Free! -Take Your Marks- tells a whole new story and serves as a bridge between Free! Eternal Summer and Free! -Dive to the Future.

Free! -Take Your Marks-
Directed by: Eisaku Kawanami
Written by: Masahiro Yokotani
Starring: Nobunaga Shimazaki, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Tsubasa Yonaga, Daisuke Hirakawa, Mamoru Miyano, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Koki Miyata, Kenichi Suzumura, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Kouki Uchiyama, Kenji Nojima, Satoshi Hino, Chihiro Suzuki, Akeno Watanabe, and Satsuki Yukino
Run Time: 105 minutes

Free! -Take Your Marks- is billed as being an anime film, but it feels more like four OVAs were put together back-to-back. There are four parts of the film, and each part has its own opening and ending credits, which was the big thing that made me feel like these were four OVAs instead of one film.

Each of the four parts has a specific theme. The first section is called “Fateful Choice,” and it sees Makoto accompanying Haru to Tokyo as he looks for a place to live and prepare for college. It turns out the realtor Haru is going through is the uncle of Kisumi Shigino, a friend of theirs from their junior high days. Haru is picky about the features he wants in his apartment, and he shoots down all but the last one. When Haru and Makoto go to look at the apartment from the outside, they’re approached by a young boy looking for his swim coach (the former tenant who has just moved out). It turns out there’s a pool nearby, and the boy takes Haru and Makoto there. For viewers who are familiar with the High Speed! Free! Starting Days film, there’s a twist at the end when it’s revealed who the prior tenant of the apartment is.

The next section is called “Cooling Down at the Secret Hot Spring!,” and it sees Nitori trying to figure out a present for Rin and Sosuke, who are about to graduate. As Nitori and Momotaro are trying to think of ideas, Momotaro wins tickets to the Anago Hot Springs. It turns out Rin’s mother has a couple of extra tickets, so she suggests to Rin that he use them to take Nitori and Momotaro along. This leads to the four of them spending time together and creating more of a bond. We also learn that Momotaro has a fascination with capybaras, which became part of a running joke in the story. But when the group encounters another swim team at the hot springs, Sosuke gets an important piece of advice from an alumnus of the other team. I thought it was nice to get a story with a focus on some of the swimmers from Samezuka Academy. While this may feel like a throwaway story, the scene where Sosuke talks to the alumnus of the other team is important for what we see Sosuke do in Free! -Dive to the Future.

The third section is titled, “United Butterfly!,” and it focuses on Rei, Nagisa, and Gou working on a recruitment video for the swim club for the upcoming school year. It was amusing to see the theme they went with when shooting the video, because it’s a throwback to the desert scenes and costumes we saw the characters in for the ending theme animation in Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. Now the desert footage from that ending theme make sense. LOL! But while working on the video, Gou comes across an old recruitment manual from the club’s formation, which includes a list of things to do. One of the items catches the group’s interest, but the page associated with that line item is missing, and they think this could be the key to helping them with their recruitment. While the answer isn’t what they were expecting, it still gives Rei an inspiration for finishing off the video. This segment also includes a cameo from Asahi Shiina, who was first introduced in the High Speed! Free! Starting Days film. He’s someone Haru and Makoto knew from their junior high swim team.

The final story, “The Eternal Blue of Journeys to Come!,” sees members from Iwatobi’s swim club and Samezuka Academy’s club getting together to plan a surprise party for Rin, who is leaving for Australia soon. He happens to see Gou and Momotaro in a fast food joint together and assumes they’re dating. If he had stayed longer, he would have seen that other people joined them at the table. This misunderstanding leads to an avalanche of assumptions and misunderstandings that build up in a humorous manner. It’s actually Haru who ends up settling things down just by talking with Rin and unpacking all of the assumptions and misunderstandings. This segment is bookended with scenes of Ikuya Kirishima, a boy who had been on the swim team with Haru, Makoto, and Asahi in junior high. In the first scene, we get a flashback of Makoto talking with Ikuya, and we learn about how the group of the four boys has fallen apart, with Asahi and Haru leaving the team. In my review for High Speed! Free! Starting Days, I mentioned that it would have been nice to learn what happened between the end of High Speed! Free! Starting Days and the beginning of Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. This one scene helped to fill in that gap with a simple explanation. This may have just been a short scene that decided to tell instead of show, but it’s better than nothing.

The stories included in Free! -Take Your Marks- do a great job of setting up how the characters get from the end of Free! Eternal Summer to the beginning of Free! -Dive to the Future. However, with the way this was done as four separate segments instead of one linear story, it feels a little on the choppy side. A part of me wonders if Free! -Take Your Marks- would have been a stronger product if it had been released as four OVAs under this title rather than as one theatrical film. With that criticism aside, I think that these stories did a good job overall of focusing on the characters, since many of them end up being important in Free! -Dive to the Future. While there wasn’t much emphasis on Ikuya, that makes sense since a lot of his story comes out in the next anime season. It was a little disappointing that Asahi only shows up in a brief cameo, and nothing to let the audience know that he’s going to be important. The only way anyone watching this would know Asahi’s importance is if they’ve already seen High Speed! Free! Starting Days. Viewers who haven’t seen that film would potentially assume that he’s just some random guy walking around that Rei happens to overhear.

Even with its faults, I would recommend Free! -Take Your Marks- to fans of the Free! anime franchise. This collection of stories helps the viewer bridge the gaps between the second and third season, so it would be recommended to see this before watching the third season. But even if you start into the third season without seeing this, Free! -Dive to the Future makes sure to provide some flashbacks from both this film and High Speed! Free! Starting Days to help fill in any missing gaps that the audience may have.

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