After Free! Eternal Summer ended, I think everyone was pretty convinced there’d be a movie, based on the pattern of KyoAni’s recent original TV anime. The question was what such a movie would be about. Would it be about Makoharu university life in Tokyo? Or would it be an adaptation of High Speed, the original light novels set during Haru and friends’ younger days? As it turned out, it’d be the latter, which is perfectly fine by me. The bigger news that’d be revealed a month later was that it wouldn’t be directed by Hiroko Utsumi, who had directed Free!. Instead, it’d be Yasuhiro Takemoto at the helm.
In the last year or two, everyone’s been talking about Naoko Yamada as the hot new KyoAni director who’ll save anime and that assessment isn’t exactly misplaced. Tamako Love Story is one of my favourite anime movies ever and Sound Euphonium is great. But Takemoto is still my favourite KyoAni director in large part because he speaks to my soul. Takemoto was the director for The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi and Hyouka, so you might see why I am enamoured with him.
But it’s not just his work on shows that I like that makes him great, it’s what he likes and chooses to focus on. For instance, here he is at the KyoAni CTFK event in 2013 talking about his favourite character:
Takemoto-san, who’s your favorite character?
I think everyone knows, but I’ll say it again to clarify; I really love Houtarou Oreki! (laughs) I like male characters more than female characters. (laughs)
He also directed Amagi Brilliant Park, which some would consider a more fanservicey cute girls kind of show. And yet, the main character was still weirdly adorable. As it turns out, Takemoto explains how this came to be in an interview from the Amaburi guidebook:
The protagonist Seiya is a cool yet narcissist protagonist who’s a bit detached from the other characters. What did you focus on when depicting him?
You could say that about him, but I personally find him to be an awfully cute boy. He’s not used to being frank in public, so he spontaneously begins to act that way in front of others. That’s why I always worked to bring out that cute portion of him since it was so important to his character. If perhaps everyone thought he was “cute” it would make me very happy.
The takeaway is that Takemoto has a fairly unique way of treating and portraying male characters no matter what kind of show it is. This is something that really appeals to me and it’s why Oreki is my favourite character and why Hyouka is my favourite show. I had no doubt that Takemoto’s High Speed would be great and I really looked forward to how he’d depict a younger Haru and Makoto. And the hair. I noticed in the trailer that the hair seemed closer to what you’d see in Hyouka or Amaburi than in Free. This is good because I am a huge fan of the hair from Hyouka.
And so with that, I decided this would be a perfectly fine reason to go to Japan. Well, okay, I didn’t just fly to Japan to watch a movie in a language I don’t understand, but it was pretty high up there on the list of reasons.
Once I was actually in Japan, the most daunting part was trying to figure out how to buy a ticket, mostly because it involved trying to communicate with another human being in a language that I didn’t know (why yes, I do not understand your language but would like to purchase a ticket to see a movie in said language). I figured that Ikebukuro was the closest place to watch it and I decided getting in on it early was probably a good idea, so I chose the earliest screening.
One nice thing about being in Japan at this time was that High Speed advertisements were everywhere and there was a ton of Free! goods in general. When I was in Japan two years ago, it was right in the middle of the airing of the first season of Free! and none of the goods had been released then. This time, I had the luck of encountering the High Speed train on the Yamanote line twice and was able to visit Iwami later while all of the High Speed stuff was still going on.
On the morning of movie day, I got up relatively early and went through twitter and noticed that people were in line at Shinjuku already and were starting to get goods. I got worried and got up and got to Ikebukuro as soon as I could. Once I got there, the line actually wasn’t too bad. Not too long after, they started letting people in and the line split into two, for reasons that I didn’t get yet since, lmao I don’t know Japanese.
I went with the line that didn’t stop by the box office and assumed that the other line was for people who hadn’t gotten tickets yet. The line I followed went up some stairs. Maybe half an hour later, I saw people coming down with bags of stuff and I guessed that I was probably in the line for goods. So getting to Ikebukuro when I did turned out to be the right call since I managed to get to the top and get my goods with a few minutes left before the screening time. They were also giving away Nagisa and Haru coasters for the first week; luckily, I got a Haru coaster.
It’s been a while since I’d watched a movie in a theatre with other people and I don’t think I’ve ever caught the first screening on opening day of any movie, so this was quite special. The movie wasn’t too hard to follow with my really cursory knowledge of Japanese and I got a lot of the jokes and all the main plot points. There was one scene where I noticed the tissues coming out, which coincidentally was my favourite part too.
So how about the movie? I loved it. Takemoto’s direction gives High Speed a pretty distinct feel from Free, which works better with the movie format. I can’t speak to any differences with the novel, since I didn’t read it, but everything felt right. The middle school versions of Haru and Makoto are extremely moe. The new two main characters are great too. Ikuya is a tiny ball of anger for the most part, but when he’s not? Super moe. Asahi is the dumb genki but he’s not annoying at all. Middle school Kisumi is also great and is still a little shit disturber (although I guess that should be the other way around). The senpai, Nao and Natsuya, are good senpais and it’s easy to forget that they’re like fifteen years old max.
Like Tamako Love Story, I think it can work without having seen the related TV series. If you watched Free and didn’t like it that much but really wanted to like it more, I’d really suggest giving High Speed a shot. If you liked Free, then you’ll probably like High Speed. If you’re a Makoharu, then you’ll die happy. The only truly unfortunate thing about the movie is knowing that everything is going to get blown up soon to set up for Free.
About a week later, I watched it again, this time in Kyoto, so I could get the new set of coasters (Ikuya, Natsuya, and Kisumi; I got Ikuya), but only after taking a visit to this place:
I wish I could watch it again, but that’ll have to wait until the BD comes out. My other wish is for Takemoto to be able to get his wish and continue to work on works that focus primarily on male characters. Thank you, Takemoto.