That one swimming anime is back! This time, Kyoto Animation’s fluffy slice-of-life, Free!, sees its oft shirtless male characters diving to the future (not in a sci-fi/comic book way). Some time has passed since aesthetically pleasing protagonists Haruka Nanase and Rin Matsuoka graduated from high school and settled into their lives as college freshmen. And as we witness familiar faces from Iwatobi and Samezuka progress to the next phase of their lives in Free! Dive To The Future, new characters make an appearance, too. But is Free! really worth carrying on for yet another season? Also just as important: will Sousuke Yamazaki ever find happiness?
So many questions. Let’s first take a quick look at standout characters that were never in Free!’s first two seasons.
Disclaimer: Contains mild spoilers, but let’s be real, we’re only an episode in.
The Fresh Faces of Free! Dive To The Future
Free! has two completed seasons, but the franchise has also had movies and OVAs to its name. If you’re like me and too lazy to watch any of the movies, you would’ve missed out on Haru and Makoto’s old friends, Asahi Shiina and Ikuya Kirishima. They may not technically be fresh faces in the franchise, but they’ve never been in the main series before, so they totally count.
Dive To The Future doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out too much, though, as it helpfully reminds viewers who they are. Thus far, Asahi’s sunny personality and adorably drawn 2D face immediately makes him extremely endearing. In short, I am already in love. Knowing the franchise’s old tricks, though, the creators are probably going to throw a spanner in the works and swiftly put a stopper to that sunniness. Nevertheless, in this house, we love and support Asahi Shiina.
Meanwhile, what of Ikuya Kirishima? The first episode has only thrown out measly scraps of information about Ikuya, so the verdict isn’t out on him yet. Is Haruka Nanase really just a poor copy of him? Is that the real reason why Haru mopes all the damn time? I gotta admit that I’m a little bit curious, even if I did grow a little tired of Haru in Free! Eternal Summer. Props to them for that.
Another fresh face that left a bit of an impression of me is a blond guy who goes by the name of Mihail. Really, though, it’s only because his goatee is disturbingly uneven. Something about that one aberration in a world filled with beautiful things leaves me with a intense sense of foreboding. Look, the goatee just makes me uncomfortable, alright?! Thinking of that goatee is deeply unsettling, so I’m about to put on some Don Henley and talk about the boys of Eternal Summer.
Highlights From The Old Free! Boys
Free! is a slice-of-life that has always hinged heavily on characters designed to make viewers fall in love with them, so I’m not at all surprised by how it managed to squeeze practically all its old boys into the first episode under half an hour. Imagine if they left out even one fan favourite. Personally, I’m glad for it because I don’t think I could ever have enough of Sousuke Yamazaki.
As most would recall, Sousuke was on the receiving end of much Character Whump towards the end of Eternal Summer, so it came as a bit of relief for his storyline to begin relatively optimistically in Free! Dive To The Future. I suppose I better enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe it’s a little unfair to expect the worst so soon but let’s not forget the fact that, stripped down, Sousuke’s primary purpose in Eternal Summer was to propel Rin’s narrative forward. Given the fact that he was the one who first revealed Ikuya’s talent in Dive To The Future, it’s practically déjà vu. I can already see him stressing over Rin (who, by the way, somehow manages to look even prettier this year) being held back.
That said, his appearance still made me happy; Sousuke Yamazaki is so handsome. So beautifully drawn. Damn you and your pretty fanservice, KyoAni.
Meanwhile, nothing much seems to have changed for most of the others either for now. Makoto is still the wind beneath Haru’s wind, even in college, and Rei, Nagisa, and Gou appear entirely unchanged. The same goes for the Samesuka crew, something that even Rin points out in the first episode. In fact, Haru is the only one with any real hint of further character development thus far. In a way, it’s a logical start, considering he’s the main protagonist, but I would’ve appreciated something new. Still, it’s not an entirely undesirable turn of events. Hell, it might even reinvigorate my long dormant interest in Haru. Who knows, I might even care about him again. Well played, KyoAni. Well played.
The Overall Takeaway
Free! has always been known for its blatant fanservice and it continues to revel in that in its new season. It’s neither intelligent nor groundbreaking, but old fans and anyone looking for mindless entertainment would probably enjoy its comeback all the same. So yes, Free! Dive To the Future continues to stay true to itself, catering to the Rei Ryuugazakis of the world – nerds with a penchant for pretty things – for better and for worse. But, you know, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating beauty. Welcome back, swimming nerds.