I remember a while ago someone was freaking out over something Takemoto said in an interview about his understanding of Makoto. Basically, he said something like he found Makoto incredibly deep and hard to grasp as a character. The one who was freaking out took this to mean that Takemoto didn’t know what he was doing. That’s not what I want to get into.
What I find interesting now is how Takemoto’s view of Makoto is quite different from a lot of people’s I’ve seen. The conventional view of Makoto from Free was that he may be hot and kind but his character is ultimately boring and shallow. But look at what Takemoto said about Makoto. He obviously saw and understood something about Makoto that a lot of people didn’t.
This isn’t the first time he’s done this. My favourite example of this is in an Amaburi interview when he’s asked about Kanie. The interviewer asks about Kanie’s depiction and describes him as a cool, detached narcissist, as most of us would see him. Takemoto says well actually, I think he’s cute and he acts that way because he’s not used to dealing with people, so I tried to bring out that cute part of him because it’s very important to his character.
Part of the reason I found Makoto much more interesting in High Speed is because he’s not already everyone’s anchor. Obviously, this is a setting issue: middle school Makoto is obviously going to be more unsure and vulnerable. Makoto second-guesses himself because of his new environment and new people and alters his behaviour because he feels like he needs to change. Haru notices these slight changes, which escapes everyone else, and it becomes a source of tension between them. It’s a very different relationship dynamic from the one where Makoto’s stopping Haru from jumping into fish tanks.
I think this is one area where the comedy/drama splitting the difference hurt Free, since in making everyone else in the Iwatobi swimming club weirdos, they sort of forced Makoto into being the straight man. This is okay if you want to make it a comedy, but if you want a deeper exploration of the characters, like Free wanted to do sometimes, you end up not being able to do much with Makoto without making it seem overly dramatic.
In both High Speed and Free, he’s a nice boy who feels a sense of responsibility. His attempts to change in High Speed are a reflection of that. But Makoto also has space to be vulnerable in High Speed, since Nao and Natsuya are around to shoulder being the responsible ones. Of course, Nao and Natsuya have their own things to deal with but it doesn’t come off as weird, since High Speed isn’t trying to be half a comedy.
But even then, it’s not like Takemoto can’t write male characters that aren’t lame in his comedies. Everyone loves the Maidragon bits about Takiya and Faf-kun and they could’ve been super gimmicky characters.
You can see the same difference between the High Speed and Free versions of Haru. I’m a fan of the High Speed Haru in large part because of Takemoto’s characterization, or what Takemoto called Haru’s pure convictions and being unshakeable. There are moments in High Speed when he doesn’t back down and stares down whoever’s challenging him and we get these great shots of his look of determination.
For instance, when he says “I only swim free”, at first it’s like aha, he said the thing! But the weight and context of the line here is different from in Free. In Free, he says it and it’s the kind of thing that an eccentric prodigy does. In High Speed, he has to actually back it up since it means defying Natsuya. In this case, it’s a deliberate action that he’s taking because it’s something he believes in.
This also touches on something that we don’t really see in Free, which is Haru’s sensitivity and perceptiveness. In Free, he’s always doing shit like jumping into bodies of water and everyone’s trying to stop him. In High Speed, Haru notices things like the changes in Makoto’s behaviour and the tensions between Ikuya and Natsuya.
It’s this emotional perceptiveness that he has in High Speed that changes his character. The things he does go from being the whims of the weirdo genius to something that he chooses to do because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.