“Sheesh, you’re hopeless…”
Hiroyuki Fujita – “ToHeart”
Oh boy…you know, when I decided to review this one, I thought it would be a nice little trip down memory lane; a series that I haven’t seen in a long time now back in front of me, playing out for thirteen episodes. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? Plenty. “ToHeart” had the potential to be one of the greatest romantic series of its time…quite possibly of all time, and yet it falls flat on its face in several key areas. To give you an idea on how bad this one ranks so far–it actually gets a WORSE score than “Evangelion: Death and Rebirth”; a clip show fashioned together into some semblance of a movie. This series also ranks MUCH worse than “His and Her Circumstances”, a show that has it’s own shortcomings, but still finds a way to pull off a great story. Why does “ToHeart”, a story of a similar genre and made around the same time as “Kare Kano” fail so hard? Is it the episodic story line? The characters? The animation style? The acting in English? Or could it quite possibly be all of the above? Read on to find out…and be warned that it’s not going to be pretty…
Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – For a show based on an adult video game back in the 1990’s, “ToHeart” is about as clean a series as you can get. The only thing that would potentially ruffle some feathers is the fact that in Episode 3, “In A Sunny Spot”, what appears to be a Black Magic ritual is being performed by one of the characters. However, it only occurs in this one episode, and is never mentioned again.
Availability – “ToHeart” is available in four individual volumes and a four volume thin-pack collection from “The Right Stuf International“. If you’re looking for this title in brick and mortar stores, you might be hard pressed to find it anywhere else but FYE. Online, however, the series is pretty prevalent in both its thin-pack and individual volume forms and for a good price. I purchased mine brand new from FYE about three years ago for around $20. There is a equal”ToHeart” called “ToHeart: Remember My Memories“, but to my knowledge, this show has not been released in the US.
Story Breakdown – “ToHeart” is a thirteen episode series, based of a manga by Ukyō Takao, which was in turn based off a video game for the PC and Playstation gaming systems. “ToHeart” tells the story of Akari Kamigishi as she and her friends start a new semester term at their high school. Akari has had a crush on her childhood friend, Hiroyuki Fujita, since they were little kids and it’s with the start of this new term that she hopes she can finally convey those feelings to him. As the series progresses, we follow this group of friends, including the soft spoken Masashi and the anything-but Shiho through your typical high school term complete with culture and sports festivals, Christmas Parties, soccer tournaments, and other such things. If this story sounds white bread, then that’s because it truly is. While I don’t have a problem with series that are episodic in nature like this one, I do have a problem with slow storytelling that doesn’t go anywhere. Honestly, this story takes on a more harem-like feel instead of a romantic one, as different girls appear in the story and seem to take an interest in our male lead. Now, I’m not against harems; there are some good ones out there. What I am against is a story that doesn’t know in which direction it wants to go: if you’re going to be a harem, then be a harem. If you’re going to be a romantic drama with one main couple, then be a romantic drama with one main couple. But, wait! There’s more! Just when you think you’ve finally settled in and figured it all out, along comes Multi…a dawg gone robot maid. Let that sink in a minute…a robot…maid. SERIOUSLY? You have no other outs, no other things to introduce into the story, so you figure “Hmm…anime fans like robots…and they like maid girls…why don’t we combine the two and make a cute robot maid?” Seriously? A ROBOT MAID…that just so happens to look, feel and act human…and just so happens to be going through a test run at the same school our main characters are going to? There’s so much wrong with this in my mind. And yes, I know that Multi was featured in the original manga and the video game, but that doesn’t make it any more the better; in fact, it makes it worse! I could go into a longer rant about the time and place where this series is set where modern technology has evolved to create human-like androids, yet has not evolved beyond the brick-sized cordless telephone, but I will save that for another day. The ending is pretty bland, and doesn’t give me any kind of satisfied feeling; more like a “Why did I waste my time” feeling which is not good at all. [12/25]
Characters – As mentioned in prior reviews, with slice-of-life shows like this, the characters are the ones whom the story is dependent on, much like how a house is built on a foundation. That being said, “ToHeart” is two steps from being condemned by the housing authority. For the most part, they’re your typical cliched high school characters; the “healing style” character, the “tsundre”, the “best friend”, the “class representative”, the “foreign girl”, the “sports nut”, and the “lazy bum with a good heart”. What frustrates me about these characters is that they do not mature or change overtime. There is little to no development of the characters, they don’t give us any primer to encourage them or show any progress that allows the viewer to say “Hey, at least he/she is trying and I want them to succeed.” They’re just going about their day-to-day routines, dragging the feeling of the story down. I also found myself asking periodically “What is Masashi even there for?”I mean, he serves no useful purpose other than providing answers to the main characters mundane questions. [I.E – “Hey, Masashi! Do you want to go to Marvel Burger after school?” “Sorry, but I got to go to soccer practice.” “Oh, okay. See ya.”] Seriously. His dialogue does not go much beyond that. Granted, there is one episode where he’s featured…somewhat, and one of the female characters shows a romantic interest, but that does not last beyond that particular episode. I really hate superfluous characters; that is, characters that are only there to deliver plot points, but beyond that are about as useful as a solar powered flashlight. And don’t get me started with the robot maid, Multi. Now, I will grant you that she is a cute character, and her personality is adorable…but seriously, I get the feeling that she was brought on only to up the moe factor of the series instead of a seriously thought out character for a series such as this. The only characters that I found amusing enough to grant it the points that it earned was Lemmy and Shiho, because these two are the only characters that bring some sembelence of life to this series. [12/25]
Animation – Though it was created in the late 1990’s, the animation of “ToHeart” was surprisingly good. The character designs are very nicely done, and the background and setting is extremely detailed. It should be noted that the original masters for “ToHeart” were all but destroyed, requiring “The Right Stuf International” to put in some extra hours and elbow grease to bring it up to snuff, for which they deserve a lot of praise. [12.5/12.5]
Music – The opening title “Feeling Heart” by Masami Nakatsukasa is okay…but it’s not all that memorable in my book. It could be the song itself or the animation sequence that it plays over, but it just didn’t leave me excited about the series I was about to watch. It left me feeling like “Oh, great…this is going to be heavy and sad.” I found no real joy in it. The ending credits song “Yell” by Ayako Kawasumi…falls short. Now, it could be due to the audio mixing, but I found that the incidental music blew me out of the water…and not in a good way. There were times when the music overtook the audio with it’s pompous orchestral tones, and that is NEVER good. [6.5/12.5]
Performances and Production – This series was licensed and dubbed by “The Right Stuf International” and was directed by Joe Digiorgi. The acting is 50/50 across the board, ranging from good to horrible. Lets start with the good. Angora Deb as Akari is really well done. She captures her sweet nature yet gives her just enough personality to make her sound like a real high school girl. Jessica Calvello as Shiho Nagaoka is a perfect match; she has all the emotions and spirit of the original Japanese actress, Chieko Higuchi. Veronica Taylor as the blue haired Aoi Matsubara is also a good match compared with the original Japanese. Again, it amazes me how versatile her voice is–she sounds almost nothing like Yukino Miyazawa from “His and Her Circumstances”, and a complete 180 from Pokemon Trainer and perpetual teenager Ash Ketchum [Seriously…he should be like, what, in his 20’s by now???]. Last but not least, Karen Thompson as Lemmy Miyauchi is really well done. She plays a foreign girl perfectly…WAY better than Patricia Ja Lee . Now, let’s get into the bad. Rich McNanna as the male lead, Hiroyuki Fujita is about as dry as dry can get. Seriously, his voice is monotone throughout the series without any kind of emotion or variance. The original Japanese actor, Kazuya Ichijou, gives a performance that’s more true to a high school student; lazy, slow, yet still containing some emotion. Rich McNanna’s Hiroyuki comes off as palatable as cardboard, which is unacceptable as he is one of the male leads. Lenore Lenore [Yes, that’s how she’s credited…I have no clue what that’s all about] as the robot Multi can get a little annoying at times. She’s passable overall, but at times, you really, REALLY get tired of hearing that little peppy voice all the freaking time. [17.5/25]
Story Breakdown – 12/25
Characters – 12/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 6.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 17.5/25
Final Score – 60.5/100 – F
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):
- The character Tsukasa Hiiragi from the anime “Lucky Star” bears an uncanny resemblance to Akari Kagmigishi. In fact, in one episode, Konata Izumi gives Tsukasa a uniform from the series.
- In the first episode of the anime “Comic Party”, the opening scene is a direct parody of “ToHeart”, featuring all the main characters, slightly modified to resemble the main cast of “Comic Party”. In fact, the entire “Comic Party” series makes references to “ToHeart”, including a mini-series which focuses around the almost cult-like following of Multi.
So, where does that leave us? If the score is any indication, it doesn’t leave us with a helluva lot. While I do appreciate the historical significance it plays in the world of anime, and while there are a few scenes and moments that are good, overall, I am not impressed with the way “ToHeart” was presented. With a boring, episodic story, characters that make you wonder why they exist in the first place, lackluster and annoying music, and acting that’s either hit or miss, “ToHeart” makes me question the intentions of the creators; did they honestly try to make a good series, but just committed several missteps, or were they just looking for a way to milk more money from the game series by creating a show to go along with it? We will never know.
And with that, we draw a curtain on our “ToHeart” review. Not the best show in the world, but…well…it’s not the best show in the world. Let’s hope this next Love-Love series is better. After all, it’s story that almost takes its cues from the newspaper stories of late. What happens when you get hot for teacher? Well, you get thirteen episodes of our next review…
“Please Teacher” (Onegai Sensei)