What They Say:
Over the years, many strange things have washed up on the shores of Windaria, a mysterious island where humans, elves and other beings all live in harmony. Rick, a former swordsman who runs the Le Coeur Bakery with his three beautiful coworkers Neris, Amil, and Airy, knows this all too well, having been found on the beach with a profound case of amnesia himself. Perhaps that’s why Rick takes a quick interest in Kaguya, a girl who arrives in Windaria in a similar fashion.
Whatever the reason, it soon becomes apparent that his skills with a sword may be required to protect the lovely castaway. Dark forces are on the move, the red moon is on the rise, and a deathly wind is blowing into Windaria in the form of pirates, brigands and other strangers, all of whom seem to be seeking Kaguya! Or is it the mysterious pendant that she wears that they’re after? The one thing that’s sure is that there will be no time for loafing around the bakery now, because everything’s about to come out of the oven and go into the fire!
The release of this television series contains two language options for the presentation of the material – English and Japanese- though both tracks are present in only a 2.0 stereo mix which includes the series and Travelouge extra but the Picture Drama extra is only available in Japanese regardless of language track selected. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and it is presented on the disc with no dropouts or distortions noted while the dialogue comes through clearly. There isn’t a ton of directionality used here and as such much of the material tends to come off most balanced between the speakers though on the occasions where directionality is required it is provided to an extent which leaves the impression of being a solid audio track if not exactly one that will be held up as a spectacular example.
There is one moment of a pause in the last episode that given its placement seems like it would have been where a commercial was inserted during broadcast but I can’t be completely sure of that, however since I can’t say otherwise I am grading based on it being reflecting of the needs of TV presentation from how that moment seems like a commercial cut in the animation as well.
Originally airing in the spring/early summer of Japan’s 2012 television season, Shining Hearts is presented here in its original 16:9 aspect ratio complete with an anamorphic encode. The series is largely one that uses an animation style that goes for a solid feel with little absurdity present in the TV series portion as the characters generally stay on model throughout. For this release Sentai Filmworks places 12 episodes and extras across three discs which probably help the visuals, but it is difficult to say this was a move that paid off as there are a number of issues that show up in the presentation and sometimes rise to the point of being more than just a minor distraction.
Present on the disc is a level of fine noise, some ghosting, blocking in certain colors, some minor aliasing, dot crawl and softness to the overall presentation which may be an intentional choice to help sell the tone of the series as a whole. The biggest issue though is found in the banding that seems almost omnipresent as there are few scenes that don’t have at least a small amount present and it is a fairly annoying weakness that just seems to become more annoying as the series goes on even though it isn’t actually noticeably any different, it is just the presence adding up throughout the series that makes for the increase in feelings about it.
The packaging for the release houses three discs in a regular DVD sized case that includes a hinge that has space for a disc on either side with the final disc being stored in the back of the inside of the case. The cover features the three young women that run the bakery Le Coeur- Neris, Amil and Airy- as they are posed in a semi circle so that the two on the sides can face out toward the viewer with minimal turning they have a basket of bread held between their arms while the character in the back has her arms under the basket as the trio stands in front of the door to their shop.
The back cover has a pink and white pattern that looks like it comes from a table cloth with three stills from the series at the top and three at the bottom with the series copy being present inside a white circle in the center as the right side has a large image of Rick carrying a sword while the bottom cover space is reserved for technical and copyright information. Each of the DVDs label uses an image of one of the young woman as they hold a pastry that rather fits with the personalities they display in the series.
The menus are fairly basic in their mechanics in that they use static images of characters with the main menus featuring artwork that shows off each of the young women on the main menu which correlates with the disc label they are on the front of with artwork for other characters appearing in other sub menus though disc one and two also show off their main young woman in swimsuits as well.
The Main Menu also lists the options selectable vertically on the left side with episodes being listed on top while the disc’s Language Option and Special Features (where applicable) are listed underneath as a portion of the series’ themes play for background music on all the menu screens. The menus themselves are on the simplistic yet effective side and they are quick to respond to changes in selection while they also respond promptly to whatever option was chosen and they have large indicators to signify which option is highlighted which uses either a piece of bread or a stylized star/compass image to indicate what option is currently selected.
Not terribly surprisingly the release here features the almost standard clean open and closings that have become almost givens with anime releases these days but the release also goes farther in that it includes a pair of other extras as well- the Le Coeur Travelogue and Expressing My Heart~Shining Hearts Picture Drama.
The first extra contains six couple-of-minutes-long shorts that mostly use a SD type of animation to allow the cast to just be a bit silly with the characters as the have a couple of different adventures from a trip to the beach, Airy gaining weight, Melty making ice cream for the main girls, confession day at the local church, Xiao-Mei’s clearance sale and finally a send off piece for these mini tales.
