High Speed Discourse III: Free is not High Speed, High Speed is not Free

I love KyoAni but I think this poster encapsulates my frustrations? disappointments? that I’ve had with them lately. Now, I’d like to think I’m not dumb; I know that this has been their “thing” since the beginning of time. It’s just that I’d just begun to hope that things would change a little with Free!, but four years later…

Anyway, this is why I yell about High Speed all the time. It shows that they can make a fairly serious/grounded work about boys. Free! has tonal problems where it’s wacky hijinks like their comedies but they also tried to shoehorn some drama that didn’t really fit; High Speed resembles Sound Euphonium, where it’s more quiet, coherent, and less gags or melodrama. That’s not to say that Euphonium wasn’t funny or didn’t have drama, but the style is very different.

So it’s really difficult not to conclude that a lot of Utsumi’s decisions harmed the coherence of Free! and that she needed to hold back more. This is more clear now that we can directly compare to, say, Takemoto’s High Speed or even Kawanami’s Free!. Watching High Speed and Free! Timeless Medley Kizuna has made me wonder what a more focused and less wacky TV Free! or High Speed adaptation would’ve been like. An immediate objection is that it’d be boring or something, but the movies show otherwise. Of course, it’s also hard to say because Kawanami was really tied down by the Free! that already exists, but I liked his original parts in Kizuna and I hear that Promise has even more new material.

My hot take is that if Takemoto had done Free!, a lot more people would be talking about it in the same way as Hyouka or Euphonium. Again, someone is going to object and say that’s bad, but here’s the problem: everyone’s biggest problem with Free! is the drama. As I mentioned earlier, Free! tries to go down both the comedy and drama route and it’s worse for it, especially since the original High Speed novel was never a comedy. This sort of points to a pretty clear alternative adaptation strategy: that the Hyouka/Euphonium route would probably have been the best direction to go in, which is exactly what the High Speed movie does. And it’s a much stronger work because of it.

One final note is that Timeless Medley is ostensibly a recap/summary but it completely skips over season 1. Is it because Free!’s first season is bad or hard to square with the rest of the narrative? Who knows? But it’s evidently not important enough to include. Meanwhile, explicit callbacks to High Speed! the movie are incorporated into the new Free! movies, so good fucking luck if you haven’t watched it.

High Speed! is my anime of the year and you’re all dumb fucks for not watching it

Swimming × Friendship × Coming-of-age story

High Speed! is Free! with the aesthetics and direction of Hyouka and the character drama and conflict of Sound! Euphonium. No anime this year has kept pulling me back to it the way High Speed has. When I was planning my 12 days posts this year, I kept thinking about it and kept having to remind myself that I already wrote about it last year. Maybe it’s because it’s really only been one year, but it still feels like something that’s been holding onto me throughout the year.

All of this just makes it even more baffling to me that no one seems to have anything to say about it. I mused a few weeks ago that every KyoAni production has trolls swarming out to shittalk KyoAni and whatever they’ve done, but the release of High Speed came and went with nary a slur being tweeted. Phantom World came out and everyone gnashed their teeth about it, followed by six months of silence, and then everyone came back out for a second round of shittalking Sound Euphonium. But in fact, nothing was said about High Speed, good or bad. The only piece discussing the movie I could find was an Otaku USA review from last year, when the movie was in theatres.

Basically, no one’s seen it except for the hardcore Free fans, which you might expect. However, I know that there’s a bunch of people out there who generally enjoy KyoAni stuff. There are also people who I’d say casually enjoyed Free, in that they watched it that season and liked it but aren’t into it like the people buying doujin and dakimakura and figures and stuff. What happened to them? It’s a mystery.

Pure blue starting

One question that I’ve gotten is that we’ve already seen all there is from Free once we get to the end of Eternal Summer. The obvious answer to this question is duh, it’s a prequel, but that doesn’t really quite capture what’s different about High Speed. Because of the way that Free and High Speed came about, High Speed doesn’t really function like a typical prequel does in that it doesn’t try to set up or illuminate anything in Free. In this way, you can consider it a story on its own.

That story is about the beginning of Haru’s middle school days. We all know about that amazing relay that Haru and his pals did and now Rin’s gone off to Australia, Nagisa’s still in elementary school, and so it’s just Haru and Makoto going to middle school. Haru has to get used to his new school and surroundings, but most importantly, this movie is about the relationships he forms with his new teammates at his school’s swimming club.

Now, this seems kind of unremarkable for anime. This is the story of literally every sports and club anime. In fact, it sounds a lot like Free. What’s different?

Remember, High Speed is set in middle school. There are a truckload of shows that are about high school clubs every season. There aren’t many shows that focus on middle schoolers, and certainly not many that attempt to tell a relatively serious story aimed at adults. The characters in High Speed are made to face problems and conflicts that middle schoolers have to deal with and these are different than the ones that we’re used to dealing with in high school anime.

