Image source: アニメ 「DIVE!!」公式@放送中 on Twitter
Recently, the sheer number of anime series in concurrent production has ballooned to gargantuan proportions, with the total number of shows airing per year reaching a daunting 350. It is no wonder then, that the topics of these shows have become far more varied than ever before, with even the genre of competitive sports and activities producing fantastic anime. For example, recently we have seen animated shows about people in a concert band club, people competing in skating championships, people competing in ballroom dancing, and so now, it is not surprising to see a series about diving competitions. I suppose it was just a matter of time, but it still caught my attention, as I was an amateur diver myself, a really (really!) long time ago.
DIVE!! introduces us to the somewhat timid but determined Tomoki: A “gifted” kid, Tomoki has been blessed with a very lithe and nimble double-jointed body, allowing him to have greater dexterity than his rivals—provided that he trains hard enough.
This is juxtaposed with the “pedigree” Yoichi, who is a thoroughbred diver coming from a prestigious lineage of the sport and is, therefore, the archetypal “sempai” that everyone admires. The “ticking clock” of the story is introduced as being the fate of their diving club, which will go under unless something phenomenal happens to put it on the map—such as it producing an Olympic contender. So, the race is on to train hard enough to qualify. The driving force behind the drama, then, is the dynamic between Tomoki and his friends, his relationship with the people around him—including his infatuated girlfriend—and his relationship to the sport of diving.
When the new tough-as-nails coach comes in, proposing a strict diet and exercise regimen even (or, rather, especially) when outside of the pool, many of Tomoki’s diving mates gradually lose interest. His non-diver friends begin to feel more distanced from him as they never get any time to hang out due to Tomoki’s commitment to diving.
Clearly Tomoki is starting to feel lonely as more of the attention is focused on him by the coach due to his perceived potential and even his teammates gradually begin to shun him. Obviously, there is a mission and sense of purpose in the endeavor to reach the Olympics in order to save the club, but the coach reminds them that they are training to benefit only themselves, and not think about other things. In that case, then, is it all worth Tomoki losing his friends? Does Tomoki love diving that much?
Even though I watched Yuri!!! On ICE, Welcome to the Ballroom and Sound! Euphonium and became entranced by the sublime animated depictions of young men and women doing amazing things, DIVE!! is intriguing in a different way. I have only skated on ice, danced, and played musical instruments for light-hearted fun, never for any attempt at serious competition. Diving, on the other hand, is something I did for a quite a while during my early teens back in 1990s London, and this show brought back a lot of memories—many of which I had not given a moment’s glance for literally decades now.
This completely changes the way I engage with a series, because now, I am incapable of looking at the subject matter objectively. Even regular school-life anime is seen as a fantasy world for me because no matter how accurate it may be, I grew up outside of Japan and therefore it is never going to be as relatable as it would be for its intended audience. Instead, the best way to watch that kind of show would be as reference material to provide insights into Japanese society.
So how does DIVE!! compare to the reality of diving practice? Well, it’s certainly more interesting. Let’s get one thing clear—I am and always was a terrible diver. In my case, I was obviously neither a thoroughbred nor gifted with a soft body. I love swimming, though, and spent three evenings a week in the pool alternately swimming, diving, and trampolining (no idea if that is a lot or a little for someone in my position then). This was not a school activity; rather, a private club, similar to the MDC club that Tomoki is trying to save from ruin. However, the key difference between Tomoki and me is that Tomoki has loved diving since he was a child—through flashbacks, we see the moment his eyes first lit up at the sight of Yoichi’s pike dives. For me… Yeah, I really do not remember what drove me to diving. I cannot recall any real passion for it. I certainly did not have the commitment Tomoki shows.
But the pressure of competitions is real, and as I struggle to recall what my motivation was for participating in them at that point, I came to understand the importance of being mentally devoted to the sport, instead of it being just “something you do,” or at times, even a chore. Had the stakes been higher, maybe I would have honed my skills more effectively.
Many things in the anime ring true and trigger a few memories from that time, such as the importance of remembering that diving is not just about what you do in the air, but also how you hit the water (read: the smaller the splash, the more graceful), so in that sense, I did find it quite relatable. The visual effect of the reflection of the water on the gleaming bodies of the divers also calls to mind a visceral memory of the way your body is constantly wet and you cool down quite a lot because, unlike in swimming, you are actually spending most of the time outside of the water waiting for your turn to dive.
Perhaps one of the things that I found most different is the engagement of the coach: When I was training, I remember that the coach used to call out specifically when to tuck, when to stretch out, and other such instructions in mid-dive. That way, through practice, our bodies would remember the timing internally. The coaches in DIVE!! however, seemingly tend to give specific advice down to the second and centimeter before and after each dive, while observing quietly during. Not that I believe there is a correct or incorrect way to coach, I simply felt an interesting difference there and wondered about the process through which Tomoki and his friends interpret and apply those instructions once they’re up on the diving boards.
All in all, DIVE!! is of course, not a documentary, but a drama about school kids in a diving club. Intriguingly, rather than parallel my own experiences, it helps me to look at them in a different light, forming a fascinating juxtaposition. For example, while Tomoki becomes ever more isolated because of his commitment to diving, I never really had close relationships with my fellow divers (for the most part we all went to different schools and didn’t see each other outside of the club activities) and it wasn’t because I was too good, it might have just been because I was no good!
I should note that did not hate it, instead, I rather enjoyed diving. Despite all my time in the pool, however, I never thought about looking at the sport of diving through Yuji’s point of view, and I never expected that I would be doing so through the medium of Japanese animation, which, as the genuine irony, probably was my real love at the time.
DIVE!! is currently streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike video service.