See primary review.
Unlike many dating sim derived shows, To Heart had a lot of interesting background potential since even though it does have your standard multitude of cute girls, many of them have unusual quirks or backgrounds that could lead to potentially interesting storytelling. Unfortunately, potential is just that: potential and nothing more. How could a show full of so many cute girls with a variety of unusual backgrounds (psychic, witch, martial artist, android, etc.) be so boring?
That is the question that I kept asking myself over and over again as I plowed through the various episodes of this show. I had originally watched the first episode months ago but was rather unimpressed and given that I have a lot of other anime, I figured I would go back and take a look at this some other time particularly since I do like a lot of the romance shows. I also consider myself unusually patient compared to many people, tend to have an affinity for the romance genre, and have often found many anime that other people consider “slow” to be enjoyable. Well, I’ve now seen nine entire episodes of To Heart. I didn’t feel comfortable really judging it off of one episode, but nine episodes of a thirteen episode run is more than enough to judge it in my opinion. Unless it has the world’s MOST SPECTACULAR AND LIFE CHANGING ENDING, I don’t really see my review changing much.
Now, it is entirely possible to taking a dating/romance sim and turn it an actually engaging anime, but that requires you to utilize certain strategies that were not used by the creators of To Heart. Perhaps the simplest strategy, is to minimize the multiple girl aspect of your source material and focus on the romance between a few characters. There is kind of a glacially slow budding romance going, I suppose, between the main male lead Hiroyuki and his gal pal Akari. However, there is no real dramatic tension or interesting storytelling involved with it, since it simply seems like they’ll get together by default. It doesn’t help that neither of those people have particularly interesting or engaging personalities or much in the way of actual character development. Akari seems to like Hiroyuki for various vaguely gallant things he has done in the past. She doesn’t seem to mind when every single episode he goes to hang out with some other cute girl either. I was hoping she would get jealous and challenge him on that because at least it would have made their interaction a little more interesting. Most of the episodes involving any aspect of their interaction or potential romantic interaction also seemed to employ every technique they could to make the episode seem longer than it was. There were countless scenes that lasted far longer than they needed to.
As I mentioned above, Hiroyuki isn’t exactly an interesting character either. He spends the entire show vaguely bored or forgetful. Occasionally he does something nice, but we never really get any insight into him, so it is extremely difficult to care at all who he ends up with romantically. Now having a lead with no personality makes sense in a dating game where the player is supposed to supply it, but in a passive entertainment setting like a show, it makes the entire experience dreadfully uninteresting. Also I just found overly clueless. He has this cute intelligent girl who apparently adores him (well, I guess she’s not that intelligent) but he seems totally oblivious to the fact.
With the leads and their romance uninteresting, the other strategy that they could have used to make this show interesting is by focusing on the various girls that appear each episode and doing heavy character development. This has been used effectively in other shows of this genre, but unfortunately they don’t really do that here. The girls –look- different but most of them all seem to be suffering some slight variation of what I like to call the Rei Ayanami syndrome. They all seem be quiet, shy girls with no real personality. Heck, I would have taken an angst queen or a total harridan over most of these girls. At least those possibilities would have perhaps lead to more actual character work or some vaguely interesting interactions.
Just as an example, I’ll cite one character that made me really wince. They start with the vaguely interesting premise of this rich girl who is the school’s only member of the Occult Research Club. After I see the initial thirty seconds with her preparing a ritual, I figure, “Hey, this ought to be interesting.” WRONG. You see, she’s shy, quiet, and they really compound this by having her speak so quietly that the actual viewer rarely hears her talk. We just hear Hiroyuki repeat what she said. Oh boy! What was this some attempt to save money on hiring another voice actress?
Sadly, they showed a glimmer of interesting writing with a few of the girls who broke a bit out of that stereotype and we were treated to actual focused character episodes on those girls or at the minimum interaction with characters that made me vaguely interested in what they were like. They were few and far between and in a sense they almost irritate me more since it shows that the creators of the show /could/ have done more of that. That is the only way to really save this show, in my opinion, since the leads end up being pointless and boring.
The art and character design work for To Heart is rather nice and they even have a few brief action sequences in some of the episodes that were pretty decent. Unfortunately, this show suffers from something I talked about in another recent review. The artwork may be pretty, but the show itself is soulless.
Though it had a lot of potential to do a lot of interesting storylines, To Heart squanders them completely and gives us a world populated with the world’s most boring and uninteresting people. There is an occasional episode that is enjoyable and showed perhaps what To Heart could have been, but even if those few episodes saved this show from one star those small rays of light are overshadowed by the inanity of the rest of the episodes. If you don’t like this genre to begin with go ahead and subtract a star. I am honestly having trouble finding a scenario were you would add a star. I suppose if you only watched the few good episodes of To Heart, you could add a star or two. Not that many of them. Maybe they should release a “Best Sessions” DVD. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: Hmm. People who sat through Tale of Genji and What's Michael couldn't stay awake through this show. Not to say those titles are watchable ... but that should say something about this series. Apart from that ... no nudity, no fan service, no foul language, no violence ... no human emotion ... Give me my KareKano back!!!!
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (11/13)
To Heart © 1999 leaf / KSS / Aquaplus
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