Review: High Speed (Vol 2)

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Following my review for the first book, I’m continuing with the direct sequel High Speed! 2. This review will once again use the fan translation done by Nanowave Translations. You can buy a copy of the Japanese novel online: Amazon.jpBooks Kinokuniya

Written by Kouji Ohji in 2013, the main story within this book was adapted into the 2015 anime film High Speed: Free Starting Days, and follows Haruka and Makoto as they start middle school. Introducing multiple new characters, the cast expands quite a bit–giving readers even more variety of personalities and character interactions to enjoy.

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It’s interesting to emphasize that this franchise in all it’s iterations–these High Speed! novels, as well as the Free! anime–explores the importance of change throughout the characters’ lives. Now graduated from Iwatobi Elementary, Haru and Makoto are are starting a new chapter at their new school and swimming club, and the transition from elementary student to young teen is handled with the levity that any major change during this period feels like it has. It’s the first time the two best friends have ever been in separate classes, and that fact takes a toll on our main characters.

In the absence of Rin, now in Australia to improve his swimming, and the brief mention of Nagisa, still stuck in elementary school, we have Asahi and Ikuya to round out our main cast–and who have returned to relevance in this recent third season of Free!

Asahi is a boisterous goofball: vowing to be the best swimmer on the team, and completely confident with his skills. In the same class as Haru, he and Kisumi crash through Haru’s normal stand-offishness and force him to put up with them. For Haru, especially now that he can’t rely on Makoto as a buffer, it forces him out of his shell and into being more sociable–even if that only entails his never-ending irritation at their antics. The two work to keep Haru actively engaged with his new surroundings and situation.

Ikuya is far more serious. Makoto notes that he’s hard to approach, even though they’re in the same class, and his apparent distrust in forming a relay team keeps him a mystery for a large part of the first half of the book. His older brother (and the team’s captain) Natsuya worries about his attitude, and we as an audience slowly learn his character through other people’s perspectives, until culminating into an emotional breaking point.

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There’s much much more going on this novel than the previous one–complications that epitomize growing up, but still being young. It’s refreshing to see the upperclassmen and their own struggles and responsibilities, and their attitudes towards the new recruits–being third years, they seem so grown up, but 15-year-old’s have their own set of problems. Sousuke also has a brief interaction with Haru, tying Rin back to relevance, but his own struggles are left vague to the reader. The relay, finding and looking after a  dog, Ikuya finding the courage to open himself up for friendship–there are so many more events in this book compared to the previous.

And amongst all of this, we also have aforementioned change and growth for Haru and Makoto.

Part-way through the book, Haruka’s mother goes to Tokyo with her husband to support him during work he’s doing there. This means Haru living alone for the first time, without any sort of parent or guardian. Along with his self-appointed duty towards a dog he found, it’s an interesting application and challenge to the independence and maturity Haru has always wanted. Asking a 12-year-old to be wholly responsible for himself is quite a large task, and Haru learns on the importance of relying on others.

Makoto, on the other hand, is struggling with his own problems of self-doubt and being replaced that was introduced in the first High Speed book. He’s also now questioning his reasons for swimming–does he love the sport, or is he just following Haru’s direction without care for his own feelings. This personal conflict is sharp and emotionally heavy–there’s a particular scene in this book that has such heartbreaking implications that it’s honestly upsetting, and gives us the audience an interesting insight to Makoto’s mind.

Once again, this novel is great for existing and new fans alike. The book is a little more disconnected than the previous thanks to new introductions, incidental events and established character development, but everything still works well. For those following the anime, this book gives us the backstory to Makoto and Haru’s relationship with Ikuya, Asahi and Kisumi, which obviously will be the focus of the newest season. The film adaptation takes some pretty large liberties with events, so there’s definitely new material in this book too. The first experiences of middle school and adolescence is great to see for the characters, and gives a real sense of passing time and growing up.

Gee’s rating: Must read for fans, easy to read for anyone else.

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