Hi, this is my first review for The Fanboy Review although I’ve been writing reviews for some time now on many other places, including my personal blog.
My name’s Michael, although I’m known online as Prede. I’ll be looking at a classic from TRSI/Nozomi, “To Heart”.
To Heart comes in a nice chipboard thinpack box. I really liked the design of the box, as it makes it look sort of like a scrapbook, with a bunch of photos of the main characters on it. It’s light and colorful, yet not too flashy or anything. The front has a few “photos” of the characters in school, while the back has a cute picture of some of the girls at the beach, and other characters outside of school doing other things. The menus for each disk have a different character from the show on them, with bright backgrounds, and they look quite nice. It has quite a cheery cover and menus.
As for the show itself, it’s also very cheery and happy. “To Heart” follows the bored and laid back Hiroyuki and his many friends’ everyday lives in high school. Some of his friends seem a little like generic characters, but they are very sweet. You have the token girl who is his childhood friend (Akari), his best buddy (Masashi), the tomboy (Shiho), and many others as well. And although these characters are very standard and aren’t exactly unique, they are all very likable people, and make the show very fun to watch. Hiroyuki, however, isn’t really the generic male lead you’d think he would be. He’s laid back, cool, tired, lazy, and kind of a complainer, but deep down he’s a good guy. This is a very different type of lead character than the ones we are used to in these shows, and I thought this worked out well here. However, unlike many other shows with the same premise, this show is pretty much devoid of any love triangles, melodrama, slapstick humor, and/or fan service. In fact it’s easier to list what doesn’t happen in the show then what does. All we really do is follow these characters around in their day-to-day lives. There’s no real conflict; it’s sort of like watching people live life. Sure there’s some comedy sprinkled throughout, but it’s more like a few light chuckles then a laugh riot. I can imagine this show will bore some to tears, as it’s thirteen episodes of nothing really happening (even more so then other slice of life series like “Azumanga Daioh” and “Kanon”, although “Piano” makes this look like the most exciting story ever told by comparison). But for those of us who like shows like this, it’s a real winner. It’s a relaxing, quiet, and cute little show. It follows these characters on ordinary days, doing ordinary things, and nothing all that exciting ever really happens. But I wouldn’t call it “boring”; in fact it’s quite interesting and the characters are fun to watch. In many ways it’s an uplifting and enjoyable show that has very little aspirations, and you can’t hate it for that. On the large it succeeds at what it aims to do.
Now this is not at all a realistic show. I’ve never gone to school in Japan, but I’m pretty sure high school isn’t like this anywhere on the planet. But the goal of this series isn’t so much to be realistic, as it is to romanticize high school and school life. And I’m perfectly all right with that. Each episode deals with a certain event that may seem very mundane to show in an anime, but these are things we deal with in our real life all the time and it’s interesting to see how these likable characters handle the same things. For example one episode deals with the characters having their seats re-arranged and the implications of this. Sure this sounds dry on the surface, and I won’t lie and say it’s the most riveting thing I’ve ever seen, but I enjoyed it. Another episode deals with the group of friends trying to go to a concert that’s sold out for a popular pop band. Shiho manages to get two tickets, but only tells Akari, and Masashi gets two tickets as well and only tells Hiroyuki. Of course all four want to go, and this causes some slight drama, with each side wanting to bring up the issue to the others, but never really managing to get around to it. Although this builds a little drama, it never gets heavy or anything. Another episode involves a girl named Serika inviting Hiroyuki to her “Occult Research Club”. Hiroyuki helped find a lizard she wanted for an ingredient in a spell for earlier that day, and he ended up becoming friendly with her. However a misunderstanding prevents him from going to her club right after classes end, and Akari comes to the rescue and helps solve the problem.
One of my favorite episodes is the sports fest one. Early on in the series, we are slowly introduced to the many other girls in Hiroyuki’s life, along with new girls who are becoming his friends as well. Many of these episodes would be devoted to just one of these girls and Hiroyuki. This episode however gives all the girls some good screen time, and really manages to show how nice of a guy Hiroyuki can be, as he manages to find a way to help out all these girls. It’s a very heartwarming and cute episode. The show is kind of subdued, gentle and relaxing, until Multi shows up. Multi is an experimental robot maid being tested out at Hiroyuki’s high school. She’s introduced toward the end of the series and makes the show much more lively, fresh, and just plain energetic. It’s a welcomed change to the slower paced early episodes. Just don’t expect the show to suddenly turn into “Pani Poni Dash” or something. And although on the large this is a very cheerful and happy show, it does get a little sad toward the end. It’s never more than just a bit of gloom in the atmosphere, but it is there at times.
If there’s one major fault of the series, it’s that the two most interesting characters don’t get nearly enough screen time. Serika for example is a very interesting character and I would have loved to know more about her. Her father is a wealthy businessman, and she seems very lonely and mysterious. She doesn’t talk to anyone besides Hiroyuki, and even then just in a quiet whisper. Serika is probably the character with the most depth in the show, although the class representative Tomoko gives her a run for her money. Tomoko has a very troubled home life, feels awkward for being the new student, and although she is the class rep, students pick on her a little. These two characters have a lot of layers and it would have been nice to see more of them.
