To Heart Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, October 03, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A series of small heartwarming tales about teenagers and their mild love lives is given a solidly put together collection at long last.

What They Say
For as long as Akari can remember, she and Hiroyuki have always been friends. But with time, everything changes, and her feelings have turned into something more. As a new semester of high school begins, will the two childhood friends come closer together or drift further apart? Join Hiroyuki, Akari and all their friends - the bubbly Shiho, the quiet Serika, the lovely Kotone, and more - in this heartwarming tale of love, relationships and friendship!

Contains the entire 13-episode series plus all six mini episodes!

The Review!
Audio:
Though it's easy to imagine this series getting a subtitle-only treatment, Right Stuf has produced a dub for it. Both language tracks are presented in a very simple stereo mix at 192 kbps. They're decent sounding tracks in that they're essentially just dialogue pieces with very little need for directionality or anything with more impact to it. Each of them come across well and problem free, though the music in its vocals tends to come across the best in a full sense. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 1999, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This transfer, which received work on it in order to make it presentable, is I believe based off of a composite master which was all that was available for it. The end result is one that's pretty mixed and will depend on taste more than anything else. With it being a traditionally animated show just as they started to go out of style, there is a lot of detail in the artwork as well as the simple fact that it came from a film base. That means there's a good bit of grain throughout which looks like noise. There's also a fair bit of cross coloration to it as well as dot crawl. The dot crawl is most noticeable around the original text in the opening and closing sequences as they shimmer with life. The show itself for the most part looks good when you take into consideration the materials at hand but it's not one that will wow in its visual quality.

Packaging:
Nozomi’s release of the complete collection takes the original four volumes and keeps them identical in every way, including the individual keepcase packaging. What’s new is the box that holds all of it as we get a wraparound piece that fits in thematically with the thinpak cases but with a wider variety of artwork. Done up as a series of photographs laying around, the heavy chipboard box is colorful without being too vibrant as it features all of the main cast of characters in their familiar settings. The logo is done in a pleasing shade of blue that helps to draw attention to the package overall. One side has a larger shot dealing with the school material while the other side goes for a bit of the fanservice with the beach episode being the draw.

With the thinpak cases, we get the same artwork we had before for each of the individual volumes. Other than the spines being shrunk a little, there’s little difference otherwise. The logo is decent and keeps to the spirit of the original but I would have liked to have seen that since it was already in English. The downside to the shift to the thinpaks is that the reverse side covers are gone, so we don’t get the original logos this time around. The back cover continues the design elements from the front and has several shots from the show along each of the sides. Down the center is a good summary of the four episodes on the disc followed-up by the discs features. The technical grid covers all that important information on what to expect for playback features. No insert or booklet is included with this release.

Menu:
The menu design utilizes the same elements as the front covers for each respective volume with a bit more expansion to allow for the navigation strip. Sitting next to the character artwork, the details look good and again invite a warm and open feeling when tied to the opening vocal music. The lime green from the cover doesn't translate well here though and gives Multi a bit of a sickly look. Navigation is quick and easy as we had no problems getting around or using scene selection. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and defaulted to Japanese with English subtitles.

Extras:
Disc 1: The opening volume of the series has a few extras on it that help to expand upon the world the characters live in. The first is a brief series of character biographies that cover some of the personalities. There's also a good line art gallery that shows the character designs. The last extra is the translation notes. These tend to cover more of the generic translation things, such as what a class rep does and cleaning duties, but they also detail some of Lemmy's poor word choices which are amusing to read. To Heart doesn't lend itself to the same kind of translation notes of a show like Comic Party but there are some amusing nods here, particularly between both series

Disc 2: Familiar from the first volume, there’s a brief series of character biographies that cover some of the personalities, the line art gallery and more translation notes. New to this volume is the first pair of special mini episodes that run a couple of minutes and provide some strangeness to the To Heart universe with a slightly quirky style that's pretty fun.

Disc 3: Expanding on the previous volumes, we again get a new round of character biographies, artwork and some brief translation notes. This volume continues with the pair of special mini episodes that run a couple of minutes and provide some strangeness to the To Heart universe with a slightly quirky style that's pretty fun.

Disc 4: The staple extras conclude with this volume as we get the last round of character bios, artwork presentations and the translation notes. This volume finishes out the special mini episodes with the last two that are silly and fun, a very welcome change from the series in general.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Long considered one of those holy grails of "will never be licensed" by a segment of fandom, To Heart is a thirteen episodes series from the creators at Aquaplus. They don't have a lot of titles to their name on the anime side but both Comic Party shows and Utawarerumono have made their way to the US. To Heart was licensed in 2004 and has finally made its arrival on these shores. For those who love their slice of life series and the wisps of nostalgia they evoke, To Heart will feel like a welcome return to familiar ground.

