DIVE TO BLUE.
You know, when talking about this anime, I've called it a Free! knock-off that doesn't understand what made Free! compelling for audiences, but it turns out that the four novels it's based on actually came out nearly a decade before the light novel that Free! is adapted from. It's entirely possible that Free! is a knock off of Dive!!, even -- but it's unclear how much Dive!! is like its novels, since the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are a major plot element.
Set at Mizuki Diving Club, a Tokyo diving club frequented by mediocre if enthusiastic diver Tomoki, his friends Reiji and Ryo, and Yoichi, a naturally talented and dedicated diver who's also the son of the coach. With the MDC in the red and in danger of being shut down, a new coach, Kayoko, arrives with an ultimatum: One of the MDC's members must join the Olympic diving team, or the club will be closed. Meanwhile, Tomoki struggles with his feelings, both in regards to Yoichi, and in regards to Miyu, a childhood friend who has recently declared her feelings for him.
While I'm being pretty harsh on this series (well, this episode, at least), I actually didn't hate it. It was, if anything, just sort of milquetoast.
It's animated by Zero-G, a studio that predominantly does 2nd key animation (that is to say, they largely clean up the key animation done by other studios) and in-between animation (making things flow more smoothly by adding in transition animation), and in that regard, their body of work is significant -- they have not, however, taken point on many projects themselves, and it sort of shows in the animation.
|Yoichi, who has the closest thing to a normal neck of any of the characters.|
The sky, water, sunlight et cetera are all pretty nicely done (which is more important than it sounds: A lot of Free! and Yuri On Ice's traction came from making swimming and ice-skating respectively look inviting and beautiful), the diving is well-animated, and so on, but the characters themselves are odd. They're all drawn with slightly odd proportions, and when they go off model (which isn't too often, but is a noticeable amount), they go off model hard, including one moment where a character's body seemed to abruptly become nearly cylindrical.
None of the characters are really distinct to look at, either. Tomoki is about as generic as you can get, and Yoichi isn't much better, while Reiji and Ryo vanish into obscurity so much that I can't remember what they look like. Add to that a lot of odd animation quirks -- characters have spots of shadow in place of pupils, certain muscles are sharply defined and others are left marked out by shadows, there's not a huge amount of distinction between the characters at different ages -- and you end up with animation that isn't terrible, but is distractingly weird.
|I can already tell you're going to be the most entertaining character.|
As far as the story goes, it's mostly set-up: Tomoki likes diving, diving club is going to get shut down, someone has to go to the Olympics, setting the stage for a rivalry between him and Yoichi. More interesting is the hints of a maybe kind of sort of LGBT story woven in there? Much is made of Tomoki admiring Yoichi, blushing when he sees him, being visibly annoyed when Yoichi jokes about him having a girlfriend -- but even more is made out of Miyu declaring her feelings for Tomoki, and Tomoki not really returning them, feeling pressured to go out with her, and then hurting her somehow.
At a glance, it seems like the story of someone struggling with feelings towards their own gender and navigating that in a society where it's not necessarily easy to be open about being gay.
Having said that, I am definitely giving this show way too much credit. It's not that deep, the series is absolutely going to end with Tomoki and Miyu together, it's all just queerbaiting, et cetera. I'm hopeful I'm wrong about that and right about there being some kind of meaningful LGBT story in this show, but I know there won't be.
|Tomoki and his brother, who shows up entirely to harass him about Miyu? I guess?|
Hopes for the show going forward: That LGBT storyline with Tomoki, obviously; Miyu getting fleshed out as a character, since currently she's presented as being sort of clingy, cloying, and childish; Reiji and Ryo getting fleshed out more; maybe, like, some actual character conflict between the divers? That'd be nice. That'd be super nice.
Still, this wasn't an appalling first episode. It wasn't really good or bad, it was just there, as twenty minutes of set-up for the main story, interspersed with heavy amounts of flashbacks to show us how enthusiastic Tomoki is about diving. It was sort of a nothing episode, so the series is going to have to work to be actually something worth watching.
I am, however, in for the long haul, because lord knows if I didn't give up Orange, easily the worst ongoing I've ever done, then I'm not giving this up either.