The video for “To Heart” is probably the best we could get, considering the history behind this show. Although this show was captured on film, the masters have been destroyed so all Right Stuf had to work with was the digital video that they were sent. It’s actually not as bad as you’d think though. There’s some grain that shows up now and again, and the picture could be clearer, but again with what Right Stuf had to work with it’s probably the best it can be. This being a show from 1999, the art and animation has a very hand made and warm feel to it that I really like. The backgrounds are quite detailed and look very colorful, almost like they were colored with pastels. The character designs are really by the book, although still appealing to the eye. Big-eyed cute girls with colorful hair and generic looking male students are a dime a dozen in anime nowadays, so there’s not much here in terms of uniqueness, but it’s fitting for this type of show. And perhaps those shows owe their look a little to “To Heart” anyway, considered how old this is.
The audio was quite good here. I didn’t notice any problems with it. The dub for this is really good too. It was produced at Headline Studios, using some well-known New York actors. The lead is played by Rich McNanna who gives Hiroyuki a very dreary, tired, and lazy feeling to him. His voice seems very dry at times too, and he handles the slight sarcasm quite well. McNanna was very well cast as Hiroyuki. Angora Deb who plays Akari, makes her sound very delightful, charming and sweet, with just a hint of nostalgia for the past, which is quite fitting for her character. Jessica Calvello plays Shiho, and she can be a little grating here, but I think it’s fitting for the character. As Shiho is supposed to be a little annoying, although when they flesh her character out toward the end of the series she becomes quite sympathetic. Still I liked Calvello in her many other roles a lot more then I did here. She’s not bad here or anything though. Serika is played by Carol Jacobanis, who I just love in this role. She’s very different here than in her other stuff, and she gives Serika a cute, shy voice that’s very fitting. And she also handled Serika’s quiet whisper very well. This is quite a different role for Jacobanis than the grouchy Saki from “Genshiken” or the stoic Bathyscaphe from “The World of Narue”, but I like it and wish she’d get cast in these types of roles more often. Lisa Ortiz, one of my all time favorite voice actors, plays Tomoko the class representative, and she handles the role with care. She could have easily played Tomoko as a generic emotionless girl, but she makes her sound like a distant, yet sad and cold individual, which is dead on. Although she’s great here, the true standout of this dub is easily Lenore Lenore who plays Multi. She handles this chirpy, bright, and happy robotic maid like a pro. Her performance here is quite impressive, which makes me feel sad because this is the only role I’ve heard her in. She makes the character sound energetic and fresh, but also still like a robot. It’s very subtle, but it’s there. In fact that’s a good way to sum up the dub as a whole: it’s a very subtle and nuance dub.
Right Stuf gave us a few nice extras for this series. First off each DVD has a good amount of “linear notes”, about certain cultural things “To Heart” deals with, general information about the Japanese school system, and some translation notes that are really helpful in understanding where this show is coming from. Right Stuf really did their homework with this, as they are very detailed and informative. I wish the other companies would do more notes like this, as I find stuff like this really interesting and I’m sure many others will as well. The other extras here are the “To Heart” omakes that originally aired along with the show. They are funny, silly and cute little shorts with the characters all in chibi form. They are worth a watch once, but there’s not much point in ever really re-watching them. There are also some character biographies on each of the disks that are worth a read, although they don’t reveal much we wouldn’t already know from watching the show.
Many fan favorite shows of today owe a lot to “To Heart”, as it is one of the first adult visual novels adapted into an anime, and set precedence for what these types of shows should be. I’m fairly confident in my belief that if the game and anime were not as popular as there were in Japan, shows like “Air”, “Kanon”, and “Clannad” would not have been made, or at least there wouldn’t be as many of them as there are today. And while I’m not sure I can call this the “best” type of these shows, I can say it’s easily my favorite. It’s just a very enjoyable, cute, and relaxing show. No stress here, just fun and lighthearted slice of life scenes. It’s probably more enjoyable to watch this a few episodes at a time than marathoning it, however, as it’s a very slow show.
Show : A- (Great show that’s charming, but not very exciting and quite slow)
Packaging: A- (Nice thinpack, with a really cute “scrapbook” theme)
Video Quality: B- ( A few problems, but they could hardly be helped considering the history here)
Audio Quality: A ( I didn’t notice any problems or dropouts)
English Dub: A ( A top notch dub, but Shiho may grate your ears a little)
Extras: A (More then we usually get as far as extras go)
Overall (not an average): A- (It’s quite a cute, relaxing little show to watch. Nothing too stressful, just some great quiet slice of life moments. It may be a little too slow paced for some, but on the large it does work very well.)
This show was reviewed using a boxset purchased at a local retailer.