I typically don't write reviews but this movie was so good that it warranted one. Review is spoiler free! (heh)
I went to see this movie with a friend in theaters on White Day. I know what to expect as I went in blind without having even seen the trailer for it. I just assumed, "well it's free! of course I'm going to like it" and I was right. If you are a long time fan of this franchise, you will enjoy it.
This movie is broken up into four "episodes" that are interconnected. Each episode contains a theme that is carried out by the end
of it so watching only one won't leave you on that much of a cliffhanger. However, the stories themselves are written with their target audience in mind. Personally, I was not expecting the movie to be this funny.
I found it hard to breathe at times with how hard I was laughing. I was clutching my friend's hand in a death grip (sorry friend!) and doubling over with laughter at how some of the scenes played out. Dramatic irony is utilized a lot which, while somewhat of a cop-out, adds to the charm that is the franchise itself. None of the episodes are "deep" or delve into characterization but then again, this movie is intended for fans of the series who are already familiar with the cast.
There were a few new additions to the cast (perhaps foreshadowing their addition in S3) that only had a brief mention. It was disappointing that the new characters only had a few seconds of cameo as it would have been nice to get to know them a bit more than a name and a random quirk. I would have preferred if they weren't brought up and the episode instead focused on the already established characters.
The art was good aside from a few moments where it was a bit...questionable. Aside from that, it was typical Kyoani quality. Beautiful scenery and visuals with only slight drawbacks regarding some frames.
To be honest, I couldn't remember most of the OST because the theater was engulfed in laughter for almost the entire film. The ending song was really good.
I love the entire cast and I am biased in that regard. The new characters seemed interesting and a few characters from the prequel movie were included as well.
The opening scene of episode one almost gave me a heart attack and I was hyperventilating. If you like shipping the characters, you will enjoy this film. If you enjoy fan-service, you will enjoy this film. There were a lot of times where I was whispering to my friend, "I *wrote* this, like this is something I would write in a fanfic" so please take that as you will.
If you like Free! as a franchise, this movie is a must see. It's funny, it has fan-service moments, and it has "shippy" moments (or as "shippy" as you can get from Kyoani). Regardless of whether you're into it because of the fan-service, or into it because you like swimming, this movie has something for everyone.
I highly recommend watching it as it is a feel good, lighthearted comedy that is enjoyable for everyone.