Free! -Dive to the Future-
Episode 9

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Free! -Dive to the Future- ?

We're really going to do this, Free! Dive to the Future? It's episode nine, and we're still going to keep adding new cast members? Since the beginning, this season's biggest weakness was juggling far too large a cast—and yet it keeps piling new faces on. This episode was choppier than windy water as we whipped from expositionary scene to expositionary scene, with neither Ikuya's angst nor any decent swimming to tie things together. Between the new characters popping up and the old ones interjecting their own stories, I'm desperately trying to keep my head above the water.

Mikoshiba has a little sister named Isuzu. Makoto's student Misaki has a rival named Kaoru. Rin has a cat named Steve. Haru has a new rival from Sweden named Albert (if you can forgive his suspiciously American accent). Meanwhile, most of the other characters we already know know are still here, crowding together in clumps and having conversations about the other characters who aren't here. We've got so many people to account for that Free! has given up on even showing much swimming. We know Ikuya and Asahi squared off in the freestyle qualifier, but we only heard about how that went over dinner at Asahi's sister's restaurant. This is ridiculous. When we have to dial back on the swimming that much, it's a huge sign that the cast is too big.

The stories that do play out are mostly told, not shown. There are some cute moments, like Haru and Albert bonding over mackerel set lunches or Rin's old team ribbing him about weeping over a dramatic TV show, not realizing he's already home from Australia. But most of the time, we get two or more characters talking about a third character. It's the Iwatobi club talking about what's next for Makoto and Haru. It's Makoto and Misaki talking about Misaki's rival. It's Kisumi summing up who won which race instead of showing us—and it's a good thing he does, because there are so many racers that I don't know how else we'd remember. We certainly can't rely on emotional investment to recall, considering that everyone qualified for the national level with little fanfare or suspense. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I sort of miss Ikuya's unnecessary drama. At least the angst gave Free! an emotional component and tied many of its storylines together. Now we're lost at sea. Or up a creek without a paddle. I can keep these water metaphors coming!

“Interval in the Evening Calm!” is supposed to be a calm before the storm, but there were so many moving pieces that it didn't feel low-key at all. A quickly moving plot that shifts constantly from one character perspective to another can sometimes create interest and anticipation for several different story arcs at once, but not so this time. Since every character's story is told with so little time or depth, it's difficult to feel strongly one way or the other about how it will all turn out. Only at the end do we get a storyline that I have hope for—Haru is facing off against his most challenging opponent yet. How is this merman going to rise to the challenge? Blessedly, I can't quite predict that yet.

Rating: C-

Free! -Dive to the Future- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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