The Picture Drama on the other hand uses a lot of recycled animation from the series along with a voice over by one of the female voice actors that recaps two episodes (probably because of the Japanese disc release format) and adds a small amount of new narration that gives a little insight into character thoughts, though not much. This lack of any really new material may explain why this extra was not given an English dub perhaps as it is only available in Japanese regardless of which language track the user has selected for the rest of the disc and it is this single language option that keeps the Extra grade from being higher than it is.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Adapted from the Playstation Portable RPG game of the same name, Shining Hearts takes viewers to Windaria Island, a fairly large piece of land that looks to be a bit isolated and self sufficient as there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of trade with other lands going on. In also comes across as quite insular as there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of variation among the population as a whole in terms of cultures shown but appearances may be deceiving.
While it doesn’t appear on the surface to be a land that has a lot of tourism it does in fact have a rather unique role when it comes to visitors as periodically the moon over the world turns red signaling that a storm will appear the next day and in its wake is often found individuals washed up on shore, usually wearing odd clothes but all of whom share the common trait of not having any memory of who they are other than their names. Rather than being treated coldly however many of these individuals- known collectively as Drifters- find that they are welcomed into the society as they typically encounter someone who will help them learn a skill in order to gain an ability to find their niche in the land.
For the island’s latest addition Rick that niche comes from his learning the craft of baking and coming to work at the bakery Le Coeur run by three young woman- Neris, Amil and Airy- who live above the shop and who take turns traveling out to the beached ship where Rick lives in order to wake him up in time for him to start the kiln and get preparations to open the store going in the morning. On this island it seems that bread can often communicate its maker’s feelings and Le Coeur’s has become even more popular since Rick arrived as he continues to hone the skills that the village’s baker/respected elder Madera has helped him develop and he seems to be quite happy in his role, though he does seem to be plagued by a particularly ominous dream at times of near drowning that won’t quite leave him.
As Rick works with the girls various aspects of the island are shown off as he meets with different inhabitants- from the standoffish elves who live deep in the nearby forest, the resident antique dealer who seems to have a goal in mind, the island’s ruling prince who seems to want something from Rick as well as his sister and their very talented- though clumsy- maid, a fellow drifter who operates a bar, an older and somewhat irascible dwarf and even a pirate that all somehow have blended into the fabric of this society.
Some of these encounters come in the simple course of doing business as the elves are encountered while gathering supplies for baking or the bar owner that Rick meets while helping deliver bread with one of the girls but some of the other ones are encountered as a result of the island experiencing yet another storm- perhaps even stronger than the one that brought Rick- and the events that spring in the wakes of the newest person to wash ashore. After the storm Rick and the Le Coeur’s young owners try to fix the damage done to the bakery as well as take a fancy to the newest castaway on the island as a raven haired girl named Kaguya had been found on the shore afterward and she seems to be in quite rough shape, though Rick’s bread aroma seems to have the power to wake her from her healing sleep long enough for her to eat.
While people washing up on the beach is not an uncommon occurrence it appears that this time things will be different as Kaguya’s arrival sparks a chain of events that start to bring some of the cast who otherwise might not talk much into the same circles together as there are a fair number of mysteries in place and Kaguya’s appearance seems to have been the lynchpin to start the gears of fate in motion. Now Rick may find that his feelings of uncertainty are growing as he discovers new elements about himself which also create concern in the women of Le Coeur who have come to care deeply for him that he might be drifting away from them in a different way as he tries to come to terms with his shifting emotions and awakening knowledge about himself.
It isn’t just Rick either as others on the island will have to decide if they want to maintain the status quo or if they now need to challenge some of the island’s tenets as they become fixated on some of the puzzles that lie before them. And in the background it looks like the mystery of the connection between the red moon and the visitors may come to light as lately there have been reports of a fleet which includes a giant black iron ship and support vessels searching the sea looking for something around these periods- and that something just might be on Windaria. With danger approaching and uncertainty within for much of the cast is the dark ship going to accomplish its goal or will some of the island residents find a way to quell their inner turmoil and questioning and be able to fight for this new life that they have been granted through help and their efforts?
While the words “videogame adaptation” don’t exactly strike fear into my heart they do tend to strike apprehension and there was a certain amount of that present as I entered into this series. While both animation and videogames can tell stories- and tell them very well in the right hands- there is something about the two formats that often produces lesser results when mixed together to take one formats story and put it into the other for whatever reason. Perhaps it is because videogames have the luxury of having the player spend time with the characters as battle members of the party that can help produce a sense of familiarity and help the player bond to them but it is not infrequently the case that the characters and events just don’t come across the same when animated despite the animation adding (at least until recent game system generations anyway) far more fluid and detailed images than the games are capable of including as well as the ability to cover important points as well do it in far less time than typically happens when dealing with random encounter monsters.
After doing a little reading up on the original Shining Hearts PSP game (since it was not released outside of Japan from what I can find), perhaps the reason that this adaptation does work so well is that it doesn’t try to follow the games mechanics precisely and instead it chooses to follow more of the characters themselves- particularly Rick and focus on how those around him interact with him- that helps this adaptation to stand where others fall. It isn’t hard to see where some of the videogame mechanics were removed or lightened either as the village the group lives in has a wall and there is a mention of beasts living on the island but in a rare display of restraint none of them are ever seen as opposed to popping up from time to time like other adaptations would do to remind the audience the story comes from a game.
