To Heart Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
  • MSRP: 19.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: To Heart

To Heart Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     March 19, 2007
Release Date: March 27, 2007


To Heart Vol. #1
© Nozomi Entertainment


What They Say
Episode 1: "A Brand New Morning�?

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?


Episode 2: "After School Incident�?

Childish An Hour, Japan's most popular rock band, is coming to town - but the concert's completely sold out! Or is it? Masashi has managed to pick up two tickets, but deciding who gets to go turns into an unexpected test of friendship.

Episode 3: "In a Sunny Spot�?

The quiet girl with the raven-colored hair... Serika Kurusugawa is a silent mystery. She's the only member of the school's Occult Club, her voice is soft as a whisper, and she doesn't speak with anyone at school. What could this enigmatic girl possibly want with Hiroyuki?

Episode 4: "Shining Moment�?

Small but full of spunk, Aoi's dream is to fight in the Extreme Martial Arts Tournament! She's even trying to start up an Extreme Club at school, but no one will give it a chance. She begins to lose hope... but Hiroyuki might be able to help her discover what she's truly fighting for.

The Review!
The loves and lives of a group of high school students is the warm and endearing focus of To Heart.

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. It's fairly similar to how Girls Bravo looked early on. 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:
The cover artwork continues the trend of some stylish designs from Right Stuf. Using the original character artwork of Akari and Shiho together with a teddy bear, the colors are soft and warm. The two girls stand out here with lots of nice detail and overall design that really gives the show a more current feeling than the animation actually is. The new 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. Thankfully, Right Stuf has included a reversible cover that has the original logo on their cover so it's the best of both worlds. 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 cover with a bit more expansion to allow for the navigation strip. Sitting next to the character artwork, the detail and color choices look good and again invites a warm and open feeling when tied to the opening vocal music. 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:
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.

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 these early episodes.

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 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. During an early sequence where the class is forced to figure out a new seating assignment, Hiroyuki just laments what's going on and can't wait to leave while Akari longs to finally sit next to him. Her big dream that she's waited on for some time doesn't even register to him.

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.

To Heart isn't content with just sticking with the leads though. While Lemmy and her foreign influences are amusing, 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.

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:
While the show hasn't had a real standout moment yet, I suspect that it will be like other slice of life shows in that when you take in the whole of the series it all comes together just right. With a very solid English language adaptation that conveys much of the character and innocence of the original, To Heart should cross language barriers easily. With its traditional animation style and a story concept that revolves around something that I find appealing, To Heart hits most of the right marks. It does seem to stray a bit in a couple of episodes as it spreads it focus to other characters in the school but the relationships among the leads is more than enough to draw you back in. To Heart could look much better with better materials, but this is a show where the content will shine through its presentation.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Reversible cover,Translation notes,Line art gallery,Character bios

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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