By Judy DeFrieze, Assistant Producer, 2006.
Here at Right Stuf, we pride ourselves on being a fan-oriented company – when we release a show, we want to present it as well as we possibly can. But in the summer of 2004, we were given our greatest challenge yet: To Heart.
For those new to the show, To Heart is a romance series that aired in Japan back in early 1999. It's based on one of the most popular Japanese dating sims of all time: Aqua Plus' To Heart. So as you can imagine, the series is filled with numerous pretty girls – but it doesn't get up caught in the stereotypical traps of modern-day harem anime. There is no "spineless male lead" or "abusive female love interest" here. The characters in To Heart have realistic emotions, and as they live, love and grow, we get to take every step with them.
Unfortunately, while those in Japan already knew To Heart from the video game, our US audience was unlikely to have ever heard of the series. In order to build an audience, we decided to release To Heart's sister series first: Comic Party. Absolutely filled with references and cameos to To Heart, Comic Party was a comedy series that mainstream fans could easily identify with, and it became very successful in the States. Finally, we knew the time was right to bring To Heart to English-speaking anime fans everywhere! There was just one little problem… the video quality of the masters we received was so poor that we simply couldn't release it.
LESSONS ON FILM
Although most anime today is sketched and then scanned into computers and stored digitally, To Heart was created before the big digital revolution – it was sketched and then traced onto hand-painted cels and captured completely on film. After all the capture was done, the editor stepped in and spliced, or glued, all of the various pieces of film together to create the final version of the show. It was a pretty regular process in the animation industry back then.
Unfortunately for To Heart, two things happened during this process. First, sometimes the cels weren't aligned properly when they were being captured to film… which means that the image seems to move or jitter slightly on-screen. Second, the adhesive used during the splicing process seems to have been rather inexpertly applied, and thus every time a scene changes, there are giant blobs of white along the top or bottom of the frame. This looks like damaged film, but it's actually the glue they used to patch the film back together!
Of course, then there are also all the typical problems associated with shows produced on film: over time, the film itself begins to degrade, forming visible spots, along with a build up of dust and dirt.
One of the best ways to repair all of these issues is to do a complete film restoration. However, we quickly learned that that would be impossible – the original To Heart film masters were destroyed years ago, so the materials we had now were all we were going to get. Unwilling to settle, our search for a way to restore the video began.
THE GREAT RESTORATION SEARCH
One of the most time-consuming parts of the To Heart restoration project wasn't the actual restoration at all – it was finding a good way to restore the video in the first place! Without the original film source, all the corrections were going to have to be done digitally. There's a lot of great video restoration software out there used by big Hollywood studios – but unfortunately they have price tags that only a big Hollywood studio could pay. Cheaper programs could fix some of the issues, but would also cause washed out color or video distortion. We didn't want to trade one set of problems for another.
But after a long search, the solution was found! We came across a great software suite that would require us to do a bit more by hand, but the output was clean, which was just what we were looking for.
THE HARD WORK
And so in 2006 work finally began! This is the stage we're in now – carefully going through each episode, frame by frame, and repairing a lot of the problems in the original print. Paying close attention to every scene change, we inspect each frame for spots, dirt, grit, glue, or any other large debris, and through the magic of the digital world, we're able to restore the video to a virtually spotless condition.
We're also working hard to reduce the aforementioned frame jitter seen in the show. This has proven to be one of the more difficult aspects of restoration, because many of the cels were not only off-center vertically or horizontally, but they were also distorted when they were captured to film. To fix this, we need to find a group of clean, centered frames that look identical to the damaged frames, and use those to replace the damaged set. It's not an easy task!
On these pages, you'll see a few examples of glue and dirt that have been removed. The frame jitter fixes are a bit harder to show in print form, but if you watch the old version and the new side-by-side, the improvement is startling.THE RESULTS
Well, that's up to you – the fans – to judge! This past August, we debuted the first fully-restored episode of To Heart at Otakon to much success; and we hope that when you pick up a copy next spring, you'll be just as pleased.
We'll be glued to our computers until this release is ready to go, so see you next spring, anime fans!