Takahashi Naohito/Chiba Yuriko on To Heart

A translation of a 1999 interview done by director Takahashi Naohito and chief animation director Chiba Yuriko for KSS Perfect Collection books focused on To Heart. It’s a long interview, touching on a bunch of topics pertinent to the show and their attitudes towards various aspects of story structure and animation.

As a general note, some of the original dialogue in the interview is pretty obtuse and/or meandering. I inserted some punctuation and made minor structure alterations to a few sentences to make sure the meaning came through.

Caption: “To Heart” as seen from the production side

Caption: A program where Akari and Hiroyuki serve as hosts, and every episode a guest appears

Get the Lowdown!

We asked director Takahashi Naohito-shi and general animation director Chiba Yuriko-san about their aims in struggles in building the series known as To Heart.

Later on, in “Artwork ~ Character Edition”, we’ll show you the materials created for this series.

[Main Text Begins Here]

Setting an anime-appropriate tone while valuing the original work

I: With respect to To Heart’s anime adaptation, how exactly were you planning to build the story?

Takahashi: In terms of what we got from the original, there’s what I’d call this ‘everyday-ness’. While nothing really explosive happens, the high school students living in a certain area… While using this space called a ‘school’ as a stage, we continually set an everyday mood, with the idea that it would be fine if we made it so that the people watching would think, “This sort of high school life seems fun.”

I: Beyond building an everyday atmosphere, did you apply your own memories of high school life?

Takahashi: There’s that too, but the thing is that characters and such were in place beforehand, so as far as my own experiences with high school life appearing in the show, there’s really none of that. It’s just, I wanted to express how I felt when I was in middle, high school… Or rather, it may be that part of me wanted the people viewing to feel that way. To absorb those feelings I had when I was in middle school… I think that’s something vital. To that end, we employed a number of devices.

I: Can you give us specific examples of those devices?

Takahashi: There was background art, the way conversations were handled, devices meant to get people to look at the foreground, and even music… With all those together, we tried to make it so that each and every person watching would imagine that thing called middle/high school life. In order to get various different people to feel the memories which they alone held, we thought over a number of different points. It’s just, I did give specific instructuons to the staff, but I don’t have any specific memory of the stuff I just talked about. As we were working, I feel like they would have realized that, “it’s probably something like that.”

I: You said nothing in particular to the character designer, Chiba-san?

Takahashi: I don’t think I said anything in particular. (laughs) I wanted her to draw art of high school girls who vaguely wanted to be in that space, high school girls who made sense in that world, who wouldn’t a surprise to see there, and then I wanted her to add movements to that… I get the feeling I said something like that, or maybe I didn’t… Did I not say it? (asked as an aside to Chiba-san)

Chiba: (laughs)

Takahashi: I didn’t tell you that? (laughs)

Erm, the character design work actually started before I got involved. Because they started off by making the opening for the PS edition. I was slower than she was to become involved with the production. That’s why, at least in regards to character design, she just took the original game designs and drew them in order to best facilitate her own style of animation. And I made no special effort to request a change in those characters. The folks at Aquaplus said this was fine, so I wasn’t going to especially alter them after that.

Chiba: There’s the issue of people who have played the game and have their own mental picture of things… These are characters that those at Aquaplus have spent a lot of time bringing up, so in order to not let that fall apart, and to avoid having the characters leave an unpleasant impression on the viewers, we paid more attention to that point than just about anything. Unlike the game, we can have empty lengths of time, right? Things such as the expressions and movements the characters make when they’re talking to each other without saying what they really mean… That’s something that’s not in the game, so I think it’d be wrong for the characters to disappoint the fans in that respect. Director Takahashi said this just now, but we wanted to draw characters who made sense in the world of To Heart. For the basics, of course we used the characters from the original as references.

I: This is a work with a lot of everyday-ish scenes, so I’d think the animation would have perhaps caused you some trouble?

