My initial review of To Heart is dated during my early days of being a blogger. It actually resided in an older anime blog of mine before my move to animeblogger.net. Back then I failed to elaborate on how this is the best bishoujo game-based anime series (EVER!), and now I have returned to finish the mission. This anime is almost a decade old by now, archival by today’s standards, but to me it stands the test of time. An anime about, well, nothing except the simplicity of high-school life, To Heart gives a slice-of-life twist to the almost-redundant bishoujo game-based anime genre. Oh wait, let me correct myself. This is actually one of the earliest anime based on a visual novel, way, way before it even became an oversaturated genre in anime.
Before nice boats, before 3-year amnesias, and before wish-granting sakuras, To Heart was there. Yes, before even Kyoto Animation started milking Key with all their games. What’s remarkable about To Heart is, despite it being the first eroge to be animated on TV, it features no ero AT ALL. Even modern takes on To Heart had gone the tired and true fanservice route. It could have been worse though, because the late 90s-early 2000s were also the age of eroge-turned ero anime as well. Remember those many Pink Pineapple ero animes? Many of them come from lesser known bishoujo games. And guess what? Some of them have the same slice-of-life feel as To Heart. For all we know, a To Heart anime would have been just a hentai title. Thankfully it is not, because of how groundbreaking the original game was. I think you can blame this title, and Kanon, for introducing the concept of true story-based visual novels. Past eroge would only focus on the ero, but To Heart and Kanon focused on stories and characters. Maybe the big impact of these games is how it made the gamers cry. An erotic game that makes you cry. Funny how that works eh?
And yes, I discovered To Heart “because” it was an eroge. For some reason I can’t remember, I got a copy of the game. These were my early times being the green non-otaku machine. All I knew about anime was Cardcaptor Sakura and Love Hina. But I also knew about Pink Pineapple and the H animes (hey, it was puberty). Then it arrived. To Heart, in that bootleg shop. I thought To Heart was a hentai anime, 13 episodes of ero. I went home thinking I’m going to have a ero fest with this. Sadly, I was wrong. A few episodes later… I was so glad to be wrong. Being one of the earliest animes I’ve ever watched, of course it will have a great big impact on me. But where Love Hina failed is how I keep running back to this title, rewatching it multiple times, over and over again. Those VCD bootlegs were of To Heart being subbed by a group called Sachi Fansubs. A couple years later, I was delighted when I saw a seemingly-original To Heart being sold in a video store. It was a local English dub made by Magnavision. I didn’t have any particular biases towards dubbing back then.
I went back to that “same” bootleg store some time later and saw HK DVD pirated versions of To Heart. I bought that. I kept digging. When I had the broadband internet one of my first missions was to hunt for a DVD version of To Heart, because I reckon it will have better subs. Indeed I saw and downloaded them. I would have had every possible copy of the anime by now, and I’m not kidding.
Kanon is considered by some as the greatest bishoujo game of all time. Of course, a “best * of all time” is mainly subjective opinion depending on who you talk to, but definitely this game by Key has struck a tone that will resonate in the industry for years and years to come. To sum it up, you don’t know jack about bishoujo games if you haven’t at least taken a peek at Kanon. It’s like Final Fantasy, a pinnacle of RPGs, and Half-Life, a pinnacle of first person shooters. Kanon is a pinnacle of bishoujo games.
Kanon and To Heart were the two main animes that led me to be interested in bishoujo games. For the record, Kanon was my very first completed digital fansub. Using a crappy dial-up, I remembered waiting for hours and hours using a certain P2P program to download 13 episodes of this certain beautifully animated anime that I never knew at that time. Granted that by today’s standards the characters looked kinda ‘pointy’, to me (in my early days of anime watching) Kanon certainly looked beautiful.
We have the usual setup of a bishoujo game, which is one guy, many girls. This generic-looking guy (they always look generic) comes back to his hometown after 7 years. As usual, the generic guy is amnesiac, and almost never remembers his past. And so he meets this group of girls, some of which he has already met before. Now he gets involved with all those girls, and he connects the past life he had forgotten for 7 years.
Sounds simple enough isn’t it? Let’s complicate things. Back in 1999, the original game of Kanon became the new standard that changed the landscape of bishoujo gaming forever. Why? Because there was one thing that Kanon did right… the ‘drama’. Each character was so well fleshed out, and each scenario was so heartwarming, that when the drama does come, it hits the player so hard emotionally. This game makes you cry. I remembered reading mere summaries/spoilers for the Kanon game, and each story was already so sad and devastating for me. What more if I played the game itself?
The anime more-or-less captured the feel of the original game, at least initially. Towards the end though, there were some dramatic plot lines that got watered-down in the conversion. I mean, the sad stories didn’t seem too sad anymore. Some were even converted into happy endings, if I recall correctly. Another fault of the anime was the way they introduced the supernatural theme. I think I had explained this in detail over at an anime forum, but I can’t seem to find it. Basically, I initially thought that this was a realistic world… until the supernatural themes arrived. The supernatural stuff appeared so suddenly, that my suspension of disbelief failed to see it as logical for a while. Nevertheless, the story portrayal is still pretty good, despite my nitpicks.
Kanon the anime probably was the first that ignited the boom of bishoujo game based anime. In the next subsequent years, the number of anime conversions from games had seen a dramatic exponential rise, and it has grown into its own specific genre already. The bubble can only get bigger, and it doesn’t seem to be bursting anytime soon. And so this year, we will pay a tribute by returning back to the very same series that started it all for bishoujo game based anime.
Yes! A remake of Kanon! Now to be produced by Kyoto Animation (which brought the highly successful AIR anime), Kanon will be remade into 24 new episodes. I think that Toei already did a wonderful job with this first Kanon anime, but Kyoto Animation could raise that bar even further, possibly having an impact as strong as the original game itself back in the days. Surely I will be eagerly awaiting that. For now, I can recommend this first Kanon anime for those who haven’t seen it yet, and I hope that they could see a sneak peek of the powerful emotions that only bishoujo games can deliver.
One of the things that attract me to mystery series like the US television dramas Lost and Heroes is that in almost every episode, as they answer some of your questions, they pile up new ones. This kind of plot progression is quite engaging, and makes one crave for the next episodes. On the anime side though, few series can pull it off nicely, and so we go to sola.