In 2011, the producers at Animation Do and Kyoto Animation decided to make one of the honorable mentions in 2011’s Kyoto Animation Awards into an animated TV series. To helm it, Hiroko Utsumi planed and directed a production for the first time. The Free! TV series ran from July 2013-September 2013 for 12 broadcast episodes and was immensely popular upon broadcast. A sequel was never in doubt and it aired from July 2014-September 2014. At the fan events in March 2015, it was announced that a movie adapting the second novel would be released later that year. It would continually be advertised with re-runs of the TV series both at theatre events and during re-runs set across the country. While the immediate box office returns weren’t what people expected, it had long enough legs to be a success. Then on July 20, 2016, it was released onto Blu-ray and DVD from Kyoto Animation and the production committee. This is a review of the Blu-ray release (though the only difference between versions is the disc included). My thoughts on the movie itself are posted here on my tumblr page.
High Speed! comes inside a digipack packed inside a clear case on one side and a pattern on the other (more on that later). Inside the package is the digipak, a special booklet, an illustrated gallery book, a newly drawn postcard by character designer Futoshi Nishiya, and a set of clear character images inside the water-covered box. There’s also a serial code to apply for the lottery to buy a ticket to a fan event next March, but I chose not to include that as I gave it to a friend in Japan.
This is referred to as “changable cover artwork.” You can place two of your favorite characters together using these plastic sheets to make the pairing of your own desire on top of that water background. Each of the 16 illustrations was drawn by Nishiya for the “pair tickets” promotion ran in 2015 where you could get two tickets to the movie with these illustrations in pairs. Now you can make your own pairings!
Included in the special booklet are character information, staff interviews, character interviews, and some promotional illustrations. Inside the gallery booklet are textless versions of the ending montage illustrations and endcards from the TV re-broadcast advertising the film.
On the disc itself is the film with 5 audio tracks: a Linear PCM 5.1 mix, a Linear PCM stereo mix, a DT-S Headphone X mix (imitating 5.1 surround sound via headphones), audio commentary by the four main seiyuu, and audio commentary with director Yasuhiro Takemoto, scriptwriter Maiko Nishioka, and character designer/chief animation director Futoshi Nishiya. Additionally, Japanese subtitles are included.
Bonus features include the three announcement videos, the trailer and its longer version, commericals advertising it on TV, the 12 character/special promotional videos ran weekly during the re-airings, and the stage greeting at Shinjuku Picadilly on opening day.
Visually, this work surpasses most productions I’ve seen. The animation, artwork, color usage, 3D CG, etc, are combined with decent photography to make a visual delight. I saw no issues with the encoding on this go-around. While I found Beyound the Boundary‘s new film to be a better display disc for the variety of colors, Takemoto’s film works better to examine how rich and vibrant they can look on your system.
The audio mix is also really fantastic. The background soundtrack is used very well and the voices are nice and clear. I have no complaints and thoroughly enjoyed the 5.1 mix.
Finally, since I ordered the film from the KyoAni Shop, I also got a bonus large badge from the store. There were two versions, but I chose to go with the one featuring characters that starred in the film.
Overall, this is a fantastic set for anyone who loved High Speed!. The movie looks incredible and sounds even better on Blu-ray. While the bonus features are a bit weak, the physical extras more than make up for it. I enjoyed reading the booklet after watching the film and flipping through the illustration gallery. I definitely recommend this if you’re a fan of the film, but hesitate to recommend it to Free! fans as it’s a bit different than that series. If you can find a legal way to view it, try that first before blind-buying.