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Anime / High★Speed! - Free! Starting Days

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From left to right: Asahi, Haruka, Makoto, and Ikuya.
A prequel to Free!, adapted from the second Light Novel of High☆Speed! (2013), produced by Kyoto Animation and Animation Do. Unlike the show, the movie was not directed by Hiroko Utsumi, who left Animation Do shortly after the second season finished. Instead the film was directed by Kyoto Animation veteran Yasuhiro Takemoto, who is known for directing Full Metal Panic!, Lucky Star, Hyouka, and Amagi Brilliant Park, and the screenplay was written by Maiko Nishioka, a writer on Nichijou, Hyouka, Free! Eternal Summer, and Amagi Brilliant Park.

This film takes place when Haruka Nanase and Makoto Tachibana enter middle school, shortly after winning their first relay with Nagisa Hazuki and Rin Matsuoka, and after Rin has left for Australia. Both enter into their school's swimming club, alongside new friends Asahi Shiina and Ikuya Kirishima. The four are assigned together as a medley team by their captain Natsuya Kirishima, Ikuya's elder brother, and are watched over by the club manager Nao Serizawa. Practice goes underway, but middle school is different from elementary, and tensions rise among the group as everyone struggles with their new environment. Each boy has their own personal baggage bringing them down, affecting their performance. What does it mean to become a team?

The film was released in Japanese theaters on December 5, 2015. On July 20, 2016, it was released on DVD/Blu-Ray. It was dubbed and released by Funimation in October 2018.

Tropes present in High☆Speed! -Free! Starting Days include:

  • The Ace: Asahi fancies himself this, which makes his sudden inability to swim freestyle harder for him to deal with.
    • Nao is hinted to be a really good swimmer, despite being the team manager. He is, but his eye's retina began detaching, requiring surgery. So he can't swim for the rest of his middle school.
  • Adapted Out: Several side characters present in the second novel were taken out to save time. This also meant adapting out a lot of plot points to focus on the main one.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Natsuya to Ikuya, which is the basis of Ikuya's problems. It turns out it's only because he wants Ikuya to make friends instead of following behind him all the time.
  • Animal Motifs: Haru still gets compared to a dolphin and Ikuya describes Asahi as a monkey (to his chagrin), and Word of God states that Ikuya and Natsuya share feline-like eyes. That said, the animal motifs aren't as present in the film compared to the TV series.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    Nao: Do you like swimming, Makoto?
    Makoto: Eh? Yes.
    Nao: Really? It's not just because Haruka is here, too?
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Asahi's struggle to swim freestyle again is a minor inconvenience compared to the other boys' issues.
  • Be Yourself: Makoto attempts to change himself in middle school to be more mature, eventually trying too hard. He ultimately learns to be okay with who he is.
  • Book Dumb: Asahi. Boy doesn't even know how libraries work.
  • Break the Cutie: All four medley boys are afflicted with troubles in the movie.
  • Cherry Blossoms
  • Childhood Friends: Haruka and Makoto. Their friendship with each other is explored more in-depth in the movie.
    • Sousuke and Rin count as well. They even write letters to each other. Sousuke hands one of them to Haru, as despite being written to Sousuke, it was originally written for Haru. He's rather annoyed about it.
  • Color Motifs: Blue for Haruka, green for Makoto.
  • Comfort Food: Mackerel for Haru. At his most depressed, it's all he can bring himself to eat, refusing to eat the food Makoto brings him.
  • Coming of Age Story: The movie as a whole is one for both Haruka and Makoto.
  • Cool Big Sis: Asahi's older sister, Akane, who likes to tease and wrestle her brother to the ground.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: When Asahi gets accosted at the library, a mother is seen covering her son's eyes.
  • Darker and Edgier: Still a light-hearted movie overall, with plenty of comedy, but the atmosphere is noticeably heavier than the TV series.
  • The Faceless: Haruka's mom appears in the movie, but we never get to see her face.
  • Fainting: Happens to Haru near the end, due to low-blood sugar. Reasons why a mackerel-only diet is bad.
  • Fiery Redhead: Asahi
  • Fire-Forged Friends: This medley team has more internal strife than the previous teams we'd seen in the TV series but they work it through and become True Companions, just in time to win their second relay.
  • Freak Out: Makoto when Haruka faints. Also a nod to a scene in the first High☆Speed! novel when Haruka almost drowns in the river and Makoto became hysterical.
  • Friendless Background: Ikuya, prior to joining the swimming club.
  • Group Hug: After the team wins their relay.
  • Heroic BSoD: Makoto, after Nao's Armor-Piercing Question above.
  • Hot-Blooded: Asahi, and Natsuya to a certain extent.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: During practice, Asahi suddenly forgets how to swim freestyle, and struggles trying to relearn. Turns out he was just intimidated by Haruka's superior freestyle. After realizing that Haruka's only human, he's able to swim free again.
  • Incest Subtext: In the drama CD, it happens when Natsuya takes advice from Nao about how to deal with Ikuya. Awkward hilarity ensues.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Ikuya, after the team reassures him that he's not alone.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Kisumi's name sounds like "kiss me" in English. Asahi, in typical middle school manner, has a bit of a fit when he realizes it and says it's perverted.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Asahi, thinking Ikuya is about to commit suicide, tackles him on the bridge. Subverted since Ikuya wasn't actually attempting suicide, but was looking for his old SC.
  • Japanese Pronouns: During the movie, Makoto switches from boku (used primarily by boys and polite young men) to ore (used primarily by adult males), in an attempt to be more mature.
  • Junior High
  • Keet: Asahi, big time.
    • Little Nagisa as well.
  • Lethal Chef: Near the end, the boys all try to cook for Haruka. None of them are any good at it.
  • No Social Skills: Haruka, who has to be reminded to use polite speech, so he tacks on "-desu" at the end of his sentences when talking to the senior students.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie reworks the plot of the novel to fit it in more with the main anime series, for example adding Rei in to help out Asahi.
  • The Rival: Rin to Haruka and vice versa. The movie ends with Rin writing he wants to improve his speed against Haruka, and Haruka stating the same aloud.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Partly because he isn't even in the swimming club, Kisumi doesn't appear in the more dramatic parts of the film.
  • Slumber Party: The boys all stay over at Haruka's place for a few days to watch him while his mom's away, as Haru had just been discharged from the hospital for not eating right in her absence.
  • The Stoic: Haruka.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Haruka and Ikuya, though Ikuya is less stoic about it than the former.
  • Team Dad: Natsuya, balancing out his Hot-Blooded personality.
  • Team Mom: Nao, who has a calm demeanor compared to Natsuya.
  • Teen Drama: The theme of the movie is about the growing pain of adolescence.
  • The Tease: Kisumi, especially to Asahi.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Mackerel for Haruka. Part of a few gags, naturally. But midway it's not Played for Laughs. At his lowest point, he only eats mackerel and rice for several days, which eventually sends him to the hospital.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Asahi and Ikuya start off hating each other, but gradually become this.
  • Voiceover Letter: When Haruka reads Rin's letter, it's voiced over by Rin himself.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Sousuke unleashes one on Haru after the first failed tournament.
  • When She Smiles: Well, When He Smiles: When Asahi, Makoto, and Haru all assure Ikuya that he's not alone, the latter laughs for the first time and even starts to smile more.
    • Likewise, Haru laughs for the first time while eating dinner with the other three boys. Like in the TV series, the other boys make a big deal out of it, though Haru himself denies ever laughing.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Nao is highly-perceptive for someone still in middle school.