Reviewby Carlo Santos,
DVD 3 - Bonds of Friendship
Hiroyuki's high school life starts getting serious as exam time rolls around. He and his friends are getting together to study, but when a couple of them drop out, Hiroyuki finds himself alone with Akari. What surprises await him as he visits her house? Then there's the school cultural festival coming up, and class representative Tomoko seems grouchier than usual trying to organize everything. Hiroyuki and Akari step in to help, but petty class politics might keep them from ever getting done on time. Lastly, a robot maid named Multi shows up at school for a trial run. In many ways, she's close to human—yet most of the other students expect her to behave more like a robot. Clearly, human friendship can be a tough thing for a machine to understand.
To Heart lovers, rejoice! This volume contains the part you've all been waiting for: the arrival of green-haired cutie Multi. Easily the most recognizable and popular character in the series, she lives on in the hearts of fans everywhere through figurines, cosplay, and other creative works—not to mention being one of the founding principles of moe, an android girl searching for her heart. But for everyone else who isn't quite as enamored, guess what: this series is still as boring as all get out. Once again we are sucked into the world of high school students who do absolutely nothing, except for typical high school activities. Akari does try to boost her relationship with Hiroyuki, and Multi's presence makes for some interesting questions about artificial intelligence—but these episodes still contain many long stretches of non-plot.
An episode title like "A Tranquil Time" really says it all, unless it were something even more fitting like "A Boring Time" or "A Waste of Time." Hiroyuki's study date doesn't just suffer from a contrived setup (the main guy is left alone with the main girl, insert romantic implications here) but also delivers it with glacial pacing. Studying for a test is dreary enough; dragging 20 minutes of anime out of it is near-unbearable. The same might be said of the school festival episode, which consists mostly of catty bickering between classmates and never actually gets to the part where they hold the festival. This wouldn't be the first time that an episode was all buildup and no payoff—what's the use of such preparations if viewers don't get to enjoy the end result? The Multi episode isn't quite as pointless, being more of a step-by-step "How to Befriend a Robot" affair, but it still suffers from the same slow pace and tranquilized kum-ba-yah attitude that may be relaxing for some, but infuriating for others.
This light-headed apathy does have some bright spots, though—Hiroyuki's offbeat sense of humor comes out from time to time, like when answering study questions for history or teaching Multi how to sweep the floors. Akari's brief childhood-memory montage suggests that her relationship with Hiroyuki might, in the next few eons, be headed somewhere. The most interesting story angle, however, comes when Multi starts interacting with other students. Although friendly and receptive, she lacks the capabilities (what, no wireless internet?) that others would expect from a "service robot"—so others see her as inferior, even though Hiroyuki and Akari have warmed up to her. It's a thought-provoking situation about whether robots are meant to be servants or friends, and the slightly open ending suggests that her storyline has more to offer.
The series' visual quality is clearly a product of its time—hello, grainy hand-drawn art—but the digital restoration work in this release helps to bring out some of the finer touches. The color palette, with its warm pastel tones, continues to impress, especially in detailed interiors that capture all the little props and knick-knacks seen in daily life. Even something as minor as proper cel-shading on clothes adds depth to the art. However, it can't change the fact that the character designs are ordinary and the animation is functional at best. Hiroyuki is, after all, the ultimate generic anime male, and all his cute little girlfriends are designed to fit into cute little stereotypes rather than break out of them. Throw these characters into a slow-paced show where most movement involves simple walking and talking, and it's clear that exciting visuals are not part of the menu.
The quiet, laid-back nature of the story is matched by some appropriately quiet music, and even more often than that, silence. The few times that the soundtrack does emerge, it's usually a ballad-like instrumental meant to augment a pivotal scene, and to that extent, it works. However, the melodic content is ultimately forgettable, and doubly so for the theme songs, which contain some inconsequential warblings about love.
The other side of audio, voice acting, also features that same middle-of-the-road blandness. Tune into the Japanese track for a chirpy cute-widdle-high-school-girl experience, but don't be surprised to find that everyone sounds kind of the same. The English dub is decidedly different in its tone, with some character voices going almost an octave lower—Akari is more down-to-earth, Tomoko carries a businesslike demeanor—but there isn't much acting to do when the personalities are so one-sided and the dialogue so simple. Even the bright and chipper Multi isn't much of a standout. But hey, be thankful for one thing: screechy Shiho stays out of the way for most of these episodes! This translation is careful to minimize the amount of rewriting between dub and sub; in fact, there are times where the spoken English line matches the subtitles word for word.
Extra content comes in the way of two mini-episodes starring the characters in chibi size. The first one, where all the girls switch personalities, is funny and energetic in a way that the main series never is, so that's worth checking out. Other DVD goodies include a lineart gallery, character profiles and cultural notes; the reversible case cover doesn't really count since it looks almost the same on both sides.
Aside from the arrival of the robot girl and her human-or-machine moral dilemma, the third volume of To Heart chugs forward with more of the same. A warm visual style and cheerful tone can't make up for the story being slow and devoid of any real interest. A good slice-of-life is supposed to take us inside the characters' lives and emotions—but the characters here show no emotional complexity, and the lives they lead apparently consist of nothing but ordinary school chores. Some will enjoy this portrayal of a rose-tinted, idyllic teenage life, but those seeking real entertainment will have to look elsewhere for something that's actually, well, entertaining.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C
+ The arrival of Multi raises some interesting thoughts on what separates humans from robots.
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