Anime Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review: Free! -Take Your Marks-

Free! -Take Your Marks- is the 2017 film for the Free! franchise that serves as a bridge between Free! Eternal Summer and Free! -Dive to the Future.

Free! -Take Your Marks-
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Release Date: October 2, 2018

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.

The first part of the film sees Makoto accompanying Haru to Tokyo as he looks for a place to live and prepare for college. While out apartment hunting, the two of them have an encounter with a young boy who is part of a swim club at a nearby pool. This encounter ultimately leads Haru to decide that the apartment near the pool is where he wants to live. It should also be mentioned that Kisumi Shigino, a friend of Makoto and Haru from their junior high days and is a main character in Free! -Dive to the Future, has an important role in this story.

The second story sees Nitori and Momotaro giving a trip to a hot spring as a gift to Rin and Sosuke, who are about to graduate. Through chance, Nitori and Momotaro also get tickets to the hot spring. This leads to a story of these four characters having a chance to get a little closer, and Sosuke getting some advice that guides him for how he wants to proceed. 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 gets the advice is important for what we see him do in Free! -Dive to the Future.

The third story focuses on Rei, Nagisa, and Gou preparing to recruit new members for the club for the upcoming school year. The thing that stood out to me was the video they were shooting, 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. I thought this was a nice nod to that ending theme animation. The only real gripe I have here is the fact that Asahi, who is a main character in Free! -Dive to the Future, only gets a passing cameo here. If a viewer doesn’t know who he is if they haven’t seen the High Speed! Free! Starting Days film, won’t realize that there’s more to this character than someone Rei happens to overhear while walking down the street.

The final story starts and ends with scenes of Ikuya Kirishima, someone else that Haru and Makoto knew in junior high and is a main character in Free! -Dive to the Future. However, most of this story focuses on planning a surprise party for Rin before he leaves for Australia, and the avalanche of misunderstandings and assumptions that accumulate as the others try to hide the party from Rin. While it was nice to see Rin getting a sendoff from his friends from both Iwatobi and Samezuka, it was a little disappointing that Ikuya’s scenes kind of felt tacked on to this story.

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.

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.

When it comes to the Blu-ray included in this release, it has 1080p High Definition 16:0 (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 watched the Blu-ray included in this set, and I had no complaints with either the video or the audio quality.

For bonus features, there’s a textless version of the opening (which was the same on all four parts), as well as textless versions of the four endings that appeared in this film. The set also comes with four art cards, with the characters dressed up in various outfits (Halloween costumes, police officers, pirates, and royalty). While this is a little better than what the release for High Speed! Free! Starting Days got for bonus features, I still wish there could have been at least something else here to make the bonuses worthwhile.

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 Free! -Take Your Marks- is a “must get.”

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