I stumbled across this anime series on Amazon Prime, looking for something that was safe to watch with the children around. There is a lot of anime that’s free to watch if you have Amazon Prime, but their age guidance system is far from perfect. A lot of the anime is simply listed as “NR” for “not rated”, which is not very helpful, because that could mean anything from U to 18, and the majority of anime is far from suitable for young children. Dive!! was listed as “ALL”, so it seemed like a safe bet, and I didn’t see anything that I thought would be potentially offensive. The series actually has its origins in a homoerotic manga, but you wouldn’t really know that from watching the anime. The male divers wear skimpy costumes, which I suppose could be classed as manservice, but on the odd occasions I’ve stumbled across any of the swimming events when the Olympics are on, the contestants weren’t exactly wearing Edwardian bathing suits, so this is probably reasonably true to life, although I’m not sure the real Olympic divers wear swimming trunks that are quite so low cut. I can’t say I was paying much attention whenever the Olympics was on, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t remember a parade of builders’ bums.
That’s about the extent of anything questionable for family viewing. There isn’t even a romance story, beyond the vaguest of hints, so you have to draw those dots yourself if you want them connected. Instead, the focus is on the ambitions of the divers, and what they have to go through to achieve greatness. There is an interesting range of issues explored: fairness or otherwise in the selection process for the Olympics is a big one, and top level competition is portrayed as successful for only a tiny minority, with ruthless and medal-hungry selectors; there is the question of whether success is more important than fairness, camaraderie, or enjoyment of the sport; one of the divers is a crowd-pleaser who will never achieve greatness unless he reigns in his flamboyant style, so the question is whether he should dive to please the judges or himself, and if there’s actually any point trying to be a different kind of diver to the one he wants to be; we also get to see how much dedication is needed for success, and there is some exploration of how this impacts on life away from the pool, although not enough in my opinion. Other than a storyline early in the season when one of the divers loses his girlfriend because he’s not really interested in her, the main characters are not really portrayed as young men who have any lives beyond their sport. It makes them hard to invest in as characters, because they never quite seem like real people.
The plot of the show is paper thin. It’s nearly all about who will be selected to go to the Olympics, and how the selection will be made. There is also the question of whether their swimming club will survive or not, because it is threatened with closure, which reminded me a bit of Love Live! and the threat to the future of the school if the idol group cannot find a way to save it. That series, although it portrays a very different kind of ambition, is actually not a bad comparison, because it highlights a major problem with Dive!! You can start Love Live! with no knowledge at all about what a “school idol” even means, and that whole culture and the process of becoming good enough to compete and the way the competitions work is explained in enough detail to welcome anyone to the series who wants to watch it. In contrast, it felt like Dive!! was excluding anyone who doesn’t have any knowledge about competitive diving. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention, but sports anime shows tend to work quite well as educational programmes, so a viewer who doesn’t know much about the sport in question can learn about it while watching, while enjoying the character dynamics whether the sport interests them or not. Dive!! has the character dynamics, but forgets to explain how the sport works. There is little in the way of explanation about why one dive is better than another, apart from a very repetitive obsession with a “four and a half”, and I had to rely on my meagre knowledge, which doesn’t extend much further than a vague memory of a big splash being a bad thing. The scoring system seems to be very complicated, and there was no explanation about how that works, so it was hard to get invested in what exactly the divers were doing, and when something they did was very successful or a big failure there was no way to know that other than the reactions of the other characters. This means that the build up to the competitions work well in terms of drama, but the competitions themselves are confusing and the drama falls flat at that point, which is not really how these shows are supposed to work. I didn’t feel cheated, because this didn’t cost me anything beyond my usual Amazon subscription, but I do wish they would get their act together and give proper guidance as to the age ratings of their anime offerings. So far, it seems that “ALL” translates to “the boring ones”. Dive!! isn’t quite that, but it doesn’t make the splash I was hoping for. RP