Chiba: If you’re asking me it was hard, yes it was, but I didn’t struggle that much. When I was stuck over how to draw something, I had the nearby staff model for me. I had them sit, grab things, and clean. (laughs)

Takahashi: This is generally the case when you put something on video, and it’s as true for animation as it is for anything, that even if we transplanted the original game straight into animation, it’d become a different thing, you see? So then our starting point was what to do in order to represent the original, not as a game, not as a novel, not as a collection of illustrations, not as a stage play, but first and foremost purely as an anime. As a result, even if parts different from the game emerge as a result, that something that just can’t be helped due to the differences between media. Even if we had pushed as hard as we could to match the original game as closely as possible, the possibility that we would have made something different anyways would have been large.

I: It seems like you two were very conscious of the original work.

Takahashi: To us, whether or not people who played the game felt the animated version was off or not when they watched it was critically important, and judging by the reactions we’ve heard from the fans who have seen the TV version, I think it turned out well.How do I say this, we borrowed a copy from a certain kid, and parceled out some time to hold a training camp. And thus we might have gained some wisdom, or grown, or come back with some results – well, something like that. It could be that, for some reason, the process of upbringing may produce some different results from what the parents had intended, but that’s the individuality of this brainchild, is how I think of it. Well, I may just be talking big. (laughs) In the end, I think the final product is one in which Chiba’s preferences, as well as my own, do show. I’d like to thank the viewers, for permitting that individuality, I suppose?

Hiroyuki went from an audience stand-in to a character who was neither too close nor too distant

I: Hiroyuki doesn’t actually appear on-screen in the game, so I’d think he’d be the most difficult character to build…

Takahashi: When you get down to it, Hiroyuki in the game is the users themselves. In other words, he does not have any established individuality, nor is he well-defined. For him to be able to appear on screen, we had to give him a personality. In that regard, we repeatedly touched base with the folks at Aquaplus many times, asking, “What sort of person is he?”, and built up the character. As far as art went, we had the manga, right? We could draw from that to an extent, but, in the end, we made it so Hiroyuki wouldn’t seem too intimate to the people watching, and likewise so that he wouldn’t seem too distant. As far as the overall work went, we planned to have Akari as the protagonist, and holding to that basis, we made it a program where Akari and Hiroyuki served as hosts and a guest came on every week. Making Hiroyuki the protagonist would have made the story one of him going around resolving difficulties. By doing that, Hiroyuki ends up becoming superman within that world. Making various girls fall for him, solving various problems… If we did that, the viewers would lose interest. There’s no way such a convenient guy exists, and if a guy like that goes around doing various things within a confined space, the story actually becomes rather uninteresting. For that reason, he was an exceptionally difficult character to handle. Speaking honestly, in that regard, we had him just barely not slip in places where it seemed like he would slip, and speak roughly while doing the right thing on the sly. You could say we established his individuality, but he was a character we obviously couldn’t have given an overwhelming personality to. That was just a part that couldn’t be helped.

I: But in the show, this sort of casual kindness of Hiroyuki’s leaks out, and I’d think he’d be an appealing character to those viewing, no?

Takahashi: If that’s they way they take it, I’d be happy with it. For what we wanted to say with the animated To Heart, in order to pursue that sort of characterization, there are parts where the story naturally becomes that way. Really, what we call a story is most easily done via the establishment of characters, and then deciding how such a character would act in response to such a stimulus. It’s that phenomenon where they just move on their own. Those aside from Hiroyuki were originally made that way as well. But Hiroyuki wasn’t that way, you see? That is to say, the character called Fujita Hiroyuki is a character created after the completion of that story, shouldering his particular destiny. That part is, if you’d say it’s the most different from the game, well, it is; normally – and not just for animation, but for live-action movies and dramas as well – that sort, a character who sees these dramatic stories unfold in turn as time flows by, is a very diverse archetype. In building To Heart as a drama, the most unique point is right there. Normally, you wouldn’t make create that guy as a character. (laughs) Letting that guy exist, it would be a non-starter. By some basis, he’ll become a person who has circumstances tying him to to the world, no matter what, and that, I think, was the toughest part of converting the game into animation.

I: Then, as for the most difficult-to-write character – was that Hiroyuki?

