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 XI: Your Name

Natsume Yuujinchou was one of the very first shows I started watching weekly, way back in the summer of 2008, and this was based solely on the description and curiosity. It was a nice and slow show that was kind of melancholy. And then it got another season. And another. And another. And each time, we got to delve deeper into who Natsume was and we got to see him struggle and grow. It was nice. Years passed. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he’s back, same as ever, ready to heal us again.

12 Days X: Flavour Country

What’s nice about Udon no Kuni is it’s about a thirty year old and he doesn’t look decrepit. In fact, he is still plenty moe and voiced by Nakamura Yuuichi, which is actually perfect. And to add further to his already impressive resume, we begin the story with him in the middle of an existential crisis of sorts. Extremely relatable. We don’t even need to add the tanuki child or udon to make this a good show, those are just bonuses on top. But if I were to be totally honest, this show did result in me planning for udon for lunch for that first week after the show started airing. The nice thing about udon is that, unlike its more notable cousin ramen, the soup actually doesn’t require a million years to prepare. It’s just soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, and if you’ve got some tofu or green onions or whatever else lying around, then you’re pretty much set. Oh and noodles; if you’re outside Japan you’ll probably want the frozen Sanuki udon rather than whatever dried noodle labeled udon is offered.

12 Days IX: Sad boys in snow

After some years, I sat down and took the time to read through Kii Kanna’s manga. The aesthetic was really my thing. The character designs were a bullseye for me, which when coupled with the fashion was something that baited me hard. It’s the kind of thing that resembles the feel of, say, Hyouka or High Speed. But what really got me after the aesthetic was the subject: the concerns and going-ons of the transient man in his late-20s. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more difficult to find characters that you can really identify with because the typical character is a high schooler. It’s doubly hard to find such characters paired so perfectly with my aesthetic. So powerful is this combination that it’s already left significant impressions in my life.