Anime Blu-ray Review: Free! -Dive to the Future-

Free! -Dive to the Future- has two Blu-ray discs that include the 12 episodes of the anime series, as well as the “Episode 0” OVA. The set includes both an English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Free! -Dive to the Future-
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: September 29, 2020

The third season of Free! is set after the events of the Free! -Take Your Marks- anime film. When I originally watched this series as a simulcast on Crunchyroll, I said at the time that you didn’t necessarily need to watch the film in order to understand what’s going on. However, when I recently re-watched Free! -Dive to the Future- shortly after seeing Free! -Take Your Marks-, I picked up on several references from the film. At this point, I would say that while you don’t necessarily have to watch Free! -Take Your Marks- before watching this season of the series, I would highly recommend it. There were bits in this season that were humorous if you’ve seen the film, which came across as inconsequential or coming from out of nowhere when I originally watched this season.

The set starts with “Episode 0,” which was an OVA that was screened at an event in Japan before Free! -Dive to the Future- began airing on Japanese television. It had not been available in the United States prior to the release of this Blu-ray set. This OVA sees Haru and Makoto moving to Tokyo before starting college. There’s a Mascot Wrestling Event taking place in Tokyo, which includes the Iwatobi mascot. The group bringing the costume drops the beak, and Haru finds it… and even recognizes it as the beak. Meanwhile, Makoto is recruited to don the costume for the first round of the event, since the guy who’s supposed to be in the costume is running late. At the Iwatobi Cherry Blossoms Festival, the swimmers from Iwatobi and Samezuka have gotten together. The mascot wrestling event is streamed at the festival, and this turns into something comical when the others figure out that it’s Makoto in the costume.

I thought “Episode 0” was amusing, and in some ways, I thought that this would have worked for the first episode. It does a good job bridging between the Free! -Take Your Marks- film and this season of the franchise. When I watched the first episode, it kind of felt like it had an abrupt start. While it works, I think it might have been stronger if “Episode 0” had been the first episode, and that the season had 13 episodes instead of 12.

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. 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 there was the final screen saying, “See you again in 2020,” it doesn’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. Of course, since the final episode of Free! -Dive to the Future- originally aired, the anime film that was hinted at with the final screen was delayed to 2021, thanks in large part to the fire at Kyoto Animation during the summer of 2019.

When it comes to this release, the Blu-ray’s video specs is 1080p High Definition 16:9 (HD Native). The audio on the Blu-ray had Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD: Japanese 2.0.

The only bonus features included on this set were textless versions of the opening and ending credits. It feels like FUNimation went to more effort for the bonus features for the Free! Eternal Summer release than they did for this release. I can’t believe that Kyoto Animation hadn’t put out any promotional videos or trailers for the series before it aired, so it seems odd that FUNimation didn’t try to acquire the rights to these in order to include them.

The Blu-ray release of Free! -Dive to the Future- is worth it for fans of the franchise that want to own all of the seasons of the series in their anime home video library.

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