Takahashi: It was for me. I mean, he’s a person who normally might as well not be there. (laughs) For users of the game. Letting that version of him be, it would just be irrational – that’s the difference in media for you. As far as art-related things, his actions, and other traits we had to be conscious of, we of course consulted with Aquaplus, and as the animation was being done, Chiba-san was there to insert her own preferences as well. (laughs)

Chiba: (laughs)

Hiroyuki, you see, is a character that leaves a different impression when women watch him, versus when men do. When I ask the people around me for their impressions, they’re varied and different, which is interesting. In episode 1, you have him helping out making the lots, don’t you? For that, when women see that, “Ah, he’s casually looking out for her,” they’ll think, pretty strongly, but men seem to take it as, “Aah, he really wants to go home,” and they’ve told me, “he seems like a pretty unmotivated guy.” Of course, there were also men who said they understood Hiroyuki’s feelings… there really were a lot of different responses. Though he is a character that, when women see him, they think, “Ah, this guy will be popular, I bet.”

I: He’s not a superman, though he is an understandably popular character…

Chiba: That’s why I drew Hiroyuki thinking, “He’s a pretty nice man”. As far as design goes, it’s not that I inserted my tastes, more like “At times like this I’d want him to have a face like that.” He doesn’t smile freshly that often, but about *this* often, sort of a subtle distinction. (laughs)

Takahashi: When you make a character like that, normally, he’ll be done as a guy who makes a big deal out of everything, right? But for the worldview of To Heart, we couldn’t allow that, so while he is that sort of existence, we hold it back in a plain way; that’s our stance on Hiroyuki the character. If, in contrast, Hiroyuki is thought to be appealing, perhaps that’s why? He doesn’t meddle, but somehow he gets the point. (laughs)

I: Masashi, who serves as his opposite, is also a good character, right?

Chiba: He has a good feel to him, that person. (laughs) I think he might just be doing a number of other things behind the scenes. He’s well-mannered, so he might just be more popular than someone like Hiroyuki. He seems like he has a lot of friends. With Hiroyuki, he seems like he has no friends aside from Masashi, though. (laughs) Actually, Masashi-chan seems like, while among those friends, he’s steadily continuing with his individual pursuits. During club activities and such. He doesn’t show up on screen that many times, so on the other hand – you see?

I: Did Chiba-san insert her preferences into Masashi as well?

Chiba: Not so much for Masashi… If I put to much of my preferences in, it can happen that the character ends up changing. Just, I used the someone near me as a reference as I drew him. “At a time like this, they’d have this expression and move as such,” that kind of thing.

I: As far as the movements of the boys go, was there any particular aspect that was hard to draw?

Chiba: It tended to be the slighter movements, for example, when something gets left on a desk, how do you normally move to pick it up? So, I tried asking pubescent men, and had them actually move around. Of course, I did the same thing with women, but… If the movements were just ones I thought up, they would all end up the same. And it’s not like I always move in the most typical, average way. (laughs) And so, I would ask around 3 girls, “At a time like this, how would you move if it were you?” Well, I wasn’t so much trying to draw modern high school girls; it was fine as long as it doesn’t feel “off” to the viewers. If I did it some ways, the viewers would pull away… I was careful to avoid those sorts of depictions.

I: You’re saying that, rather than trying to match the real world, you did the movements to match the world of To Heart?

Chiba: Taking that the world of To Heart exists as our prerequisite, it’s fine so long as the characters are properly alive within that world. This is a weird example, but like how Mickey is alive at Disneyland. (laughs)

Images unapologetically from a woman’s viewpoint

I: The background of the uniforms is extremely detailed, but is that due to your pursuit of reality as well?

Chiba: Let’s see, for the basics – ‘Is there a fastener here?’, ‘Is this a button?’ and such – we consulted with Aquaplus, but for the rest I asked my friends and thought on it myself… By the by, I actually like uniforms. (laughs) The ribbon ties in such a way, the skirt is about that long, and such.

I: I’d surmise that things such as the background of Akari’s braids, these are images you draw as a woman.

