[Post originally published on substack on September 28, 2022.]
The anime Dive!! is filled to the brim with topics one could choose to talk about. Of course, there is the most obvious which is the depiction of the Olympic sport discipline of diving. But we also see a teenager rise up against parental disregard and the scheming of the grown-up world. We learn that striving for the same goal breaks friendships but unites rivals, and we receive a lecture about the danger of calories. Last but not least, we witness the impact of a woman’s coaching on boys in a minor sport. As the title of the post plainly suggests, I want us to take a closer look at the workings of the female coach in Dive!! So, let’s dive right into it! (… pun intended)
Nothing Beats Competing Against Friends
The story begins when the 8-year-old Sakai Tomoki beholds the concrete dragon and its child vanquisher, the 10-year-old Fujitani Yōichi. In the original manga, a ‘real’ dragon is depicted to support this metaphor. However, watching the anime we must be content with a verbal hint and rely on our imagination to form the straight slabs of concrete, that make up the diving platform, into a fire-breathing mythical beast. In any case, Tomoki is so fascinated by Yōichi’s diving skills that he too embarks on the journey to conquer this dragon by daring to jump off the platform and diving into the water below with ballet-like grace.
After this short introduction, the story is picked up again six years later. Yōichi has developed into an exceptional diver, and Tomoki still longingly looks up to him, even ignoring (and denying) his girlfriend in favor of his hero. The only other person that catches Tomoki’s eye is the new addition to the club, the 17-year-old cliff diver, Okitsu Shibuki. Together, the three athletes navigate through the challenging situation of being friends and rivals. They spur each other on during hardships and support one another in times of need. Now and again, amidst amicable banter, they (suddenly) realize that they are actually fierce competitors for the one free spot at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Having gone through all kinds of ups and downs in the course of the series, the three athletes come together in an autumn-colored park before the decisive competition. After teasing each other and calling themselves idiots, Yōichi and Tomoki resume being rivals, and both reinforce their determination by saying: “I will go to the Olympics”. The three boys gaze intently into each other’s eyes in silence. Okitsu, to prevent a further escalation of the situation, settles the dispute by deciding that the three of them will all go together. How this could be achieved, since there is only one free spot, is quite puzzling. Not to mention that Okitsu won’t go to the Olympics anyway due to his injured back. In any case, they demonstrate that competing with your closest friends over the one thing you truly desire and worked so hard for is just the best feeling ever!
The Female Savior
There is an altruistic motive behind the three boys’ determination to make the Olympic cut, namely the survival of their diving club which is in imminent danger of being shut down. The club was founded by the former president of the sporting goods manufacturer Mizuki and was thus fittingly named Mizuki Diving Club (MDC). The new coach, Asaki Kayoko, who also happens to be the grandchild of the founder, came back from the US to save MDC from this bitter end. She made a deal with the current president that, should one of the club’s athletes secure a spot at the Olympics, MDC would be allowed to continue.
Before we get to see the club’s savior for the first time, she is introduced to us by the grade school pupil and MDC member, Yoshida ‘Sacchin’ Sachiya. Not knowing that she is the new coach, he suspects her to be main coach Fujitani’s love affair. Sacchin describes her as young and extremely beautiful. Additionally, he gives us a vivid description of her bodily attributes by characterizing her breasts as bouncy, which, of course, also hints at their size. Her bottom is specified by him as being nice and firm. Coming out of the mouth of a young, innocent child, this picturesque depiction seems harmless, maybe even a little cute. It enables us to dispose of it with a wry smile and a light shaking of our heads… “Kids these days…”. (Somebody tell him that it’s the inner values that count!) In any case, both, cleavage and butt, are displayed in plenty in the anime, possibly to balance out the flood of bare-chested male youths the viewer is presented with. Gotta have equality! Yōichi prefers to comment on her qualification as a coach but simultaneously doesn’t deny himself a good look at her butt, which is then illustratively exhibited in a close-up shot.
As a former competitive diver, Asaki knows the sport very well. Additionally, she has a knack for seeing divers’ flaws and how they can improve their performances. She begins her quest to save the club by ironing out the weaknesses of the young divers by subjecting them to a stern training regimen. This includes intensive strength and stamina training, instructing body alignment to the nearest millimeter and mental training by thoroughly pointing out their deficiencies. This is not to the boys’ liking, and they complain about her (new) training methods. Yōichi jumps to her defense, saying that a male coach from the US once came to MDC and trained them using similar methods. The same male coach also trained a US Olympic gold medalist. With so much backing, based on the success of a male coach from a foreign country, there can’t be anything amiss with Asaki’s training methods, right?
