This is my first review! Apologies for imperfect grammar~
Super minor spoilers just to set examples~
Note: I have not read the original novel, other manga, or watched the anime to cross-reference information.
Getting into Dive!!, most people would think, “This is, like, Free!, right?”, what with the focus on handsome boys, the subject matter of water sports, and even sharing the one-word title completed with an exclamation point (or two)! Why wouldn’t you, right? Well, aside from the actual sport (one is about competitive swimming and the other strictly diving), that couldn’t be more wrong.
Dive!!, instead, is a politically charged drama, placing its young and ambitious characters in an adult’s gritty world as they face their own issues with identity. The plot doesn’t pan out like many of the high-octane shonen sports with easy tropes like training regimes, a huge cast of characters with wacky personalities, friendship, or even a lengthy explanation of the sport––not to say that those aren’t good, of course. Sure, there is rivalry and even heartwarming moments of budding friendship, but this story is far from lighthearted.
What we get instead are characters constantly being disillusioned by what they want from the sport, what they want from themselves, and the expectancy of the coaches and other adults that are meant to raise them. It’s so interesting and unexpected how these elements play out and mingle, and how the characters find inspiration and resolve in the struggles of others.
The cast is fairly unlikeable in the traditional sense of “anime characters,” thanks to their flawed personalities. Our main man Tomoki has issues with his girlfriend thanks to his obsession with diving, even going as far as to accept whatever outcome with a shrug (although other interesting developments emerge from it). We’ve also got the spiteful and egotistical success story in Youichi, and rough and stubborn Shibuki to murk the waters even more. It might not be the best choice if you’re looking for something akin to, let’s say, Haikyuu!! since diving is a solo sport after all; these guys are not here to make friends or form synergy.
The art is nothing special. The inks and panel work are done well and the diving scenes are quite dynamic, with many varied angles and thick lines. The designs of the characters are generic, though, and backgrounds are pretty sparse. Personally, they don’t take away much from the overall experience, at least for me. The translation work (for Yen Press’ release) is pretty good, albeit with a few rare grammatical errors here and there.
Is there fan service? Barely. Aside from the guys being almost naked the majority of the time, there isn’t anything else to get excited over (except for maybe a joke or two about flashy speedos). There is a very spicy female coach by the name of Kayoko Asaki, though. *chef’s kiss*
Last, But Not Least...
The one thing I disliked about this manga is how short it was at a mere 3 volumes. Nothing felt too obviously rushed, but with the complex issues brought up about the sport and the Olympics, I really wish it was expanded to make a lasting impact. It felt like a demo of something much more that we’ll never get. Maybe the original novel does it best, as is usual for these kinds of adaptations.
If you’re interested in something that focuses on a different aspect of sports anime and manga, then I highly recommend checking Dive!! out. If it doesn’t impress, it’ll at least leave a desire for more of this kind of storytelling.