Chiba: Aquaplus was not creating girls as symbols, but they highly valued the individuality of each and every one. So then, I’m a woman, so I thought I’d follow up on that with aspects I understand from my position.

I: The background of the uniforms is such that one could imagine actually making it just like that.

Chiba: I was thinking someone just might make it, actually. (laughs)

Takahashi: Sensitivity in that regard, it’s something that guys just don’t get. (laughs) If you mention it, they’ll think, “Aah, there is that sort of thing,” though. People nowadays are fairly like that – especially what we call the manga generation – and you can’t just do it with the image alone. For example, whatever the lining of the skirt is doing, if you don’t mention it they won’t draw it. Though if they had ever worn one themselves, I’d expect they’d know. (laughs) That, for example, the hems on a sailor uniform’s outergarments are not all that long; I think they catch on to these points because they’re women. After all, men tend to fall back on the image inside their head… That is, because they have no choice to work with memories from manga and photographs. That said, I think the viewpoint she has as a woman is something more valuable than merely illustrating To Heart. She really doesn’t pander to the viewers at all, you see. Her particular class of animation doesn’t pander, to an extent we rarely see. I’m extremely happy she’s taken up the task, and that I’ve been able to ascertain there are people who will think about and understand it. Of course, I think there’s an appeal to anime that pander all over the place as well. Just, that’s not at all suited to To Heart, is what I think.

I: The background of the in-series archery is also very detailed.

Chiba: That sort of specialized thing is quite difficult. If you just cover the basics, people who actually do it will feel that something is wrong, and they’ll withdraw from the show. The directer was in the archery club, so that helped us there. When we drew something wrong, he’d come out of nowhere and slap you into shape.

Takahashi: That’s true for just about anything if you’re someone who knows the subject. Especially when it comes to sports. People who play baseball, people who play soccer… If we don’t do what we do understand properly, and do it to the fullest extent possible, everything aside from that becomes a lie too. Even if people who don’t know see the show, these properly-made visuals, they should have some sort of power to them. That’s why, for that time in episode 2 when Lemmy was practicing archery, I was like, “It’s probably about this much”, and had her shoot with an exceptionally slow pace.

I: It seems those at Aquaplus have also, while porting to the Playstation, commented that it was strange to have Aoi training in her sailor uniform, and had her change into her gym clothes.

Chiba: They even had us use fingerless gloves for the TV version. (laughs)

Takahashi: In the end, that’s another detail, one you wouldn’t understand from a photograph. I think animators are normally people who can’t draw an object if they don’t understand it’s solid shape. Because you’re creating a space, you see. As much as possible, I think having those sorts of references is necessary.

Chiba: The movements for Aoi’s match, those were animated by Makoshi-san from (Kenpuu Denki) Berserk and Masunaga-san from Emeraldas. It’s a scene I’m particularly fond of. (laughs)

Takahashi: That included, we’ve directed this anime so that the sense of working our hardest comes out, with absolutely no performance or bluffing. You can’t overturn a difference in ability with concentrated sakuga… In order to depict that, we drew it rather severely. For this work, we choose a method each episode to emphasize the individuality of the guest character who appears, and in Aoi’s case, she loves martial arts and puts in her best effort, but is unable to surpass the senpai she idolizes… That’s what we tried to show, you see?

The anime is the world of To Heart as seen by Akari

I: Akari provides the central viewpoint, and a guest character shows up every episode… About when was this particular structuring of the series decided?

Takahashi: Well, that was decided at the first meeting regarding the show I went to. That Akari is the protagonist, and Hiroyuki is just a part of her experiences. There were a number of changes made, but that basic concept did not change. That we would draw the world as seen by Akari. If Hiroyuki came to the forefront, everything would end having been resolved by Hiroyuki. If we understood that from the start, we could have just made that interesting, but I thought the viewers would in turn withdraw from the show. …Actually, there was a proposal by Aquaplus to have Hiroyuki as the protagonist, at first. However, we told them that in that case we wouldn’t make it. If you turn someone who doesn’t wander about and just appears when he’s needed into the protagonists, you’ll really turn him into a convenient person. We told them that it would be impossible to build a story that way, you see?