The Coach And Her Athletes
As the series progresses, we watch the three protagonists deal with various life issues. Yōichi is trying to break free from the confines of the business-like relationship with his father. Okitsu is trying to come to terms with jumping into the calm waters of a pool instead of throwing himself into the thundering waves of the sea. And Tomoki is constantly dealing with the aftermath of his lacking empathy. Luckily, coach Asaki is always there to support and guide the three boys in decisive moments and show them their hidden desires, unbeknownst even to themselves. At the same time, with the help of coach Fujitani, Asaki learns what it means to be a coach.
When Tomoki was bedridden with lovesickness because his neglected girlfriend turned to his younger brother for comfort, coach Asaki decided to visit him at home and give him a hearty pep talk. Therein she pointed out the obvious, which is that Tomoki hasn’t loved his girlfriend anyway and that his only true love is diving. And really, can you call it love, when you never listen to what your girlfriend tells you? When you adore your diving buddies more than her? And worst of all: when you don’t notice her new haircut? – The deadliest of sins! To make sure her precious athlete doesn’t get distracted by such a minor issue again, Asaki leaves him with some words of encouragement. She points out that he won’t be able to get anywhere if he doesn’t stop wallowing and expresses her disappointment should he fail to pick himself back up again.
Despite being favored over the other divers and having been chosen as the Olympic representative Yōichi is deeply unhappy, and in his anguish looks to coach Asaki for help. Over lunch, she enlightens him as to the reason for his misery, which is that the idealistic youth can’t come to terms with the way the grown-up world works. It was prestige (most likely also money) that made the president of the Japan Swimming Federation (JSF) choose Yōichi in advance of a competitive meet. This left Yōichi with the unpleasant sensation of not having earned his spot fair and square and, even worse, robbed him of his freedom of choice. Ultimately, Asaki generously advises him to do as he pleases: “It’s your life, after all.” Thus, Yōichi decides to revoke his spot at the Olympics, thereby once again threatening the survival of MDC and, simultaneously, his father’s job, MDC’s main coach Fujitani Keisuke.
Okitsu is given a lot more freedom than the other two divers, as he can come and go as he pleases. His extended absence, when he embarks on a self-finding mission back in his hometown, Tsugaru, is without consequence for his MDC membership. On the contrary, Asaki sends Yōichi (and Tomoki) to hand him a long letter and a DVD to help him find his way. Ideally, she would have talked to him when he was still at the club because this could have prevented him from leaving in the first place. But then we would have had to miss out on Okitsu’s girlfriend, some diving-buddy bonding time and reckless cliff diving. Through her writing, coach Asaki is able to convey to Okitsu that he can experience his true self by performing the swan dive, a technique his grandfather was known for. Okitsu acknowledges his heritage and performs the low-in-score yet beautiful technique at the meet, thus willingly forfeiting his participation in the Olympics.
From Savior To Coach
Thanks to Yōichi we don’t have to wreck our brains as to why Asaki changed her previous intention to save MDC and started instructing her athletes in a way that endangered the club. When asked directly by Yōichi at their lunch meeting, she replied: “I realized that a coach doesn’t need a goal, she needs athletes.” Where these athletes would train if the club were to shut down is a different issue, I suppose. We could accredit coach Fujitani with this 180° turn in Asaki’s shift in priorities.
Up until now, coach Fujitani has not been cast in a very positive light. Sacchin accused him of committing adultery, Yōichi blamed him for disregarding his own son and only caring about the club, and Fujitani himself called his coaching methods outdated. Even though we never actually see Fujitani doing coaching, he has the most influence on the three young athletes because it is he who instructs Asaki about the true role of a coach. He explains to her that a coach mustn’t focus too much on short-term gains – which in this particular case would be the saving of the club. A coach is responsible for developing athletes in a way that enables them to enjoy a long diving career. At first, Asaki is quite flustered by this reveal, but then takes Fujitani’s advice to heart and changes her approach. Consequently, she guides her charge to ignore the fate of the club in exchange for the long-term development of the divers.
At the final competitive meet, Asaki expresses her gratitude to Fujitani for his lecture. Thanks to his teachings, she now gets to tremble with excitement at witnessing the fruits of the boys’ hard labor…. “Even if the MDC happens to be shut down.”
All’s Well That Ends Well (Spoilers!)
Regarding the destiny of the club, we are kept in suspense until the very final moments of the last episode. It picks up the metaphor from episode 1 and shows Tomoki, once again, gazing up at the concrete dragon, reminiscing about the time, when he first spotted Yōichi jumping off the diving platform. Yōichi, we find out, will compete at the Olympics after all, but not as an individual diver – this spot was taken – but in the synchronized event, together with another diver. Okitsu is sent to the United States to have his injured back cured. And Tomoki… Tomoki managed to pull off a technique with a zero percent success rate at the meet – the four-and-a-half – thanks to heeding coach Asaki’s advice: “If you are exhausted, then bleed, sweat and throw up stomach acid. Make that zero into one percent”. Thus, by the end of the series, Tomoki has finally vanquished the dragon and simultaneously secured his spot at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
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