Free! -Dive to the Future is an anime series produced by Kyoto Animation and Animation Do and was directed by Eisaku Kawanami. The series aired on Japanese television from July 11-September 26, 2018. As of this writing, FUNimation Entertainment holds the North American license for Free! -Dive to the Future.

Even though there was an anime film between Free! Eternal Summer and Free! -Dive to the Future, you didn’t have to see the film in order to understand what’s going on. Over the course of the series, several flashbacks are presented to help the audience understand who some of the new characters are and how they fit in with the already established characters from the previous two seasons.

The format this series took was telling stories focusing on specific characters (or one character) in various places. There was a lot of jumping around during the first episode, which at times almost made the viewer feel like they were experiencing whiplash. But after the first episode, the amount of jumping around between stories slowed down dramatically. In fact, it quickly settled down on focusing more on the college age characters who are in Tokyo, with occasional appearances by other characters or groups of characters. Unfortunately, this really affected the high school characters at Iwatobi High. Three new characters were introduced for their team, but because we didn’t spend a whole lot of time with them, we only got very brief character development for any of them. In the end, the development was so brief that I still can’t remember what their names are. While we got to see them compete in two swimming events, their main appearances were to appear on screen for maybe a minute or so and provide narration to show that they’re following what their senpai are doing in the swimming world.

The season’s strength was focusing on Haru, Makoto, and Asahi trying to reunite with Ikuya. The writing for this story arc was very effective, and I found this to be a compelling story. Unfortunately, after Ikuya reunites with the others, the rest of the story leading up to the All-Japan Invitational started to feel a little rushed. We get to the All-Japan Invitational in the final episode of the season, but the audience doesn’t get to see the results of all the races. It just kind of stops during the second day of the event, while in the middle of a race that includes Haru and Rin. While we got a final screen saying, “See you again in 2020,” it didn’t totally ease the sting of feeling a little let down that we end up stopping in the middle of the much-hyped big swimming tournament.

After finishing Free! -Dive to the Future, I find myself wondering if perhaps this could have been a two-cour series instead of one. The extra episodes could have been used to flesh out the new Iwatobi high school swimmers, create more of a buildup to the All-Japan Invitational, and allow the audience to see Sousuke’s surgery and rehab that keeps getting referenced in the dialogue. Or, if they wanted to stay with a one-cour season, have the cour end before the All-Japan Invitational. Honestly, I would have felt a little less disappointed if this season had just led up to the All-Japan Invitational, because this is a more natural stopping point.

Free! -Dive to the Future had a lot of potential, and it seemed to overall be living up to that potential in its early episodes. Unfortunately, by the end, it was obvious that the execution for the overall story could have been a lot better. But here’s hoping that 2020 will bring us the rest of the All-Japan Invitational and what’s to come next!

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