I: Did you have a solid image of it in your head from the beginning?

Takahashi: We more or less had it in the first half of the series, but there were some gaps. Because there were various points where we were unsure. I think we did it right in the latter half, but our usage of Hiroyuki around episodes 4-5 was fluctuating in a fairly delicate manner. But, it’s not like the people watching withdrew from the show because of that, so I think they took it as just being another flavor of the show. Because it becomes a story where, normally, you wouldn’t see it going the way it had. (laughs) This is particularly true with regards to episode 2. If you’d ask what sort of story that is, I’d say it’s one where they’re exceptionally troubled. In other words, he has something he just needs to say, but lets the conversation end without saying it… And then, bringing it about to happy ending was a sort of trick we pulled. If they took one step away from their path of being wary of each other, it would bring about exceptionally bad feelings, so that sort of delicate back-and-forth, around episodes 2 and 3, caused me a lot of worries as a director. As a result, it feels like it couldn’t go any other way. Of course, there were various circumstances that made it the way it was. But, since the people watching accepted it with a general response of, “That sort of thing is nice as well”, I think it’s for the best. In the first half, until around episode 7, there was quite a bit of that. I think that that’s because we had yet to fully grasp the characters.

I: As you, the director, are a man, was it perhaps difficult to focus on Akari’s viewpoint?

Takahashi: In that regard, I had nothing but my delusions. As is the case for many works of animation where the director is a man. And as such, they’ll inevitably end up making the heroine their ideal girl. That does have the potential to create an exceptionally appealing stories. The viewers – including women, may go, “It would be nice if there were a girl like this.” Just, the characters of To Heart are established, so if I overdid it they would become something different, and especially since Akari plays the lead role, if I made her too ideal, I wouldn’t be able to make a story out of it this time. I think that point is, objectively speaking, true. Especially since, if I tried to make a series with that worldview, that atmosphere, Akari as a character would worry a little more, become a bit of a darker girl, and deciding to not go there is, in the end, the bare minimum I’m obligated to do for the world of To Heart. It’s not like I didn’t pour any emotions into Akari, but I tried objectively not to take anything out of her. If other studios worked on it, they would probably have different ways of doing things, and if To Heart was done by different people, it could possibly have become something totally different, and, putting aside matters of interesting/uninteresting, there is the possibly you’d see a totally different way of using Akari and Hiroyuki.

I: It became a series where your own touch was fairly prominent, right, director?

Takahashi: That’s true. Expression of our faithfulness towards the original work was a prerequisite to all that. Since the original game existed, that was an obvious expectation. Just, if we just did what we were told, as we were told, with an, “Aah, is that so?”, it would become a work without content. Of course, on that note, we had persistent, repeated exchanges with Aquaplus, but in the end, to express these things through anime, we had to do the things I wanted to do. That is, we had to make the To Heart I saw through my eyes. You could call it a struggle; that was definitely the toughest part of it. It was absolutely not a situation where I could just fix things the way I was told to. That is, I did what I wanted, and in the end I had no choice but to make that into something good. That’s why, as far as the contents of the work go, I’m extremely satisfied. Yeah, it definitely became something I did. It has an ending which people who know me would definitely see and respond with, “Aah, he’s the same as always,” I think.

Was Akari and Hiroyuki’s relationship decided by episode 8?

I: I hear the final scene, with the snow, was something you were very particular about.

Takahashi: Rather than being particular… The last scene takes place on Christmas Eve, so I did want to have snow in it. (laughs) Normally, it doesn’t snow in the vicinity of Kanto on Christmas Eve, I think. But, as a dream… As a certain type of ideal, on Christmas Eve, on a hilly road, isn’t it nice to have snow falling down while you’re alone with the one you love; that’s really all I felt in regards to that scene. When the snow falls, you get a feeling that it’s finished, no? (laughs) Of course, I also thought of other options. I thought about them, but with the time I was given and the conditions that were set, I think that that last scene was the one with the best balance and the strongest impact. And also, I think snow is extremely anime-like, a very effective means of expressing things through animation. Snow, and also rain and such. That scene might have hit the ceiling for the particular methods of animation direction I used. Of course, there may have been other ways of handling it. And naturally, my preferences also made it into that scene. Having a girl you love knit a muffler for you, and wrap it around you, I think that’s probably a simple desire for most boys. It’s not like Hiroyuki was particularly hoping for it, but more like, “Aren’t you happy that it happened to you?”

