What They Say:
Your favorite swimming boys are back! While starting college and figuring out what they want for their future, Haru and Makoto run into the unexpected—their old teammates from elementary school. Still hurt from their team suddenly dissolving, Ikuya is out to prove he’s better than Haru. But he’s not the only threat that lies in the waters of competition!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and an English language adaptation that gets a 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD codec. The series is one that uses the sound design well when it can, which is mostly with the swimming sequences themselves. These have a good design about them as there’s a fuller feeling where needed and the impact of the water feels like it’s stronger and more engaging. The flow of it is solid and makes for something that definitely enhances the show. The bulk of the show is still mostly dialogue and that means fairly standard scenes there. That’s not a bad thing as it handles it well and competently with a clean sense of placement and depth where needed while generally working an engaging forward soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2018, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes and OVA are spread across two discs with nine on the first and the rest on the second. Animated by Kyoto Animation, the series is one that’s simply beautiful to watch play out with its colors, vibrancy, and the general pop of everything that it wants to do. There’s a lot of very fluid sequences as they almost over-animate some of the swimming sequences, but it’s designed to make it highly engaging and rich looking, which it succeeds in. The end result is a fantastic looking show that this transfer captures beautifully. There’s a lot of detail to be had throughout both in character and backgrounds and all of it comes across wonderfully clean and problem-free. Having enjoyed the look of this show in the simulcast, this just takes it to another level.
The packaging for the limited edition release is fairly standard in that we get the DVD/BD combo form with a slipcover that is different from the case artwork itself, which is welcome since there’s a lot of great artwork here. The slipcover definitely looks looks great with the quality of paper used for it that lets the blues really pop as well as other vibrant colors. The front cover goes for a fun piece of them all with their swimsuits in motion set against the water with lots of smiles across their faces. The back cover carries the blue feeling with more of the cast, all of which has the faux wet elements laid over it that’s just a delight to see. The case packaging itself goes for some good pairings that add their jackets to the swimwear while the reverse side has some appealing artwork of the cast as a whole along with episode listings by number and title. The set comes with an envelope attached to the back that breaks out six beautiful foil designed postcards with separators to make sure they aren’t ruined. We also get a square-bound booklet that breaks out pages of character designs, some great in-show texting material, a slew of shots from the show that highlight the designs and settings, and the various pieces of promotional art. It’s beautiful full-color high-quality work that stands out beautifully.
The menu design for this release definitely works the aquatic feeling well as we get the visual of most of our swimming boys here standing clearly and shirtless before us. The angle and spread sets the tone well and it’s easy on the eye for fans but it’s the shades of blue that really draws me into it. The layout works well with the navigation strip along the bottom that also doubles as the pop-up menu during playback. This release is also a rare one in that it offers marathon mode. Not many releases do this and I’m not sure why this one got the treatment, but it certainly works during playback as the episodes do, for the most part, blend smoothly.
The only extras this time around are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, which is slim compared to past seasons.
Four years after the end of the previous TV series, Free comes back with Dive to the Future, a twelve-episode season with a zero-episode OVA to kick things off. The property wasn’t exactly quiet between those years as we had a couple of compilation films and other works that kept our swimming boys about each summer or so I believe. I enjoyed those projects and in some ways the shorter narratives worked better than the drawn out seasonal aspect. But at the same time there’s just something about spending a summer season streaming the latest season weekly amid the heat, coming in to cool down, and just the enjoyment of it as a part of the bonded season. With this season, it’s one that has its moments but it also feels like it’s a little too languid and unfocused while combined with too many characters populating it.
The OVA, coming out a few weeks before the series kicked off, is a nice bit of light fun involving a Cherry Blossom Festival event. It was also kind of awkward because while it was screened at a special event, most fans didn’t get to see it until the season home video releases kicked off. Not that it impacted the season itself, which is nice, but it’s enjoyable watching as a mascot wrestling event becomes the big thing and we see Makoto stepping up to help out when one of the wrestlers goes missing. It’s totally in character for Makoto and it really does drive home the caring and sweet side of the boy since he didn’t want the kids to not have fun or be disappointed by events. Makoto is still very much the best boy in my view.
The forward motion of the series is one of the things that’s definitely appreciated but it’s also an area that does place a few stresses on the project. Haruka being at college as a freshman is a good thing as it means new challenges for him. His time here and across the season gets a bit complicated with a former teammate of his from middle school, Shiina, also being here. And it gets even more familiar with another one from the period with Kirishima. It’s not unexpected in something of a smaller sport overall and with Hidaka University being a good school to go to for this, but it feels a little unusual that so many former teammates would be all on the same track like this. It provides a little continuity for Haruka to ease into university life but you can also imagine that it has its own problems as well. For the viewer, it means more characters to keep track of.
Thankfully, the show also gets things underway by showing us how rin is doing in Australia where he’s got the attention of a pro coach named Mikhail, who thinks he can take him forward and is obviously going to connect with Haruka along the way as well. The friendship that’s built between Haruka and Rin across the prior works is a big plus and seeing it handled through the distance here when they do reconnect in person hits a sweet spot. With the troubles we saw Haruka have with Rin before it’s no surprise that another from their past has an issue with Haruka. We see that with Ikuya as there was a promise made during middle school about a freestyle relay race that they would swim together in but things fell through on it. Boys being boys, Ikuya holds a real grudge over it and is pretty gruff when it comes to dealing with Haruka because of the usual mild toxicity and lack of learning in how to let things go and be a better athlete. Naturally, that will slowly become the focus of part of the season as it moves forward more, including more time with Haruka struggling about swimming competitively at all, and resulting in him figuring out how to get through to Ikuya and ease the tension between them so they’re both in a better place. It’s expected but it’s pretty well executed, making for a decent arc even if Haruka still comes across too mopey for me – especially as a college athlete.
There’s a fair bit of small material that runs through various threads of the season but the other main part is watching as Makoto works through his own classes teaching others that sticks out. There’s some fun elsewhere with the competitiveness that’s coming up and the face-off toward the end for Haruka and others, but I really enjoyed the smaller moments with Makoto as we see him struggling with his life at this point in time. It’s one that doesn’t feel like it’s a place he expected to be and being distant from everyone else after such close bonds in high school is hard to cope with. There’s a period in this season where it’s weeks between contact with Haruka and that really eats at him, so much so that he goes to Rin for help in finding out what’s going on. The distance that exists between the boys this season is an interesting and welcome take but I don’t feel like it came together in a strong enough way where it resonated right.
There are some enjoyable minor moments that brings Sousuke or Nagisa into play, but with everyone so split the series feels like it’s unfocused and their time felt minimal in the big picture. It’s no surprise that Haruka is the central character nor that Makoto as his best friend gets some strong time. But with so many other characters in the mix from the past surfacing here, it comes across as crowding the core characters out a bit and that creates a distance for some viewers like myself, There are plenty of great swimming sequences to be had, some good emotional drama and introspection worked with, and beautiful animation and design work throughout. The quality of Free is very much in place here. But the story just didn’t click as well as the past seasons did. It also feels like a weaker season by how it’s presented here, going from multiple commentaries and other extras the last time around to a bare bones release here. Thankfully, the limited edition has some gorgeous postcards and a must-own book included with it.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 20th, 2016
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.