Free! Road to the World the Dream is an anime film that recaps Free! -Dive to the Future, the third season of the Free! anime franchise.

Free! Road to the World the Dream
Directed by: Eisaku Kawanami
Written by: Masahiro Yokotani
Starring: Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Tsubasa Yonaga, Daisuke Hirakawa, Mamoru Miyano, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Koki Miyata, Kenichi Suzumura, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Kouki Uchiyama, Kenji Nojima, Satoshi Hino, Chihiro Suzuki, Akeno Watanabe, and Satsuki Yukino
Run Time: 99 minutes

While Free! Road to the World the Dream is billed as a compilation film, that’s not an entirely accurate portrayal, because several new scenes have been added to help flesh out the characters who were more or less glossed over during the Free! -Dive to the Future anime series. The bulk of these new scenes let us see more of what was going on with Rei, Nagisa, Gou, and the new members of Iwatobi’s swim club, although some of the new scenes have a focus on Sosuke. Since a lot of the focus of the season was on Haru, Makoto, and the other college characters in Tokyo, Sosuke and the high school students’ appearances weren’t very fleshed out in the original telling of this story. One of the most memorable new scenes is Rei accidentally eating quite a bit of candy with liquor in it and giving motivational words to the newer members of the club while he’s drunk. This was amusing, but I’m really not sure how realistic it was for Rei to become drunk from eating candy with liquor in it. Yes, he’s shown as eating quite a bit of the candy, but would there really be that much alcohol in the candy to get him drunk?

As a recap film, though, Free! Road to the World the Dream has a choppy start. The first several minutes focus on each of the main characters as children wondering about their future, and then seeing significant scenes of each of these characters that have appeared in the franchise up to this point. While I understand that it was necessary to provide reminders to the audience about these characters and their journey up to this point in the story, the way this was accomplished and executed was on the choppy side and could be a little hard to follow at times. After this, we get a montage of the important scenes from the first half of Free! -Dive to the Future as the opening theme for the film plays. As I recall, though, we didn’t get any of the dialogue, so you had to infer what was happening if you hadn’t seen or didn’t remember what exactly happened in those scenes. Basically, it feels like the director wanted to start the film right around the time Ikuya mended fences with Haru and the others, so they had present this “warp speed” recap to get to the point where they wanted the film’s story to begin.

After that choppy start, though, the recap film is an overall decent viewing experience. I did appreciate Rei, Nagisa, and the other high schoolers getting new scenes and more screen time in this film. I thought this really helped to develop the new characters introduced at Iwatobi: Romio, Shizuru, and Ayumu. While they were introduced in Free! -Dive to the Future, we didn’t really get to see enough of these new characters to truly have much of an understanding of what they’re like. The additional scenes of these characters really helped me to understand them a little better as characters, and they also helped fill in storytelling gaps that existed in the season that this film was recapping. The additional scenes of Sosuke were also a nice touch, especially the new scene where Sosuke is with Rin when he encounters Ikuya for the first time. It wasn’t surprising to learn that Rei and Ikuya see themselves as rivals, since they are both friends with Haru, and I appreciated getting a scene that depicted this rivalry.

The ending of the film also provides a new scene with a swimmer named Kaede Kinjou, who was briefly seen near the end of the season. It turns out he has a history with Ikuya, Hiyori, and Sosuke that hadn’t been revealed during Free! -Dive to the Future. The new scenes added near the end of this film are also setting the stage for the two Free! The Final Stroke anime films, because it’s made clear that there’s still more to go for the All-Japan Invitational.

When it comes to the animation, I have to say that I didn’t notice any real difference in quality between the scenes from Free! -Dive to the Future and the new scenes added for this film. If you didn’t know that those new scenes were new, you would think they were animated at the same time as the rest of the film.

Even with the choppy and awkward opening, I would still recommend Free! Road to the World the Dream to fans of the Free! franchise. While it’s technically a recap film, there’s more to it than simply recapping what the audience has already seen, and the new scenes are actually important and not just thrown in to say that there are new scenes in the film. Most anime recap films that I had seen prior to this one would have new scenes sometimes, but the scenes were “throw aways” that didn’t truly add anything to the story. However, the new scenes in Free! Road to the World the Dream are much more significant, and they help to flesh out the story that was originally presented in the season that the film is recapping.

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