You can see this difference fairly early on in Haru and Makoto, since we already know them from Free. Haru’s got the same cool, quiet nature that he has in Free, but his younger self is a lot more uncertain about the things that are changing in his life. This is even more obvious in Makoto, who shows a vulnerability that we never see in the steady and reliable person we knew from Free. And both Asahi and Ikuya have similar struggles and vulnerabilities, although we can’t contrast them to their older selves. It’s been mentioned before in staff interviews that depicting middle school boys is sort of like having to tread a thin line between child and teen.

This setting also leads to a new dynamic from Free, where the swimming club doesn’t exist. In High Speed, a swimming club exists already, so we get to see a new dimension to Haru: his relationship with mentors. In Free, the swimming club is basically running the show on their own and Haru gets to be the free-spirited individual that he is. High Speed’s depiction of Haru’s relationship with his senpai, Natsuya and Nao, added an aspect to Haru’s character that I wasn’t aware was missing and it made me wish that those kinds of characters and relationships were also present in Free.

This is where High Speed resembles Sound Euphonium more than Free. You have four middle school boys suddenly having to learn to work together while trying to navigate and make sense of their own issues and grow up at the same time. The fun is in watching them grow closer and trust each other, helping each of them through their struggles and ultimately working towards their goal as a team.

Pure blue scenes

The other big difference between High Speed and Free is in the staff at the top. Free’s director, Hiroko Utsumi, wasn’t involved in High Speed’s production. Instead High Speed is directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto, the director of such works as The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Hyouka, and Amagi Brilliant Park. This led to some noticeable aesthetic changes, shifting it more towards Takemoto’s other works.

Because the movie is focused on the story of the boys, there isn’t much time or space for random visual gags or diversions, and so there aren’t many cartoony visuals. Instead, lighter moments come from character interactions or quick shots. For instance, Haru’s love of mackerel doesn’t ever come up as a recurring gag; rather, you’ll notice it when it shows up silently to make the callback.

Other stylistic choices seem to stem from the director change. The way the hair is drawn resembles the hair that you’d find in Hyouka more than Free. And the fashion choices for the boys are more conservative than they were in Free. An in-universe explanation would be that their moms still choose their clothes for them and they just let loose when they got into high school. But again, the fashion wouldn’t be out of place in Hyouka.

All of the changes are rather small on their own, but taken together it’s hard not to notice that it feels and looks rather different from Free. I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe it well, but I guess that serves to emphasize the point that it simply feels different. That’s not to say it’s jarringly different and that Free fans would feel uncomfortable (that’s clearly not the case). It’s more like, it’s an alternate version of Free that’s not hard to imagine, where the tone was slightly more serious and had a bit more focus.

Best swim, best team

Just as I’ve described at the very beginning, High Speed feels like it’s a sort of triangulation of a lot of stuff that KyoAni’s worked on. One of the reasons I keep on harping on KyoAni and male characters is that I think they’re really good at depicting male characters in a way that very few other anime do and I wish they’d do more of it. On a personal level, Takemoto is able to hit all of the right buttons for me, through his directorial style, his visual sense, and his touch when it comes to male characters.

I know that there are ~reasons~ why comparatively few people have bothered to take a look at High Speed. It’s part of a series so it feels like a known quantity. Everyone was waiting for the BD to come out and then waiting for subs. And so on and so forth. But if you’re reading this even now, you know all of those excuses are bullshit, especially when I’ve been tweeting about haruchan this movie for an entire year.

In case you’re worried about my personal opinion of you if you haven’t watched High Speed, I mostly just wanted to note the interesting disparity between High Speed discussion in comparison with all the other wonderful KyoAni discourse, which I mentioned a few weeks ago. I also wanted an excuse to write about High Speed this year and to write something longer now that everyone can watch it and also because I waited until the end of the year and realized no one else will.

But if you’re still worried that I think you’re a bad person, just go watch High Speed just in case.

12 Days XII: Chew you guts cool say what 最高だぜ

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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:

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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.

12 Days XI : Future Fish

【7FrFr!ネタバレ】 | Mina

【7FrFr!ネタバレ】 | Mina

As promised, we did see them next summer. So this season, more than anything else, was about Haru’s (and some of the others’) futures. One of my small hopes was that for Haru, it wouldn’t be swimming related. It was something that I drew from the ED, but of course, you could argue that those were the dreams they had when they were kids and those are always bound to change. But I did enjoy Haru’s other talents being mentioned or shown briefly throughout the show and I really wanted him to pursue one of those. I think that kind of path fits in more with how he treats his swimming. But alas, that wasn’t how it played out, but that’s okay, I still love Haru.

12 Days XI.5

「京アニ風にFree!を描いてみた!!」/「Mina」

「京アニ風にFree!を描いてみた!!」/「Mina」

Sometime during the broadcast of Tamako Market or Chu2koi, I mentioned that Kyoani should really consider doing a show like K-ON! but with boys because they are able to make their boys as moe as their girls. Twitter user Yuyucow alerted me to the website of Animation Do which had a visual for an unnamed project involving boys and swimming. A few months later, a CM involving boys and swimming aired after the end of a Tamako Market episode and the rest is history.