I: Apparently, Kawasumi-san had heard that that there would be a kiss scene at the end, but there wasn’t so she thought, “Huh?”

Takahashi: I was thinking that way in the beginning, though. (laughs) But, as I was building the story, it turned out I couldn’t let that happen. If we did it there, I got the feeling it would seem really deliberate. And that’s because the characters were influenced by it, that world. They don’t hold hands, they don’t embrace each other. I think that’s a power the To Heart anime has held from the start; it’s enough to have them lined up and looking in the same direction. Personally, I’ve done kisses in scenes like that a number of times before (laughs), and I thought, “Aah, we’re doing this again?”, but I couldn’t do it. There was that bit in episode 8 where they were sitting across from each other while studying, right? At that point, a normal drama would do something like, “Our hands touched. That got my heart racing.” But at that point, we were able to confirm that the relationship which they have isn’t that way. And of course we understood those two characters as done by Aquaplus. Even so, Aquaplus said, at first, that they were ok with a kiss in the last scene. Or else, since Akari was recovering from an illness at the time, they asked if we could have Hiroyuki carry her on his back at the end. But I told them that we couldn’t do it. Firstly, I couldn’t imagine how to show that through the visuals, and there would be a mountain of problems with having him lift her up onto his back; I thought it would be extremely difficult, and thus we made it the way we did. In the end, I couldn’t not make my kind of last scene. The final exchange those two have, I think it’s exceptionally symbolic of the To Heart anime’s worldview.

Adding on to that, the last episode ended up having Shiho pulling herself back for the moment, but you never know what might happen 5 years down the road; that sort of thing is possible. That sort of thing is real, a way of capturing the reality of that world.

I: Are you saying those two still haven’t confirmed each others’ feelings?

Takahashi: Rather, with those two, I think it’s that, “they both already know.” They don’t have to put it into words, or kiss, to know. With those two, they’re already kind of married. There was no other way to draw them but that. Episode 8 included, if we made Akari into the kind of heroine who gets flustered, and whose heart throbs at the drop of a hat, we wouldn’t be able to create stories about the other characters. If we did so, as the other girls appeared, Akari would have to get flustered, and the viewers wouldn’t be able to get emotionally invested in the other characters. That was the limitation of To Heart. Normal dramatic productions can’t be like that. To Heart is To Heart because it deviates entirely from the basics of dramatic productions. However, that itself is possible because To Heart is the series it is. If you tried to create that sort of story in a different world, I’d expect you couldn’t do so. That approach is something we were able to take because the To Heart game was there from the beginning.

I: On the other hand, while you were directing To Heart, was there anything that you absolutely weren’t allowed to remove?

Takahashi: Things such as the sense of giving your best effort, or the girls’ courage, those are always the most important, aren’t they? In the end. And then, we had to have the viewers watch over Akari and end up feeling, “Aah, that’s great.” (laughs) That, as it stands, is the role she plays. And so, even having started from concepts like Akari’s viewpoint, or Akari as the heroine, she did end up as the master of ceremonies in the end. That was Akari’s role, and it was a happy role for here, so in the end we couldn’t avoid being taken in that direction. That’s something that we attempted to integrate but didn’t really succeed at, and that’s a point for me to reflect on as a director.

I: In the last episode, there’s this phone call scene where Akari asks Shiho, “Can I come?” I thought that perhaps Akari was holding back with Shiho there?

