Review: High Speed! Free! Starting Days the Movie (DVD / Blu-Ray Combo)

Friends Haru and Makoto are starting their first year of junior high when they are faced with a very important decision – they need to figure out which school club to join. Already regular competitors at their local swimming club, the two are not that interested in joining the swimming club at Iwatobi Junior High School. However, after some convincing from the captain of the school swim team, Haru and Makoto join the club alongside other first years, Asahi and Ikuya. The four boys specialise in different swimming strokes, which makes them perfect for competing as a team in a medley race. But as the boys begin their training in preparation for the upcoming prefectural tournament, they struggle to swim as a cohesive team. With the tournament date looming ahead, Haru, Makoto, Asahi and Ikuya must figure out how to work together if they are to improve their medley swim time, all while forming tentative friendships and relearning what it is they enjoy about swimming.



A prequel film to the Free! anime series, High Speed! Free! Starting Days features Haru, Makoto, Asahi and Ikuya during their junior high school days as they become members of the Iwatobi Junior High School Swim Club. Free! is an iconic sports anime that, much like Haikyuu!! and volleyball, has become the poster child of swimming anime and has earned this title by being a polished production from Kyoto Animation that provides that peak sports anime experience – exciting competition mixed in with interesting character drama (for additional thoughts, check out reviews for Free!: Eternal Summer [season 2] and Free!: Dive to the Future [season 3]).

High Speed! Free! Starting Days is no exception to this formula, with the movie condensing the core essence of the series – swimming, competing, anxiety, friendship – into a polished film with a runtime of just under two hours. Overall, the film is a simple and sweet look at a number of characters from the series during their younger years, examining their drive and anxieties as junior high schoolers and their experiences as they form new relationships and take part in their junior high school swim club.



High Speed! Free! Starting Days uses its runtime really well to give each of the main cast their own arcs, while also tying them neatly back into the overall story of Haru, Makoto, Asahi, and Ikuya training for their team medley. Appropriate for its junior high setting, the film uses the characters to capture a lot of anxiety regarding sports, school and being young in ways I thought were very engaging. Haru and Makoto struggle with the jump to junior high and what that means for their friendship going forward, Asahi loses confidence in his ability as a swimmer, and Ikuya shoulders a lot of resentment towards his brother Natsuya, who is also the captain of the Iwatobi Junior High School Swim Club. These individual issues have a tangible impact on the group’s ability to work together as a swim team, and feeds into how they all relate to each other. It’s a simple premise, but a solid one that makes the film feel well-paced and complete despite being a prequel. An added benefit is that fans of the series also get to learn more about the cast of Free! and their history together, and the result is that High Speed! Free! Starting Days feels like a genuine and meaningful addition to their stories which is impressive given there are a number of flashbacks in the main series referring to this time period.

Having seen Free!: Dive to the Future without first having seen this prequel film, I can honestly say that High Speed! Free! Starting Days does a lot to positively expand on the backstory and contextualise the character drama of season 3 of the anime. However, the movie also does a good job at balancing the tricky act of being a movie for fans of Free! and being a movie with wider appeal. You could watch High Speed! Free! Starting Days with a peripheral knowledge of Free! or no knowledge at all and still enjoy it, as the characters and their arcs feel complete within the context of the film, while also feeling like they could stretch beyond its boundaries. Character appearances beyond the main cast also avoid feeling too much like cameos, and feel natural for those not as familiar with core characters from the series like Rin, Nagisa, Rei, and Sosuke, but are fun scenes for those who are familiar with these characters and already enjoy them.



High Speed! Free! Starting Days is a polished condensation of all there is to love about the Free! series – a top tier visual experience from an animation studio who has nailed exactly how to capture the excitement of a swimming relay, and a narrative about guys swimming and how the power of friendship and love for a sport can bring you joy and purpose. I had a good time with it, and no doubt fans of Free! or people looking for a solid anime film to enjoy will as well.


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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.