Producer: Kyoto Animation/Funimation
Director: Eisaku Kawanami
Starring: Todd Haberkorn/Nobunaga Shimazaki & Vic Mignona/Mamoru Miyano
Genre: Sports, Slice of Life, Drama
Free!: Dive to the Future picks up where season two left off. After graduating high school in the end of Season 2, Haru and Makoto are starting University, and this brings along a lot of new AND some old. While the show is often passed off as fluff and fan-service, Season 3 cut back fan-service and added more values and new, intriguing characters. Haru is no longer the only “monster” of the swimming world. Dive to the Future built on growth started in Season 2, and sets things up well for Season 4.
When Haru begins University alongside Makoto, the last thing they are expecting is a blast from the past. Yet, they find themselves reuniting with one of their first swim team members. As it turns out, he’ll be swimming alongside Haru at Hidaka University. This is the first step of many that pushes the season along.
Dive to the Future takes a new approach to things, more than Eternal Summer ever did. Where Eternal Summer revolved mainly around the Iwatobi Swim Club as Haru and Makoto pondered graduation and what would come next, Dive to the Future has a larger focus. This season follows a much bigger cast, who are split over many more places. Haru is at one university pursuing swimming, Makoto is at another university pursuing sports studies, Rei and Nagisa are still at Iwatobi in their final years, Rin is training overseas, etc. Due to how often the show jumps between characters and places/events, it can feel a bit disjointed at times, which threw me off.
That being said, I do like how the last two episodes did reunite a lot of these groups and people. It felt somewhat nostalgic seeing Haru, Makoto, Rei, and Nagisa reunited like the old days. Some of the continuity and flow felt like it was salvaged. The season as a whole, just as past seasons have done, had an overarching theme on the importance of maintaining friendships that mean something to you. Seeing those friendships together again helped hammer that home.
One other thing I really appreciated in this season was the introduction of more “monsters” in the water. What I mean by that is that the rivalries from the first two seasons saw some additions. Some of those rivalries risked becoming boring and repetitive, such as Rin and Haru’s constant struggle to outmatch each other. With the introduction of some new characters, the competition has grown a lot. Haru can no longer wipe the field like before. He’s being forced to really strive if he wants his swimming to evolve. Everyone else must do the same.
Overall, this season has me feeling conflicted. I’m biased because I’ve become pretty attached to this crew of characters. Naturally, that means I enjoy seeing more of them and their lives as they grow and change. However, some plot points and aspects left a bad taste in my mouth. The whole sub-plot with Toono, Ikuya, and Haru being compared to The Little Mermaid didn’t sit well with me, and felt completely unresolved at the end of the season to boot. I felt some characters were less-than-naturally thrown into the fray (e.g. Makoto’s involvement felt forced at times). I also feel that some of the yaoi-bait moments were unnecessary. I choose to view them as just male friends who are just really good friends, but a large part of the fandom is having a field day with it. Other than a few things not sitting well, I’m happy to have gotten more of my favorite swim-boys (plus a few new ones!), and I’m excited to see things progress to a global stage in Season 4.
Spiritual Content: A few references to mythologies, such as Odin in Norse mythology.
Violence: No concerning material.
Language/Crude Humor: No concerning material (watched subtitles, this may differ in the dub).
Sexual Content: This is a swimming anime meaning there are lots of nearly-naked men. As much of the time, one or more characters are swimming, the show often displays boys in swimsuits. However, other than animation highlighting the pouch at the front of some swimsuits in a few instances, everything is, of course, modest and covered as far as real nudity. There are, however, a number of close-ups for muscles, usually with female characters (like Gou-chan) or a male coach (who is only interested in coaching males with “sexy muscles”) fawning. This is never sexualized beyond people “drooling” over them briefly. Muscle shots aside, there are some undertones of the show that could be taken as innocent/friendly or could be interpreted as homosexual. For example, flashback scenes recalling another boy’s blushing face, hug, tears, etc. or an underlying theme comparing three male characters to Ariel, The Prince, and the woman on the beach (who the prince fell for, leaving Ariel to dissolve into sea foam). Again, these can be interpreted as purely friendly moments held by boys who have always grown up as close friends/rivals OR can be taken as homosexual moments—view at your own discretion.
Drug/Alcohol Use: No concerning material.
Other Negative Themes: One character essentially bullies a group of people to push them away from a friend. He becomes mean and somewhat controlling at times. Two characters get into a fight which results in a lot of yelling, and both walk away hurt.
Positive Content: The show encourages striving to follow your dreams/goals, even when it’s a struggle. It also has positive messages about the importance of maintaining relationships (be they friendships or rivalries) that you value. It has an overarching theme of learning to overcome your past and not give up on your future.
The Bottom Line
Free! has always been a series jokingly passed off as nothing more than fluff and female fan-service. Season 2 addressed deeper and more relatable coming-of-age themes that proved the show is more than fluff. Season 3 continued in this direction, reducing muscle screen-time and adding in more valuable themes and lessons. Season 3 expanded on the character growth from Season 2 and sets them up for more transformations in Season 4 (2020).