Anime: Pandora Hearts
Original Run: Apr 3, 2009 to Sep 25, 2009
Genres: Action, Fantasy, Mystery
Oz Vessalius, heir to one of the four Duke houses, is attacked and sent to the Abyss during his coming-of-age ceremony. Home to monsters known as Chains that are all too happy to feast on humans, the Abyss functions as a prison and Oz is its newest prisoner with his very existence being his crime. An exceptionally powerful Chain by the name of Alice, a.k.a The Bloodstained Black Rabbit, forges a contract with Oz so that they can both escape from the Abyss.
But freedom is not the end of Oz’s troubles and he finds himself embroiled in a messy conflict that may force him to reevaluate all that he has ever known.
I’ll admit that it was the name ‘Pandora Hearts’ that initially drew me to this anime. They say don’t judge a look by its cover but I am weak to temptation. Plus the summary on MAL seemed pretty good. I was hoping for a fun fantasy adventure and I got exactly that, but at the same it was better than I expected. For the most part anyway.
First let’s take a look at the positives. The characters. Pandora Hearts’ main strength is definitely its characters; individual members including protagonists, antagonists and the ones in between, their interactions with each other, and the various relationships portrayed are all endlessly interesting and entertaining. The main trio of Oz, Alice and Gilbert never fail to deliver. All three are complex individuals with a plethora of personal issues but they balance out quite nicely not only on the personal front but also in the large-scale problems they get involved in. It’s genuinely heartwarming to see them support and motivate each other – though most of the focus is on Alice and Oz and Gilbert and Oz. And for once, the vague love triangle aspect does not make me want to tear out my hair or brutally dismember the characters.
Other factors that won me over were the setting and plot. This show is set in an alternate world that seems to have old English customs with added fantastic elements and its own history. As for the story, it’s undeniably a good one with just the right amount of mystery to make it compelling. References to Alice in Wonderland are all over the place, though the anime’s versions are usually darker than their original counterparts. Secrets and mysteries keep on piling up as the story goes on, building up towards a great reveal or ten… that never happen. And that leads us to one of the main problems with this anime. There’s no conclusive ending – hardly a new problem with anime adaptations. There are a million questions that pop up as the plot progresses and nearly none of them are answered by the end.
As painful as it is to watch a bad anime with a bad ending, it’s doubly so to love a show and then be let down by the climax, or lack thereof. Another season would have been nice but as it stands, Pandora Hearts is excellent for the most part but concludes on a disappointing note.
As I said, what I liked best about this anime was its characters. Oz Vessalius is the main protagonist, a fifteen year old boy who is attacked and sent into a preternatural prison during his coming-of-age ceremony. He has a perpetually cheerful exterior that becomes rather unsettling when even the worst of circumstances fails to affect it. Soon enough, it becomes clear that his bright smiles hide a lack of self-worth that has conditioned Oz to calmly accept everything bad in life as his lot. His character development, spaced throughout all 25 episodes, explores the way he processes the faults of his mindset and comes to accept himself.
Then we have Alice, a.k.a, Bloodstained Black Rabbit, a Chain that can alternate between two forms: human and huge humanoid black rabbit. She’s a mix of personalities, cycling between cute, calm and psychotic, often within the blink of an eye. It can be jarring at times but she’s charming nonetheless. Alice is amnesiac and the search for her memories is at the forefront of the plot but each recovered memory fragment only brings even more confusion and frustration. The third of the main trio is Gilbert Nightray, Oz’s ex-manservant who is still extremely devoted to him. Gil is interesting in that he’s a subversion of the cool, dark and aloof character archetype. He certainly looks the part, but underneath the façade, he’s just a really nice guy who really loves his master. The three of them are best served together so that they can bring out the strengths and cover for the weaknesses of each other.
While these three are the main attraction, the secondary characters are nothing to scoff at. Xerxes Break in particular steals the show whenever he’s on screen by managing to be sinister and goofy at the same time, though with varying proportions depending on the situation. The antagonists, on the other hand, are not all that threatening except for their first appearance at Oz’s ceremony but they’re not completely useless either.
Art and Music:
Pandora Hearts has a rather unique art style. It uses muted color palettes in backgrounds combined with elaborate character designs, often with color coordinated hair as a bonus. The animation is certainly watchable but rather subpar at times.
The songs for the ED and OP are very good, especially the first ED ‘Maze’ by savage genius feat. Tomoe Ohmi. The original soundtrack has pieces that suit the varying moods of the story perfectly. Basically, the music is pretty great.
A good show but only if you’re fine with inconclusive endings. Otherwise, it’s still an okay anime if you consider just the characters and individual episodes but taken as a whole, it’s lacking.