmer's perspective. A central focus did wonders for this episode, parting the confusion to add emotional heft while finally making me feel like I saw a character in this show grow as a person for once.
Free! -Dive to the Future- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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