Since he was a young boy, Tomoki Sakai has been in love with the sport of diving. After years of practice and stalwart determination, there’s no place where he feels more at home than in those brief seconds of flight before he’s submerged into the water. Unfortunately, he and the other boys of the Muzuki Diving Club (MDC) aren’t doing enough to please their sponsors, and the club is on the verge of being disbanded. Enter coach Kayoko Asaki, a fiery woman who is determined to pull the boys of the MDC back from the brink. Her mission: get the MDC to the Tokyo Olympics in one year’s time. Tomoki and his friends have a long road ahead of them as they begin their fight to fulfill their dreams. – ANN
Streaming: Amazon Anime Strike
Episode 1 Summary: As a youngster, Tomoki Sakai had a chance meeting that changed his life forever. He caught a glimpse of Yoichi Fujitani flying through the air as he dove into a pool below. It was then that Tomoki fell in love with diving. Tomoki’s road to being a competent diver was fraught with challenges, including his fear of opening his eyes before hitting the water, but having Yoichi as an inspiration (and occasional teacher and mentor) has helped give him the confidence to keep going. Tomoki’s personal life, however, isn’t quite so successful; though he accepted a request to go out from a girl named Miyu, he’s unenthusiastic about the relationship and would rather spend his time worrying about his sport. When rumors start going around about the closing of the Mizuki Diving Club, Tomoki’s place of training and home-away-from-home, all the members of the club are understandably stressed. In reality, the arrival of new coach Kayoko Asaki marks the beginning of a new, ambitious goal for MDC; get the club members to the Tokyo Olympics in one year’s time. But is this a goal that’s within the team’s grasp?
Impressions: Amazon seems to have a pretty firm grasp on many of the anime that piqued my interest this season, and Dive!! is no exception. As a part of Fuji TV’s long-running noitaminA anime programming block, it’s also part of Amazon’s current exclusivity deal. Years ago I was quite the noitaminA devotee, having been attracted to its penchant for broadcasting anime aimed at an older (and often female) audience. In more recent years its reputation has become more spotty, but at the very least I can still say that most of noitaminA’s programming is somewhat off the beaten path.
This series will obviously invite many comparisons with Free! due to its similar title stylization and penchant for portraying young men in Speedo swimsuits. It’s also a sports series that seems to deal more in character dynamics and emotions, which was one of Free!’s strengths as an anime. Whereas KyoAni’s famous outing made a name for itself by combining sports action, character development, and great animation, not to mention fanservice aimed at individuals attracted to the male body, this series is, thus far, much more subdued in tone and execution. Whereas the episode ends with the introduction of a huge goal – get to the world stage by qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics – it spends much of the rest of the run time telling a much quieter, more contained tale of one young man’s internal conflict between what he feels he should like – having a girlfriend and spending time with his friends at school – and what he feels compelled to do – achieving even greater heights (literally!) in the sport he’s come to love. This fits in well with noitaminA’s catalog, which contains a lot of anime series that speak to the realities of human existence in ways both large and small within almost every sort of genre context. Despite Tomoki’s status as “yet another teenage male anime protagonist,” I actually felt like his struggles were relateable, because they’re also much bigger than high school. Many of us find ourselves pulled in multiple directions, and part of life is learning to balance our wants and needs in order to create a satisfying existence.
One moment that really pierced through some of my misgivings was the flashback to Tomoki’s one-on-one mentorship with Yoichi, the one time Yoichi seemed to find the time and inspiration to give direct instruction. Tomoki is told that he needs to keep his eyes open, to see where he’s going and orient himself to the water (this is after failing several times to enter the water cleanly from his dives and looking like a doofus). There’s an element of technical instruction to this advice, of course, but there’s also a broader message within it about facing challenges head-on with open eyes. One thing I was always told as a child when playing catch or tossing a Frisbee, was that I needed to keep my eyes open and not shy away from the object flying quickly and painfully towards my face. Practically, there’s a better chance you’ll catch the ball (or enter the water better) if you’re watching what you’re doing. There’s also a much higher chance of achieving success in life if you handle challenges head-on with as much knowledge as you’re able to gather. As someone with anxiety, this is a challenge that I have to face every day, and sometimes what essentially amounts to large-scale self-imposed exposure therapy is a terrifying proposition (and not one that works for me all the time or would work for anyone/everyone else regularly, either), but I find myself better able to cope now that I’ve at least made an attempt to face my fears. I was surprised to find myself relating to the show on this level so quickly.
The unfortunate thing is that this isn’t a great looking show. This tends to be the case with a lot of noitaminA series, at least in my experience. They’re caught in a space where they’re meant to appeal to a more mainstream audience, but that means that there’s not really a built-in guarantee of financial success like there might be for a show related to a big-selling game, book, or manga property. I suspect that makes it less attractive to animators in some way, or there’s not as much energy and time devoted to scheduling and planning something that’s slick and produced in a way that’s meant to “wow” people. While the promo art might give the impression of shiny male abs and sports action, there’s ultimately not a lot of focus on that element. There aren’t high detail shots of abs or bodies in motion (there we go, comparing it to Free! again), but again I feel like that’s not really the point here. I do think that viewers might expect that kind of thing from this series, though, and if that’s the case there’s bound to be some disappointment.
There’s also a little bit of juvenile humor in this episode that feels really out of place considering how subdued the tone is. One of Tomoki’s friends at the MDC can’t seem to get over the fact that a beautiful woman has come to visit their coach, and there’s a much-longer-than-necessary scene in which this character melts down over the fact of the woman’s curvaceous body and his default assumption that their coach must be having an affair with her. It’s the episode’s one real attempt at being silly or funny, and beyond being generally out of place it’s also pretty crass and doesn’t add anything to the episode. I maintain that teenage boys aren’t nearly as stupid as anime makes them out to be.
Though there are a few missteps, I’m actually, surprisingly still interested in this series despite how it went against a lot of my initial expectations (or possibly because of it). I think it runs the possibility of being a little generic, and with only 11 episodes it doesn’t have much time to bring all the characters where they need to go, but I like that it seems very self-contained and doesn’t seem concerned with being bombastic and intense like a lot of other sports anime. This might be a show worth spending a little time with.
Pros: Seems to have a pretty deep message about facing anxiety and balancing the various elements of one’s life. The tone is pretty subdued.
Cons: The production values are lacking somewhat. There’s some juvenile humor that falls flat.