This allows for the series to surprise Rick with the skill of one of his companions as well as his own with weapons in a way that feels natural but which couldn’t work in an adaptation where the characters had fought- probably a couple hundred times in the case of most RPGs- already. This helps grow the inner conflict Rick has in regards to what clearly was his practiced ability before waking up on Windaria Island and the life he lives as a baker now and how he will balance his old life with his new one. The theme of how people live with a past they can’t remember while trying to start a new life is an interesting one that gets a bit of exploration but it can be interpreted as someone trying to start a new life away from what they previously knew without too much effort which allows for a greater connection with more people (not too many have had amnesia after all) while also exploring the ideas of just what is it that makes up the core of a person and what growth they are capable of.
Where I found myself struggling with the series is in its length as twelve episodes just isn’t enough to explore all the characters and a few scenes feel like they probably connect better with people who played the games as there just isn’t enough time to build everyone to a deep level. In fact even some of the main characters seem to be lacking some emotional depth in areas as many of the events feel like they barely scratch the surface of the characters and don’t provide the time needed to explore what the emotional or intellectual consequences of what each development should bring as the story needs to move on to the next point in order to finish.
This particularly shows in the case of the character “Melty” who gets an entire episode built around her and her search for the perfect ice cream but her non appearance in all but one other episode (and then just a brief visit anyway) leads to the conclusion that the anime adaptation felt it had to sacrifice certain characters and storylines for time but Melty’s popularity meant they couldn’t excise her completely (Which is a guess, but given I have seen a couple character items for Melty even a couple years after the game and show came out I feel pretty safe in doing so). This quandary also seems to be reflected in the elves and royalty’s appearance as the series clearly feels they need inclusion rather than being excised for time and so it attempts to pack as many character items into the short appearance as it can in order to please the targeted fanbase even if it is to the detriment of the overall animation’s story.
I also discovered that, for me at least, how one approaches Shining Hearts is greatly going to affect what they get out of it as the series is a bit of a chimera in that it tries to be both one that pays respect to its source material but which also wants to create an overall pleasant atmosphere that will leave one feeling better after watching (for most of the episodes anyway). Given the series subtitle in Japan is Shiawase no Pan- or Bread of Happiness as it is translated in the series when used- this shouldn’t be a surprise but seeing a show based off an RPG try to go the ‘healing anime’ route is definitely one that leaves the chance of creating conflict with its themes rather than harmony as a distinct possibility.
On my first watch I was in a fairly lousy mood and so the uplifting type of themes and emotional overtones that the series floats didn’t connect with me which left the series to stand on just its story and characters and I found that without taking the overtones into account the series’ lack of exploring most of its characters made it feel shallow at best. Upon rewatch I found that when I connected with the theme and tone the series was going for better and I had a much more enjoyable time to the point that I am seriously considering acquiring the Blu Ray so that I can have the series in the best presentation format possible right now in the US as the series and I found much more common ground and I enjoyed the series for what it is more than what I think I wanted it to be the first go round.
That said it still isn’t a perfect series- or even in the running for the title of best example of a ‘healing anime’ available in the US market- but it is a fun series that can create a joyful feeling and a sense of caring for the characters despite the obvious flaws of being shoehorned into a time constraint that isn’t overly conducive to the story and which cramps a bit the ability for the characters to truly feel fleshed out. While it isn’t a series that is likely to lift the mood of someone already down I do believe it can help support and even elevate a mood that is neutral to happy to begin with and as such it serves as a nice complementary series overall though not necessarily one skilled at creating the mood it wants to create on its own from whole cloth.
Adapted from the PSP game of the same name, Shining Hearts takes viewers onto a trip to the island of Windaria where amnesiac travelers often show up from some unknown place and find what they need to discover how to live in this new world. The series raises some interesting questions about what it means to live and the importance-or not- of memories in a world where one can find others who care for them and have experienced the same thing and who are willing to help those without memories to grow. Due to both the short length of the series at only 12 episodes and the need to get in all the popular characters from the game it feels like the situation conspires to force this question and pursuit to the side as the characters- particularly Rick- are forced into being more reactive than introspective in the later part of the series.
When added with a pace that seems to be intended to be more soothing to the viewer than adrenaline producing, especially in the early portions, the series often feels like it is composed of two different concepts pressed into service together and forced to operate closer together than what is ideal to maximize either one. Shining Hearts rises to be an enjoyable journey but probably one that likely isn’t going to be one of the most memorable voyages for all viewers, which is a shame as there is a lot of entertainment and great moments with fun characters to be found within and which more time could have allowed for.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Le Coeur Travelogue omake, Expressing My Heart – Shining Hearts Picture Dramas, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 13th, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.