High Speed! Free! Starting Days is the 2015 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
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Release Date: October 2, 2018

This film focuses on Haruka Nanase and Makoto Tachibana, two of the main characters from the Free! franchise, as they’re just starting out in middle school. This film introduces several new characters, although one of them had previously been seen in Free! Eternal Summer. The new characters introduced here are Asahi Shiina, Ikuya Kirishima, and Natsuya Kirishima. Kisumi Shigino, the character on the basketball team who becomes friends with the characters that join the middle school swim team, was the older brother of the boy that Makoto teaches to swim when he’s helping out at the Iwatobi Swim Club in Free! Eternal Summer. Asahi, Ikuya, and Natsuya become important characters in the series’ third season, Free! -Dive to the Future.

Both Haruka and Makoto have issues they deal with in this film. For Haruka, he’s missing Rin and believes that he’ll never be able to be on as a good of a relay team as the one he was part of with Rin, Makoto, and Nagisa. Makoto, on the other hand, finds himself questioning whether he’s joined the middle school swim team because he truly loves swimming or if she simply joined because Haruka did.

Speaking of Nagisa, we do get some cameos of him in the film when Haruka and Makoto go to the Iwatobi Swim Club. There’s also a cameo of Rei, but I thought that his cameo felt kind of forced. Asahi has forgotten to swim freestyle and has gone to the library to try to find books to help him overcome this block. Rei is the person who just happens to be standing next to him in the library. I understand that the writers wanted to acknowledge Rei, since he’s important in the main series, but Asahi’s mental block felt like it was included simply so there would be a reason for him to run into Rei. We also get to see Sosuke, who is first introduced in Free! Eternal Summer. He’s part of the middle school swim team competing against Haruka and Makoto’s team for the relay, but Sosuke also plays an important role for helping Haruka comes to grips with Rin heading off to Australia.

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.

Overall, I enjoyed High Speed! Free! Starting Days, but I feel like there’s still a portion of the story missing. From what we see in Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club, it’s obvious that 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 the first season of the anime. 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.

When it comes to the Blu-ray included in this release, it has 1080p High Definition 16:9 (HD Native) video. For audio, it includes Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD: Japanese 5.1. For the DVD, it has English 5.1 Surround and Japanese 5.1 Surround. I was impressed to see that the Japanese audio, in addition to the English audio, was available in 5.1. This is a rare thing for anime releases in North America. I watched the Blu-ray included in this set, and I had no complaints with either the video or the audio.

Unfortunately, there are no bonus features included on either disc in this set. Instead, the “bonus feature” included here is a 20-page art book that includes various stills from the film. This is great if you’re into art books, but it would have been nice to have had some kind of bonus features included on the discs. Interviews with the English cast and/or trailers would have been nice, at the very least.

If you’re a fan of the Free! franchise and want to add all of it to your anime home video library, then this release of High Speed! Free! Starting Days is a “must get.”

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