Takahashi: Even before that, Akari is trying to ascertain Shiho’s feelings. Akari also states her own feelings. But, even with that, I thought Akari might still not be able to accept things as they were. That she was probably still uncertain. If it were someone easier to read, it would end there with an “Oh, ok.”, but with that character, if she inquired one more time, at that point she’d have to risk damaging her relationship with Shiho. Still, they’re basically all good kids, and those good-kid ways of worrying and beating around the bush both supported the series and had their own exceptional appeal, though they did present some difficulties.

We wanted to depict a forward-facing nostalgia

I: Was there anything you yourself wanted to depict via To Heart?

Takahashi: Hearing that anew makes me hesitate a bit, but “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some forward-facing nostalgia?”, is what I thought. Speaking in terms of the direction of the series, we had the choice of turning it into a noisy romantic comedy, but if we were to do that Hiroyuki would become a simple flirt, and Akari would become a girl who just allows said behavior. Speaking for myself, I didn’t want it to be that way.

I: Scenes where Akari is shown to treasure the memories of her youth do show up.

Takahashi: That was my sense of taste in action. However, if we went too far with it, she would have seemed like a girl who dwells on the past; even knowing that, we drew it packing in those feelings of cherishing what’s precious. Akari is a girl who truly can cherish those precious things. In regards to her bear collection, the game had that in her backstory, and we put that into art in a way that was just a little easier to understand. In actuality, though, if there were that many bears in one room, I think it’d be a little bit creepy. (laughs)

I: With the bears too, each and every one has a different expression and shape, it comes across as very thorough.

Takahashi: That would be because Chiba thought up all of them. (laughs)

Chiba: When making the world of To Heart, I wanted to avoid situations where, “If we did this the girls would hate it.” For example, if we stuffed bears into every crevice to the extent that one would think, “Are you crazy?”, I think girls would be repelled by that. That’s why I made it so that she arranged a display of sensible bears. Well, there was the issue of my ability to draw, and I don’t know how well I was able to express that, though. (laughs) I tried not to put out too many cutesy bears, so if I put out a ‘fancy goods’ type of bear, I’d also put out one that looked a bit more expensive. That sort of thing.

I: It was a display of bears that didn’t feel irksome to the people watching.

Chiba: We didn’t want a room that seemed like it would collapse under its own weight (laughs), but a room that would make one want to comment, “Aah, that’s nice.”, “Amazing.” The room’s structure was something the director ordered, though.

Takahashi: That’s my taste as well. (laughs) It’s a little bit of a luxurious room. But to an extent that’s acceptable for the heroine. In a way, it was necessary to show her living an above-average lifestyle in order to express her character. She’s by no means a rich girl, but if she seems to reek of poverty, that becomes a problem.

I: Sort of letting the audience feel the quality of her upbringing…

Takahashi: Also, making sure the room was laid out so that we got a good view of it while she was shown sitting on her bed.The inspiration for that was Ishida Hikari’s room in director Obayashi Nobuhiko’s Futari. It’s a place that shows up several times, and they let me do what I want with it. In contrast, Hiroyuki’s room, which people are used to seeing in the game, doesn’t show up in the anime. By doing that, we were able to achieve some differentiation between the two.

The direction frequently made use of not dialogue, but rather facial expressions

I: Chiba-san, was there any character you found difficult to draw?

Chiba: Not especially, but… Serika, I suppose? For me, I had to give her an expression that implied no expression, and I was wondering how people would take that. Even if *I* thought of her as smiling, would everyone else think the same way? Of course, in that sense they were all difficult. Having people understand that the character is currently feeling is quite a task… It wasn’t an anime where we could have them reacting to everything in a flashy way, so I had no choice but to establish a delicate hierarchy while drawing them.

Takahashi: It really was a delicate balance. Say you gave just Serika a repressed expression, and made the rest of the character’s expressions flashy, people wouldn’t be able to get that subtle sense that Serika carries. That’s why, in a way, when depicting Serika, you have to have the other characters meet her in the middle. In that respect, this is something Chiba has done throughout the whole series. I think it must have been exceptionally difficult, but it was an effort incredibly valuable to this work. Thanks to that effort, we were able to show significantly more through the art.

I: Akari’s face of pleasure in episode one when she draws the lot is something I can’t forget. It was a very rich expression, depicted beautifully.

