Oh my god, you have no idea how long I've been waiting for this. Honestly, I was actually very worried about this movie. I didn't think that Free! really needed a prequel since there are so many flashbacks from elementary school in the anime show (which is taking place during high school), so we already knew a good amount backstory for Free!, but it was actually very interesting to see what was going on between elementary and high school.
Man, the story. I did keep my expectations low. Or, I didn't really expect anything at all (neither positive nor negative stuff) and I ended up being blown away.
It starts off by introducing all of the characters very well, one by one. About the first half of the movie, we're getting to know them and the setting. And then the emotional drama starts happening. Haruka, Makoto, Ikuya and Asahi go through mental challenges, Makoto is questioning his choices, Haruka isn't too sure about himself or his friends either. They're all facing struggles thats effects them as a team.
It's easy to keep up with this movie, the main aspects aren't too complicated and we only focus on one big thing at a time.
Kyoto Animation did an amazing job with the art, style, animation, background details and usage of colors. Everything goes so well with each other and this movie is just stunning to watch.
Same applies to the music. Free! wouldn't have been Free! without this music.
I was worried about the new characters, mainly Ikuya and Asahi. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one that got reminded of Haruka and Momotarou when I took my first glance at them. But High Speed suprised me! Yes, Ikuya's facial expressions are similar to Haru's, but he's still very different as a character. Asahi is energetic like Momo, but he's still different from him. What I'm trying to say is that all of the characters ended up being different and likable.
Haruka and Makoto are.. Well, pretty much just like how you would expect. Their strong bond is very known, and you can clearly see it in this movie. Haru knows when something is off about Makoto and same goes for Makoto. In the flashbacks from the actual show, their bond didn't seem that strong, so I'm glad that we got to see how close they actually were as kids/pre-teens. Makoto also shows a deeper side of himself.
I would say that Ikuya had the hardest time. He was a quiet boy, but he would still talk whenever he could and add a bunch of comments. I respect Ikuya as a character because he had so much more pressure on him than the others. As his bonds with the boys got stronger, he would open up more, and share more about his life. He's also a very cute character, almost being shy in the beginning.
Asahi would be more of a stereotypical character in anime, but there's still something special about him. The way that he interacts with the others makes him seem like an idiot, but being his confident self, it doesn't bother him. However, he's still facing other types of struggles.
All of the characters end up being very strong, and they have great developments.
I loved how Nagisa, Rei, Sousuke and Rin would pop up once in a while, I mean, they were still involved with the main characters' lives. Plus, it was so nice to see what /they/ were doing in the meanwhile. Don't get me wrong, they only showed up at occasions where it fit, when they were useful to the plot.
(During the dramatic, moments near the end, I WAS SO SCARED AND WORRIED FOR ALL OF THEM, I GOT EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO THEM SUPER QUICKLY. They went through so much ohh lord)
I truly enjoyed this movie to the fullest. I'm already very interested in swimming, and the messages that Free! is trying to bring about friendship, the future and freedom, are also important to me. Starting Days does bring up a lot of the same stuff from the actual show, but I would say that first and foremost; this movie is about acceptance, of oneself and of others (the key to happiness). It's all about these boys being willing to work together as a team. And It's so beautiful.
I recommend this movie to people that value these aspects in life, or just want to have a good time.
I'm going to go and rewatch this now.