Pandora Hearts Plot:
Oz Vessalius, heir to one of the duke houses, has just turned fifteen. His life is rich and carefree, darkened only by the constant absence of his father. At his coming-of-age ceremony, however, everything changes. For no reason that he can discern, he's cast into the prison known as the "Abyss", only to be saved by a "chain" known as Alice, the bloodstained black rabbit. Why was he cast into Abyss, how does Alice factor into it all, and what does the organization known as "Pandora" want with him...
Pandora Hearts review:
What gives people the strength to go on after they have fallen? What makes them strive for the perspective of a bright future? Seeking to answer those questions, “Pandora Hearts” gives the impression of a charming, unique series that differs from its counterparts through adapting a popular scheme, but not entirely living off it. Why, then, is it nothing amazing in particular?
Good beginning. This series starts with really nicely developed foundations. It seems very promising; we get to know Oz Vessalius, your typical young hero-wannabe, but as soon as Alice shows up, things start getting interesting. Oz ends up in the twisted realm of “Abyss”, only to be saved by the mad rabbit, however nothing comes free of charge. And nothing is the same when he goes back to his world.
And here I ask: when and why did it go downhill? What happened to the fascinating, dark mood this show kept in the beginning? When did it become a cliché-filled shônen adventure with hardly any development overall? I had high hopes for the series and kept watching, expecting it to, I don’t know, improve? It does, actually, get better right in the middle, where we finally receive some character development, the story progresses and most importantly – some of the most important questions are answered. But then it worsens yet again. The rest feels forced and the series stops at such a moment that it leaves you with huge disappointment. Why is it over so suddenly? It desperately calls for a continuation, it does.
Setting, though, is where the series excels. True, this whole “Alice in Wonderland”-hype might be getting a tad annoying, however “Pandora Hearts” adapts the theme perfectly. It is a warped world, nevertheless it doesn’t feel that sickly abstract. The “Chains” are yet another embodiment of human fears – and so is the “Abyss” itself. It doesn’t feel like the kind of place you would want to end up in, precisely. Watching a fantasy series set in such scenery feels just refreshing. The references to the original “Alice” are subtle and often misleading, which is also accomplished very well.
Something is missing. The characters look wonderfully colourful and detailed at first, the surroundings are promising, but then the quality becomes an issue. With each episode, more and more flaws can be noticed. Even fight scenes tend to become dull, since those often follow the pattern of slashing, cutting, slashing and a little bit more of slashing. The worst thing is, though, how the vividness and energy of characters is lost through a dull palette. Who, in the world, robbed those poor guys of their colours, making them look just boring? What appears pretty – the hair does, oh, and Sharon’s dresses. Good job, but that’s it. Why does Oz look even more boring than he actually is, I ask? The series has a completely washed-out look which pains me a lot, since I was really looking forward to enjoying the graphics. (Apparently, the quality in the few special episodes outruns the TV animation a lot. Too bad it was rushed, too bad.)
Yuki Kajiura does an outstanding job capturing the magic of the setting in “Pandora Hearts”. The music itself is simply excellent and stands out in the series’ overall look. It is charming, at other times has a mysterious tone to it, or dramatic, fitting well with what is going on the screen. Never exaggerated. Although the score might not appear anything exceptional in the beginning, the viewer soon begins to realise that it without it, the Victorian atmosphere couldn’t be captured as good. The soundtrack is equally pleasant to the ear while not watching the show, too.
Voice-acting is quite well-done. Junko Minagawa does a good job playing the part of Oz, Ayako Kawasumi is a fine Alice, and Ishida Akira excels as always in his role (even though the character himself is not very likable). The seiyû operate their voices perfectly, creating very emotionally-convincing cast and pretty much making up for the flaws of the characters themselves. Here, I can’t complain.
The opening and ending sequences are nothing special in this case. Cute songs go along with the animation (the first ending, in particular, is full of annoying spoilers, so watch out), however they are not notable enough to make one feel like spending that additional time watching both OP and ED. They simply don’t get in the way.
This is exactly where the series’ biggest weakness lies – its character cast which is particularly weak, boring and cliché. Starting from the main character, aforementioned Oz, it becomes extremely tiresome and the characters don’t develop much. Oz is a good definition of a typical shônen main lead. He is brave, adventurous, protective of his friends and clumsy when it comes to love. He also has family issues to make him more of a dramatic rebel, and a whiner for a side-kick. Oz’s actions throughout the series are easily predictable and more than often he falls into banal traumas, being the kind of person who wants to save the day, become a hero and protect his princess. Sorry, this might be going well with the story, but as a character Oz is a failure.
Gilbert is, fortunately, a different story. He changes a lot – his personality becomes completely unlike, save for a few specific features that are necessary for some progress in the story (no, his loyalty to Oz is NOT a plot device for fangirl issues). Contrary to the first male lead, he keeps calm and generally stays rather dependable, when it comes to satisfying the fans. His actions certainly aren’t very surprising, as it all revolves around Oz anyway; but at least he did not make me want to murder someone whenever he appeared on the screen. Alas, one more thing must be brought up here as well, namely – Gilbert being a magnet for fans. No-one can deny his typically attractive traits (cold and introverted chain-smoker, sorry), but hey, haven’t I already said something about stereotypes in this series?
The creation of Alice turns out to be a disappointment after a few episodes. She starts off as a madwoman, a crazy sadist who cares little about who or what she might destroy while immersing herself in bloody, vicious fights. But Alice is a tsundere character – and being a genuine tsundere in “Pandora Hearts”, she can’t possibly stay this way throughout the series. An attractive, moody glutton - which she ends as – obviously arouses the interest of others, and soon the relationship between her and Oz becomes a major problem in the story. Yes. Alice, the wild Chain who only has any regard for herself, is a crying little girl inside. I can’t deny the charm of tsundere characters, but this just doesn’t seem right.
No other character really deserves any special words of praise here, sadly. There’s the hyped “Mad Hatter” Break, a particularly annoying it’s-a-secret type of pretty boy; a cast of supposedly evil manifestations of malevolence; and others who exist merely for the purpose of creating a background for the main leads. There are also Sharon and Jack who have the potential to make great characters, but are mostly neglected or idealised; there is a representative of the rare male tsundere specimen, Elliot. And there’s Vincent who is much creepier than he would normally be supposed to. They all might seem colourful at first, however inside they are not as interesting as they appear.
To be honest, this series is quite boring. All the big talk about how different and remarkable it is, and what I see is an average fantasy adventure with mediocre art and particularly annoying character cast. But it has potential – which had been wasted, unfortunately. If only the series developed in a different manner, maybe I would have been able to enjoy it more. For now, I can’t say anything special about it. Felt as if I was rewatching something else, just another episode of already known series, and it really does not bring much into the genre. It certainly isn’t bad, not at all, yet it’s still nothing extraordinary.
Having complained a lot about the flaws in “Pandora Hearts”, I still can’t criticise the series as a whole. It has its drawbacks, just like any other show, and pluses; most notably the incredible atmosphere of a well-designed, interesting world. The one thing I simply don’t understand is how overrated it is becoming – all because of the fuss made over new adaptations of “Alice in Wonderland” which are now apparently inspiring people all over the world, while years ago it was still an eerie fairytale, more of a madman’s dream. The new versions, however, go well with the tastes of nowadays’ viewers who know what they want to see, but expect the shows to demonstrate a certain level of creativity and innovation as well. It kills those shows. “Pandora Hearts” is such a series with much power and weak realisation - a great concept trapped in a mediocre, cliché-filled box.