Chiba: When I’m drawing art like that, I put up a barrier to ensure absolutely nobody talks to me. (laughs) I hole up and hole up and hole up, psyche myself up with a “yeah!”, and draw. Takahashi: That’s where the climax of episode 1 is, after all. (laughs) I figured Chiba-san would draw it, which is why I directed the way I did. There were a large number of other scenes aside from that where I deliberately had the facial expressions do the showing.

I: Kawasumi-san’s exclaimation of “Yeah-” was also very cute.

Takahashi: We laughed at that at the recording session, in a good way. (laughs)

I: Lastly, I’d like to ask you if there are any general points about To Heart you’d like to make.

Takahashi: I’m exceptionally pleased that what resulted from all this was my kind of series. The fact that a work with this sort of style was accepted, became popular, and helped sell the software has me half happy, but also half surprised. I’m glad that, making something like this in this sort of genre, I was able to confirm that I wasn’t mistaken in aiming to make it the way I did. For this sort of thing, I think it’s something that has to be actualized, not in the world of the story, but while living your own life, going about your daily routine. That’s why, to the people who love To Heart, I’d like to tell them to approach their own life – not like I’m saying they should live a life like that (laughs) – but to affirm their happiness in things as they are, the possibilities they hold, and take the opportunity to look back on themselves. Not to get stuck down in that world. Of course, I’m a grandfather now (bitter laugh), so I’ve started to fell that way lately.

Chiba: If you immersed yourself in this world, it’d be tough to come back. (laughs) Because there were expressions that could only happen because of this world. I feel less like wanting viewers to *think* something after the ending, and more like wanting them to feel like they’ve just finished a short trip to one particular world. I wasn’t particularly thinking, “Let’s draw this so they think like that.”, or anything of the sort. You could say I wasn’t really calculating things. When I drew characters, I assumed the character and drew them, so there were plenty of things I was nervous about how people would take. (laughs) That’s why I’m really happy that there were a lot of people there to cheer me on.

I: Your previous work was Berserk, so that’s a pretty different world, right?

Chiba: I really got stuck down in the world of the series at that time too. (laughs) Even when I rode the train, I was always thinking of characters’ backstories, thinking things like, “Which means, if something like this were to happen, they’d think this way. I see, that’s why the dialogue is that way,” but when it came to To Heart, I often dreamed dreams of high school while I slept. When we were working on it, it was right around springtime. Right around the interval where the seasons start to change over. But, in the world of To Heart it was Fall, you see? Even though Summer was coming in the real world, I thought, “Huh? Wasn’t winter coming?” (laughs) I really immersed myself in things while drawing. I myself didn’t really calculate things out while drawing, so if people are happy with it, I’ll wrap things up with a “Thank you very much.”


Translator’s Notes:

From Hiroyuki went from an audience stand-in to a character who was neither too close nor too distant

TL Note #1: The To Heart game was famous at the time for being created via detailed character settings vs. a plotted story. Takahashi contrasts Hiroyuki’s faint presence as the flexible player character with those of the heroines with highly detailed character settings and points out that the anime’s Hiroyuki is more like the rest of the cast.

From Images unapologetically from a woman’s viewpoint

TL Note #2: The animators Chiba is referring to here are Makoshi Yoshiko and Masunaga Keisuke. Links to their respective sakuga @wiki pages are below:

Makoshi Yoshiko

Masunaga Keisuke

From The anime is the world of To Heart as seen by Akari

TL Note #3: Takahashi references a conversation by Hiroyuki and Shiho about some band tickets they’ve acquired but are unsure about how to split. They’re nervous about the process of splitting up the tickets, so their various attempts to broach the subject end in a stalled-out conversation.

From We wanted to depict a forward-facing nostalgia

TL Note #4: Obayashi Nobuhiko was film director well-known in Japan who directed a combination of arthouse and mainsteam films. His 1991 film, Futari, is also known as Chizuko’s Younger Sister. Ishida Hikari was the main actress in the film, playing a character who struggled with the legacy of her deceased elder sister.

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