High Speed! Free! Starting Days is a prequel film for the Free! anime franchise and is loosely based on the second volume of the High Speed! light novels.

High Speed! Free! Starting Days
Directed by: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Written by: Masahiro Yokotani and Maiko Nishioka
Starring: Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Kouki Uchiyama, Mamoru Miyano, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Kenji Nojima, Satoshi Hino, and Chihiro Suzuki
Run Time: 110 minutes

Haruka Nanase and Makoto Tachibana, two of the main characters from the Free! franchise, are just starting out in middle school. They’re active members of the Iwatobi Swim Club, but classmate Asahi Shiina tries to convince them to join the middle school’s swim team. Another classmate, Kisumi Shigino, tries to get them to join the basketball team. Another classmate, Ikuya Kirishima, is the younger brother of the captain of the swim team. After some indecisive moments, Natsuya Kirishima (Ikuya’s older brother) convinces Haruka, Makoto, Asahi, and Ikuya to join the club.

Earlier, I mentioned that there was some indecisive moments before the boys join the swim club. Haruka is missing Rin and seems to feel that he’ll never has a good of a relay team as he had with Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin. Makoto also spends time during the film wondering if he really loves swimming, or if he’s simply in the club because Haruka is. Both of these are running threads throughout the film, and we see how hesitant both Haruka and Makoto are when they’re practicing for an upcoming relay with their other first-year team members. Quite a bit of the film is focused on the relay team being coached by uperclassman Nao Serizawa. Nao has his wok cut out for him as the tries to get the four boys to work together as a team.

Obviously, we get some cameo appearances from Nagisa, since he’s a member of the Iwatobi Swim Club. Since he’s a year younger than Haruka and Makoto, he wasn’t going to be an integral part of the story since he’s not going to middle school yet. The film also squeezes in a cameo for Rei. At one point in the film, Asahi has forgotten how to swim freestyle and is trying to find a book (or books) to help him past this block. He just happens to run into Rei at the library, and Rei tries to help. Maybe it’s just me, but Rei’s cameo felt a little on the forced side. It just didn’t feel as natural as Nagisa’s cameo appearances.

There’s also cameo appearances from Sosuke as well, since his middle school team is competing against Haruka and Makoto’s team in the middle school relay. Sosuke ends up playing an important role for Haruka to come to grips with Rin going off to Australia, even though it’s obvious that he really didn’t want to be in that position.

As someone who has already seen the three television seasons for Free!, this film helped me fill in some gaps I had about some of these characters when watching Free! -Dive to the Future. While that season of the anime provides some flashbacks to help viewers understand these characters and their background, it was nice to finally see everything that ties these particular characters together. I especially appreciated the character development and focus on Ikuya and the relationship he has with his brother. I have a feeling that seeing this film will now add some impact to Ikuya’s scenes when I re-watch Free! -Dive to the Future.

A complaint my husband had while watching this film was the fact that the script says the middle schoolers are doing a 400-meter relay. As a former competitive high school swimmer, he found this to be unrealistic. To him, a shorter distance, such as a 200-meter relay, would have been more realistic for middle school swimmers.

Outside of my husband’s technical gripe, I found that I enjoyed High Speed! Free! Starting Days. It was great to see some of these characters when they were younger. However, it still feels like there’s a portion of the story missing, because something had to have happened between the first year of middle school that’s shown here and the second year of high school at the beginning of Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. Perhaps this gap is covered in the High Speed! light novels and was simply skipped over for the anime adaptation.

If you’re a fan of the Free! franchise, I would recommend watching High Speed! Free! Starting Days if you haven’t seen it already. Although, I would recommend watching this film before jumping into Free! -Dive to the Future, because I think the viewing experience for the third television anime season would be greatly enhanced by watching this film first.

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