by Carlo Santos,

To Heart

DVD 4 - Love and Truth

To Heart DVD 4
School life has been a little different for Hiroyuki Fujita and Akari Yamagishi ever since they made friends with Multi the android girl. However, Multi's trial period will be over soon, and now they must say goodbye to the machine that came so close to being human. As December rolls around, other activities are on the students' minds, including Christmas celebrations—but Shiho, who's been Hiroyuki's favorite annoyance for ages, is in more of an introspective mood as she starts to think about her feelings towards him. The day of the Christmas party is coming fast, and with relationships hanging in the balance, Shiho and Akari must finally confront each other about who truly cares for Hiroyuki.

Is it too late to save To Heart? The closing episodes of the series offer some much-needed drama and conflict: a bittersweet goodbye, the stirrings of young love, and a romantic rivalry—but it's awfully late in the game for a storyline to develop now. Basically, this is all the stuff that should have been around during the beginning and middle of the series, but instead was supplanted by hours of aimless "hanging out at school and making friends" drivel. The finale is certainly an improvement compared to the early stages—look, they even have continuity between episodes!—but the slow, lumbering pace and wooden acting are still there. In the end, most viewers will simply be sighing in relief once the damn thing is finally over.

Not surprisingly, fan favorite Multi gets a second episode devoted to her, and it turns out to be the most poignant one in the series (which isn't saying much, but at this point we're grasping for anything that suggests emotional depth). There's a lot of sentimental cheese on display here—the farewell on the bus, the "graduation" scene, the contemplative old man at the park—but the fact is, Multi's abrupt dismissal gives reason enough for a thoughtful pause. Anyone who's ever gotten attached to their favorite PC, music player, cell phone or game console would probably understand—it's just that this episode lays it on too thickly with the faux A.I. philosophy.

Leaving the world of machines behind, the final two episodes offer a romantic storyline that finally makes the show interesting. This is what To Heart should have been in the first place: Shiho teasing Hiroyuki while wondering if it's because she likes him, ever-faithful Akari at Hiroyuki's side hoping she can win his heart, and other side characters popping in and out as good friends do (rather than taking up entire episodes and being very boring). Even the idea that Shiho might have other emotions besides yelling all the time is something revolutionary—and it's a shame it took 11 episodes for the more serious side of her to show up. However, the usual problems still plague the finale: slow, stiff pacing (the "Do you like him?" scene between Akari and Shiho is absolutely epic, with almost a minute of silent staring) and a lack of strong, decisive emotions. The final scene of the series, sweet as it may be, is about as dull and toothless as they come.

Slow pacing has one advantage, though: the animators don't have to work as hard to make things look good. Most of the action involves walking and talking, so as long as that part looks smooth, it's not too hard on the eyes. (Drop the framerate a few more notches and you might as well go right back to static dating-sim cutscenes.) A short scene where Hiroyuki plays basketball is about as tricky as the animation gets, and that one turns out all right; however, lazy animation rears its ugly head later on when Hiroyuki and Shiho go shopping in a montage of still frames. Warmly colored backgrounds, realistic interiors and crisply drawn characters show strong attention to detail, but it's still very much a product of its time—the hand-drawn art comes out slightly dull and blurry, and the design aesthetic (technicolor hair, anyone?) is rooted firmly in the 90's. Digital restoration may have saved this series from the anime grave, but its age still shows.

Age is also apparent in the quaint pop ballads that are the show's opening and ending songs; much like the storyline, they feel insipid and lack any real hook. The background music fares a little better, though, with certain key moments enhanced by soothing instrumentals—Multi's farewell, for example, or Hiroyuki and Akari's moment of truth. However, the music by itself isn't particularly imaginative, and there are plenty of moments of silence throughout these episodes as well.

The deliberate pace of the series makes for some rather stiff voice acting: if the awkward phrasing and delivery doesn't get you, the brainless dialogue will. The dub cast tries to capture the characters' personalities as best they can, but clearly the sarcastic side of Hiroyuki has gone on hiatus, and Akari has been spouting meaningless feel-good platitudes since forever. The only character who gets any sort of development is Shiho; her sudden mood swing gives her a chance to extend her range from screech owl to thoughtful young woman. If it's any consolation, the translated script is at least a faithful reading of the text, although in this case it might have been a good idea to deviate a little just to make things interesting.

The usual DVD extras accompany this release: a reversible cover (not that it makes much difference), a gallery of lineart, some translation notes, and a couple of bonus mini-episodes. Sadly, the mini-episodes on this disc aren't anything special, although those who watch the second one might be amused by the direction it takes towards the end.

The stately, sentimental ending of To Heart guarantees one thing: at least now we can forget about it and turn our attention back to more interesting anime. This portrait of high school life and friendship maintains its spineless, saccharine mood all the way to the end, and even a touch of romantic conflict can't change the fact that it's awfully slow and everyone is just generically nice to each other. Background details and warm colors add an element of visual polish, but that alone can't lift the finale out of average or barely-above-average territory. Feelings are revealed and decisions are made, but in the end, the arrival of this plotline is just too little, too late.

Production Info:
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C

+ Storylines for characters like Multi and Shiho bring poignancy and conflict to the series.
... And then it's over. Oh, and the pacing is still as slow and awkward as ever.

Chief Director: Naohito Takahashi
Series Composition: Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Shinzō Fujita
Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Kōji Fukazawa
Yoshiaki Iwasaki
Kazuya Murata
Naohito Takahashi
Nobuhiro Takamoto
Kazu Yokota
Music: Kaoru Wada
Original Character Design: Toru Minazuki
Character Design: Yuriko Chiba
Art Director:
Shichirō Kobayashi
Hisayoshi Takahashi
Chief Animation Director: Yuriko Chiba
Animation Director:
Yuriko Chiba
Motoko Hiraishi
Takeshi Itou
Katsutoshi Kobayashi
Eiko Saito
Masato Sawada
Sound Director: Jun Watanabe
Director of Photography: Masahide Okino
Hiroshi Iwakawa
Shukichi Kanda

Full encyclopedia details about
To Heart (TV)

Release information about
To Heart - Love and Truth (DVD 4)

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