The series revolves primarily around a group of four friends though they do take time away from each other to focus on others that cross their paths. Hiroyuki and Akari have been together since kindergarten and were later joined by Shiho and Masashi. The four have the usual kind of semi-adversarial relationship in some ways, as Shiho and Hiroyuki tend to clash a lot. Akari and Shiho have long been friends much as Hiroyuki and Masashi have. For Akari, she's got a very special relationship with Hiroyuki in that she helped her out when she was real little and she's been very favorable towards him ever since. Her feelings are plain to all but Hiroyuki, but it's interesting to see how Shiho may harbor some similar feelings based on how they all act together. Masashi on the other hand ends up becoming the extra pea in the pod for a lot of the events that take place in throughout the series.

The main focus though is on the slowly growing relationship between Hiroyuki and Akari. Akari has long been the almost doting friend who does what she can to help Hiroyuki. This even includes going to his house every morning to make sure he's going to be on time for school even if it means she's going to be late herself because of it. Hiroyuki's an amusing lead male character because he's so utterly unmotivated and relaxed if not exactly lazy. With it being the end of summer when the show starts as they head back to school after vacation, the combination of the heat and lack of interest has him practically sleepwalking through much of the show. As it progresses and the school year goes on, he does become more involved, both in the sports side and the culture festival, but he’s never a leading voice for the most part and does enough to make sure he participates.

The slice of life style of storytelling is one that isn't for everyone. An example is how the second episode of the series plays out where the group wants to go see a popular band playing at a local concert spot but the tickets are all sold out. As luck would have it, Masashi gets a pair of tickets and they have to figure out who should go with him since he gets priority. At the same time, Shiho lucks out with a pair herself and they run into the same quandary. Where it would annoy some is that they spend the entire episode with missed meetings and unclear intentions when they do finally start talking to each other about it. It is a good episode though as it reveals some nice underlying motivations for the characters as well as exploring the school and some of the minor characters there in.

With its game origins, To Heart is intent on bringing us a fairly decent range of girls to watch along the way. Lemmy and her foreign influences are amusing but she's upstaged early on by a couple of other girls. Serika, the granddaughter of a very wealthy and ambitious man who owns many companies, is the quietest girl in school who has no friends. She's only able to talk to Hiroyuki and even then she says it in such a small voice that even the subtitles are sized smaller. In an amusing twist, she's something of an occult fan and can't help but look adorable trying to perform witchcraft in her hat. Another character that gets some decent screen time is Aoi, a spunky blue-haired girl who wants to show her stuff in the martial arts by going up against the head of the karate club. The regular group gets sidelined outside of Hiroyuki for this but it expands nicely on the clubs and the way Hiroyuki handles himself outside of the usual group of friends.

As it moves further into the series, the girls continue to be different and interesting. The class rep, Rio Hoshina, has some good material throughout as we see her being derided and put in her place by other girls that are quite catty towards her. Her story is one that takes some time to develop and is one that plays out in a much better way than the single focus episodes. Kotone is a quiet girl like Serika but she’s even more of an outcast because she apparently has premonitions of the future in which she only sees bad things for those that get close to her. None of the kids in her class have anything to do with her and often pretend she doesn’t exist.

The worst of the bunch for me however comes towards the end of the series. While To Heart ends on a really solid note, the couple of episodes before it introduce us to a character that even on a second viewing still grates on my nerves. Because of the connections the school has to a big company, they become a test site for a new robot that’s going through some trial runs. The robot is of course a very cute and rather uncoordinated girl who isn’t quite good at just about anything. Her arrival in the school is barely given a second look and she ends up becoming friends with Akari and Hiroyuki. Multi’s presence takes you out of the series in a way that some of the other unusual characters like Serika and Kotone don’t. There is obviously a heartwarming element to Multi, but in general the character feels very out of place in the framework the show has built itself on.

With the shows origins in a very popular game, I can't speak for its accuracy in translation either in the story or in the character designs. As much as I like a lot of the higher quality productions out today with their look and style, I have a clear bias and preference for older series that are traditionally animated. In a show like this, the warmth of the animation just seems to shine through more than a slick bright looking one today does. And that's even with the grain and noise that's plainly evident here. The character designs and animation is solid overall and while it's not a show that's filled with high cel counts and movements, it's a very good looking production that doesn’t really falter much.

In Summary:
Revisiting this series again a year after its release in singles proved to be pleasant. One of the best things about the show is that it is very mellow and relaxed, almost simple really. When watching it through the single volume releases about two months apart, it holds up pretty well but not quite as well as it does here. Taking all of this in over two days, the threads that tie it all together are a bit clearer as you see the evolution of the relationships that take place over the few months when the kids return to school. What gets me the most about the show is that you could really spin off any of the main four characters and focus just on them and their view of things and a series of good stories. I’d certainly like to see more Shio – with Masashi in fact. This collection of To Heart again shows why Nozomi does it all just right – Everything that was in the singles makes it back here in a tighter and even more appealing form. Retained artwork for the thinpak cases, a new box and all the extras. Now all we need is To Heart 2 to complement it on our shelves.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Line Art Galleries, Character Bios, Translation Notes

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: 39.99
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2