High Speed Discourse IV: On High Speed discourse

I was thinking about KyoAni and how everyone has a billion words to say about their stuff, no matter what they do, it’s inescapable – except High Speed. Outside of Free! fans, no one has anything to fucking say about that movie, nothing, good or bad. And by bad, I mean not criticism, but the stupid KyoAni discourse shit that every other KyoAni discussion is hit with.

There are tomes of discourse on Phantom World titties and a movie that 90% of us couldn’t even watch yet but not a word about High Speed. At the same time, everyone’s like why can’t KyoAni do something other than moe girl shit? Even people who liked Free! but weren’t, say, haruchan-lickers or whatever don’t even seem to know it exists. It’s baffling. These are the same people who otherwise would have four or five journal publications about whatever KyoAni TV anime is airing at the moment.

This all gave me the sense that despite being the latest KyoAni movie directed by Takemoto, a director people said they liked, no one watched it. People were already turning their attention to Koe no Katachi despite not being able to watch it for months maybe? who knew? So I decided to push hard when Maidragon started airing, since I figured people were likely going to be impressed by Takemoto, and they were.

No one gave a shit and they still do not.

It’s become clearer since that every new show or movie KyoAni makes means that it’s more likely that High Speed is going to be forgotten. Personally, it’s become a lot harder to get excited for new KyoAni shows and movies knowing this but that’s something for me to deal with. It’s more disappointing to me because it’s such a clear demonstration of Takemoto’s unique and underappreciated skill with male characters and it’s disappointing because I honestly thought we had moved past finding boys icky after Hyouka and Free and other KyoAni shows.

While I’ve been vindicated whenever I get told that High Speed was good after all, I can’t feel like I succeeded, having berated them into it. It’s very strange, because as I’ve previously noted, High Speed has a lot of the things you’d want from a Hyouka sequel. It’s the same kind of school club drama shit y’all can’t get enough of from Sound Euphonium. So it’s probably worth reflecting on why we feel the KyoAni movie for a popular series targeted to women is probably not worth checking out. The only difference here is that there’s no cute girl to direct your shitty focus on. It’s a bit of a mystery why the only KyoAni anime that’s been ignored doesn’t have a cute girl in it (Oreki-san ki in narimasu!).

It’s easy to say lol anime fans but this pattern can be observed among “serious” or “progressive” anime people: typical run-of-the-mill shitty harem comedy can be tolerated; shoujo romances and otome game adaptations get dropped half an episode in. We’re much more interested in performing progressive feminist criticisms of popular shows for men than talking about shows for women at all. In that sense, we’re no better than the shitheads who whined about Free! when it first got announced because it wasn’t made specifically for them.

Everyone watches what they like, I get that, but don’t fucking tell me you’re a Takemoto fan or that you love KyoAni if you couldn’t be assed to watch this movie. Someone will object and go “oh but I didn’t hear about it” which is the biggest pile of shit because, as a KyoAni fan would know, KyoAni only ever does one thing at a time! Oh, whoops, I didn’t notice my favourite studio and director were abducted and disappeared for a few months, てへぺろ. Yet another person will object that it’s hard to pirate Blu-rays and wait for subs and so on and so forth. But how soon was it after the Koe no Katachi BD came out that it was sitting in your torrent queue? Oh no, but that’s different, they’ll say, that’s a movie that’s actually, uh… Good (or so I’ve been told, because I couldn’t have watched it before it got pirated!), praise Yamada.

Yes, that’s right, I, a person who can name an anime director from this particular studio I love, am ignorant and unaware of exactly one work that they’ve produced in the last few years. Am I supposed to believe this horseshit? That an entire community built around unbelievably efficient piracy lost track of a BD release date? No, it’s the same reason why Cinderella Girls CDs get ripped immediately and SideM CDs take a few days despite coming out on the same day.

And yet, recently, I observed that a good portion of the audience at SideM lives were guys who started as Ps from other imas series (an observation that’s been confirmed by GamiP). So I have no doubt that male 765/CG/ML Ps will support and watch the SideM anime when it comes out, as they’ve been doing for SideM already. But my prediction is that the wider anime audience, which includes the various writers and talkers and “thought leaders” (lol) and are the kind of people who were convinced to take a look at animas or Love Live and liked them and maybe even wrote some posts about them, won’t watch SideM.

Because look: where are their UtaPri or Marginal#4 or TsukiUta posts? For these people, it’s obviously paramount that the idols are girls. This is how anime criticism can come to the conclusion that Love Live is great because of female empowerment and queer representation and all sorts of amazing achievements, while at the same time imply that shows for women are not worth discussing by simply not watching them and being silent on them. Kobayashi-san’s Dragon Maid is a groundbreaking progressive work, while no one has anything to say about positive and non-shitty portrayals of boys, perhaps because they don’t happen to occur naturally in works that target men. It turns out serious anime people are only able to watch emotionally resonant works that all happen to feature cute girls. Wow, what a coincidence, right, this is fine.

