Free! -Dive to the Future-
by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Free! -Dive to the Future- ?
This may be the final episode of Dive to the Future but we definitely haven't seen the last of Free! Even this episode feels like a lead-up rather than a wind-down. “Dive to the Future” was all about looking forward, accelerating from one event to the next, and for what? There's no real resolution, just a teasing acknowledgment that Free! is here to stay. At this point, we've lost our chance for a tasteful farewell to this beloved franchise. As long as there's still hype for a rapidly multiplying cast of shirtless swimmer boys, there won't be a goodbye.
With such a massive revolving cast of characters, it's easy to forget that the primary protagonist of Free! is Haru, but this episode re-centers on him. An opening sequence requires no words to show Haru's lifelong love of the water. Later, after a disastrous race, Haru returns to the ocean that surrounded his world at Iwatobi, but he rarely visits as a Tokyo college student. Flanked by Makoto and Rin, he shouts at the ocean before running directly into the sea, clothes and all. It's perhaps the most evocative scene of the episode because it's a return to the series' roots, bringing Haru control of his own story at long last, revitalizing the water's role as the show's most temperamental character.
This episode went without an opening song, probably to save time. But even so, this week's plot was a lot of “hurry up and wait” with no payoff. There were some strong relationship-building moments in this final episode, but they were all disappointingly brief. Ikuya's arc ends with a race against Natsuya that culminates in a tearful brotherly embrace. It's framed by tons of exposition, so this is less of a scene on its own than a visual moment. Later, Asahi and Hiyori's rivalry is made entirely irrelevant by that one guy from the newspaper, Kinjou. He doesn't even speak—we only know he's a villain when he elbows Asahi and doesn't say sorry. Every interaction felt rushed, and I figured that was so we could fit in Haru's expected second-day triumph. But all we see of that is television background noise, as viewed from his new rival Albert's perspective.
Then comes the announcement: “See you in 2020!” Just in time for the Olympics. My first thought was relief; despite how much ground it covers, this episode was a letdown when it came to concluding the season. But after that initial thought, I was wondering, “Why?” This season didn't need to be the frustrating rushed mess that it ended up being. It didn't need to tell its story in hundreds of pieces spread across twelve episodes. It could have followed the model of its most successful episode, “The Grab Start of Hope!” which centers almost exclusively on Makoto's perspective. If Free! wants to be a story about continuing character development, it needs to give its characters more time in the spotlight. It needs to create space to tell meaningful stories, rather than glimmers of relationship-building in between tons of exposition.
This franchise isn't telling a new story and it hasn't been since Free! Eternal Summer. It's simply presenting the same coming-of-age angst season after season, but with a bigger and bigger cast. But just give me two years to cool down, and you can bet I'll have forgotten that I wrote this and that I'll be hyped for Free! 2020 along with everyone who remains. In spite of it all, Kyoto Animation has created some lovable characters. We'll just have to see how long it can get away with coasting on that because, time has gradually been running out.
Free! -Dive to the Future- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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