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.