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Certain sports seem like obvious choices for an anime series. Baseball, for example, has a team-first atmosphere that meshes with Japan’s cultural value of putting the group before the self, and has enough breaks in the action for lengthy conversations between characters on the same team. Boxing, being all about two dudes trying to punch each other into submission while taking a breather every three minutes in which the focus can shift to the hero’s internal monologue, also makes for an easy translation to dramatic animation.

Swimming, on the other hand, seems like a hard fit, as the athletes’ actions are fundamentally repetitive, and being underwater precludes any snappy dialogue. But what the sport does have going for it is slim, toned, almost naked competitors, and anime studio Kyoto Animation has ridden the fangirl fever-inducing cast of swimming saga Free! to critical and commercial success. Next up for the franchise: a brand-new theatrical feature that’s scheduled to be released before the end of the year.

Although Free! made its animated debut in 2013 with the 12-episode Free! Iwatobi Swim Club TV series, the actual starting point for the franchise is a novel by author Koji Oji titled High Speed. However, seeing as how the book won an award in a contest organized by Kyoto Animation, and was also published by the studio, it was a foregone conclusion High Speed would be fast-tracked for an anime adaptation, which came in the form of the 2013 TV series and its follow-up, 2014’s 13-episode Free! Eternal Summer.

▼ Pictured: Roughly a dozen parts of the five-pack of six-packs that make up the core cast of Free!

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Fans were saddened to learn, however, that Eternal Summer’s title was not meant to be taken literally, and after its finale aired in September of 2014, they’ve been waiting and hoping for word of a third season. While that hasn’t come to pass, Kyoto Animation has announced the franchise’s first theatrical feature, which bears the excited title High Speed! Free! Starting Days.

▼ The movie’s first promotional image

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Not only are the boys going back in the pool, the series is going back in time to show their junior high school days, placing the High Speed! movie chronologically before both the original Free! anime and Eternal Summer. But while the setting will change, the central cast won’t, as producers have announced that the same voice actors will be reprising their roles as principal characters Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, Rei, and Rin. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be adjusting their performances to reflect the different ages of their characters in High Speed!, and voice actor Tatsuhisa Suzuki, who plays Makoto, has promised fans that he and his costars “will let you hear boyish voices you’ve never heard before!”

High Speed! Free! Starting Days is scheduled for release on December 5 in Japan, just in time to get fans feeling all hot and flustered in order to fight off the winter chill.

Related: High Speed! Free! Starting Days official website, Twitter
Source: Jin
Top image: Anime Wallpaper Stock
Insert images: Livedoor, High Speed! Free! Starting Days official website