Ah, but I loved Yuri on Ice, an extremely progressive anime targeted to women!, you might say. And yet, Yuri on Ice shows just how many hoops need to be jumped through and boxes need to be checked before men will take a show for women seriously. It’s got a serious take about an international-level competition for a respected sport and casts mainly adults and real world athletes are really into it. It’s incredibly atypical compared to anime of any genre. Its acceptance and critical acclaim has everything to do with how much it isn’t like the typical shows for women. Notice, for instance, that Kinpri is another surprisingly successful movie with huge buzz, but again, no one gives a shit about it outside of the fujoshi cluster.

It all comes back to the principle that we watch what we want to watch and write about what we want to write about and talk about what we want to talk about. There’s seemingly nothing we can really do about this. I definitely don’t have any great ideas except to implore that we all be a bit more critical in how we select and approach what we watch. Maybe whenever someone wants to perform some sort of deep dive feminist reading of some show made for dudes that they liked, we should be asking whether they’ve ever looked at a show made for women for more than three minutes. Regardless, the result is still that our choices implicitly confirm what random assholes on the internet claim explicitly, that shows made primarily for women are inherently inferior.

The example of SideM is particularly interesting. Although the producers have talked about making SideM approachable for everyone, regardless of gender, it’s still clearly a property for women. However, that so many male Ps gave it a shot was an explicit choice on their part. This wasn’t like the infamous Jupiter situation from 2010, where they were forced into it. They decided to give SideM the benefit of the doubt because it was imas. While I’m sure not everyone was enamored by it (which is fine), it now likely boasts the best male/female gender ratio among fans for male idol anime properties and it’s probably fairly high for general anime properties made for women.

Anyway, to conclude: despite wanting to be good and progressive and all that, anime writers and fans are still incredibly sexist and blind to it, i.e. the reason you didn’t watch High Speed was because it’s for women so it couldn’t have been any good. I hope someday I’ll be able to read something interesting about High Speed outside of the comments section on gogoanime.

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 Discourse II: Takemoto and the boys

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.

High Speed Discourse I: Thoughts on the work of Yasuhiro Takemoto

Once again, Yasuhiro Takemoto took a show, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, that I had absolutely no reason to be interested in and made me like it. It’s well known that Everyone likes The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi and Hyouka because they are “Good” (and they are). I liked them too, so it was easy for me to conclude aha, Takemoto is a good director because he directs things that are good and things that are of interest to me. But then, when they announced he was directing Amagi Brilliant Park, my reaction was like “Uh ok? That’s kinda weird but we’ll see, I guess?”

Of course, it turned out to be good too and I started to realize that maybe he’s good, as in he could direct anything and I’d like it. I mean, AmaBuri is not something I’d probably have enjoyed if it was in the hands of anyone else and in retrospect, that’s how I felt about Hyouka before it started airing. Remember, that back then, we were still in the whole KyoAni means moe slice of life with girls mode, so a very natural reaction was kinda like “What the heck is this thing? Why, KyoAni?” When it was airing, Maidragon confirmed that feeling that Takemoto could direct any random shit and I’d enjoy it, because his style is so attuned to my sensibilities.

And yet, even though everyone thinks Disappearance and Hyouka are amazing it feels like he’s still incredibly underrated. My guess is that it’s because everything he’s worked on is really different from each other, so it’s hard to pinpoint his style, in the superficial sense. That is, while you can watch something and go, “oh that’s a Yamada kind of work”, it’s not quite as clear what a “Takemoto work” would be about. And so you can watch a show and go “oh it’s good” but there’s no obvious theme or motif that stands out for you to connect with his other works.

Obviously if you know to look for it, you can see his influence. They’re obviously not going to be 100% the same but the stylistic difference between Utsumi’s Free! and Takemoto’s High Speed make this clear, since unlike the other things he’s directed, this is something that’s really easy to directly compare to. But that’s something for another day.

Because this is obviously a pitch for you fuckers to watch High Speed. If you enjoyed Hyouka or Maidragon or AmaBuri or whatever, then chances are good that you’ll like High Speed too. After all, if you’re weird enough to have Takemoto as your favourite KyoAni director instead of Yamada, you understand what I’ve been talking about. Or even if you’re a general KyoAni fan, if you like Takemoto’s style, do yourself a favour and check out his take on Free!, especially it’s so similar in style to Hyouka and the last thing that made everyone rave about Takemoto was Hyouka.

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.