“Sometimes in life you’ve gotta take the long road.”
While Makoto coaches Misaki, Haru announces that he has asked Ryuji to coach him.
The Shimogami captain is concerned because Ikuya’s swim times just keep getting worse. After practice, to avoid Hiyori, Ikuya finally agrees to eat with his other teammates (Hiyori is pretty upset). The Hidaka University team promises to work hard in order to make the All-Japan Invitational. Ryuji believes that Haru has the mental fortitude to be a great swimmer—but Haru still isn’t sure what he wants his future to be.
Natsuya calls Ikuya, who claims to be too busy to hang out. Natsuya is worried about his brother—especially because of Ikuya’s medical condition—and reminds him that it’s okay to go global later rather than sooner. Ikuya tells himself that he has to win the Invitational. Natsuya has dinner with Nao; he expresses confidence that Ikuya will be okay. Nao tells Natsuya that it’s time to take things—Ikuya’s troubles and his own swimming career—more seriously.
The gang heads for the college championships, where their times will determine whether they qualify for the All-Japan Invitational. Gou gushes to her friends at Iwatobi that Rin has already qualified. Haru wins his event and easily qualifies for the Invitational. When Asahi and Hiyori race, it ends in a tie, and they both qualify. Even though Asahi was an underdog going in, his hard work paid off.
Ikuya approaches Asahi, and the two finally get to talk. Ikuya explains that he doesn’t have friends anymore. Asahi apologizes for moving away in middle school and insists that their old teammates still see Asahi as a friend. Ikuya takes his mark for the individual medley… only to realize that Haru is competing in it too! Haru tells Ikuya that he has to stop going through life alone because he’s not alone. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: for the sake of his friend, for the first time in history, Haru is about to swim something other than free!
To be honest, I’m still kind of reeling that Haru is going to swim every stroke next episode. After three seasons of the catchphrase “I only swim free,” I love this twist.
After all, Haru doesn’t remember why he only swam freestyle in the first place, so why should he stick to his old principles? He’s come such a long way—in season one, the antisocial Haru refused to even swim relays, but now he swims the IM just to get close to an old friend. This decision really epitomizes his character development throughout the show, especially because Ikuya seems to be pretty much where Haru was in episode one. I love that Haru is helping Ikuya because he knows what it’s like to be in such a lonely place.
Haru’s arc in this season is about subverting the limitations that others put on him—and even the ones he puts on himself. Everyone else wants him to go global, but Haru is waiting to figure out what he wants to do. This is especially emphasized in a montage early in the episode, where Haru remembers all the people who have made him who he is today, underscored by gorgeous music. He knows where he comes from, but not where he’s going, and it’s a super realistic moment for a college kid. Haru’s arc is a lot subtler than Ikuya’s, but in the end, it’s just as powerful.
Of course, Ikuya’s story is interesting as well. A major theme in this episode is that it’s okay to slow down, to take things at your own pace (which is funny, because this series is fairly slow-moving). Ikuya insists that he has to succeed now, and his desperation is both believable and heartbreaking. “I have to win at that tournament,” says Ikuya, to which Natsuya asks, “Ikuya, are you sure everything’s okay?” But no one seems to know how to help Ikuya, which feels real as well. Sometimes it’s impossible to help those who won’t accept it.
But the medical condition that Natsuya references? What’s that? Did Ikuya take some long-term damage during his near-drowning experiences? I’m intrigued. Please tell us more, show.
In the end, I’m just glad this episode showed us some swimming. The last sports anime I watched was Yuri!!! on Ice, in which I was desperate for the characters to stop skating and just hang out with each other. In Dive to the Future, I’m having the opposite problem—there’s so much talking and not nearly enough swimming! Come on—this is the swimming anime! Even though I knew Haru would win, it was still exhilarating to watch him swim.
There are some funny moments in this episode, too: hijinks ensue when Makoto informs Ryuji that he can’t have food or drink at the pool, and when Asahi frankly acknowledges that he’s the weakest link on his team. Another comedic highlight is Asahi reading a book called Mental Training: How to Maintain an Unbreakable Spirit and then just repeating “I am a genius” to himself over and over.
Of course, there are still some filler scenes in this episode where people just summarize information we already know. There’s also a scene where Asahi and Kisumi play with Asahi’s baby nephew, and it’s kind of cute, but it doesn’t add much to the story. I think this series could benefit a lot from some editing—maybe it needed to be ten episodes long instead of twelve, or even eight.
The meeting between Natsuya and Nao is also a bit underwhelming. Natsuya came back to Japan solely to meet with Nao, but they end up just making small talk. What is Nao to Natsuya? Why did Natsuya need to be with him? These are questions that should be answered. I’m also not sure Oscar Seung’s performance as Nao is particularly convincing. On an unrelated note, I wish we could see what goes down when Ikuya eats with his teammates for the first time! Does he chat with them? Is he friendly or cold? I want to know!
Overall, though, this episode left me satisfied. There are good twists, good emotional moments, and good swimming. What more can you ask for?