Imagine your reality falling into pieces on your fifteenth birthday, pushed into a broken toy box and relentlessly pursued by people you barely know.
Pushed aside and left broken, do you accept death in the name of saving another's life, desperately looking for pieces of yourself to confirm your existence? Knowing nothing about yourself, wanting to find out, yet scared of finding out, how do you move on? How do you protect something you once lost, in fear of losing it again, suffocating it with your loyalty and inability to let it leave your sight?
Pandora Hearts explores the story of Oz Vessalius ( or Bezarius, as I'm used to ), a boy whose life is thrown into chaos on his fifteenth birthday, at his coming-of-ceremony. The anime, I'd say, has an overarching theme of loss and self-discovery.
The Abyss is a deep, dark place where sinners are dragged into-a place that Oz stopped believing in until he was thrown in. With the discovery of a pocket watch that sings a haunting tune, strange things begin happening and Oz meets a young girl called Alice, a Chain from the Abyss with the form of a black rabbit once her suppressed power is unleashed, who is searching for her lost memories.
I won't reveal anymore. The whole charm of the anime is found in the characters and the past shrouded in mystery. Oz, Alice, and his faithful servant, Gilbert, begin their quest to search for pieces of memory that Alice is searching for.
On the surface, it looks like a normal anime. Questing for memories while defeating enemies but that's exactly where we're misled. The pieces of Alice's memory are intertwined with others', and for the most part, the plot involves flashbacks of the characters' pasts. One fragment only leads to more questions. Pandora Hearts' strongest point is its characters. The characters are never one-sided and they are so skilfully woven that we see begin to slowly see the flaws in them. Why does Oz accept everything so light-heartedly? Nothing seems to bother him at all but as we move on, we see a darkness emerge, once layered and locked away.
Despite all that, the anime retains its timely comedy, providing a light-hearted adventure for the person watching. Alice and Gilbert are constantly fighting for Oz's attention, coming up with nicknames like "Seaweed Head" and "Stupid rabbit". Oz leaves them to their own antics, only to be unwillingly dragged in and pulled from both sides. Oz, disturbingly calm about everything, with a policy to accept everything as it is because anything can happen. He has also been shown with a tendency to flirt, much like his uncle.
Alice, while meat-loving, sarcastic, tsundere-like and shows some signs of sadism, has a sweet and vulnerable side. Gilbert, while short-tempered and sensitive, is gentle and hold a fierce loyalty to Oz. The only time Alice and Gilbert cooperate with each other is when yet another interesting character, Xerxes Break slips in ( quite literally ). Break is one of those manipulative characters who believes in using others and being used. He also likes to pop out of the strangest places, but he, too, has a larger part than simply being a "minor" character. His mistress, Sharon, is a deceptively sweet-looking character who, in punishing Break, shows no hesitance.
Vincent Nightray, a man who, at times is, sweet while other times, scarily crazed and shows an alarming obsession for his older brother. Then, although he didn't have much screen time, Eliot Nightray and his attendant, Leo. Eliot was truly a crucial character who played a large part in Oz's development. There also some undertones of hinted romance but that doesn't play a large part.
The episodes passed by too fast for me to realise that I was almost at the end. Oz, as a character, peels away the protective layers he had unconsciously wrapped around himself and slowly starts to face himself. He, Alice and Gilbert have grown undeniably closer and it's time to face past demons. The mystery behind what truly happened in the past is left as a question mark and in that aspect, I believe the anime could have ended off better.
Even then, the plot did a great job. I'd say, honestly, it didn't feel like there was "evil" like in some anime, there's pointedly evil people who do the most horrible things. But in this, you slowly start to realise that things are not as they seem and that's exactly what makes this a classic watch. The plot wasn't perfect, I admit, there were certain clichés but the idea of building something with pieces of memories and at the same time, building the characters' pasts solidly, they did a wonderful job. I did cry once, at that important part of Eliot and Oz's meeting.
Moving on to the OSTs, they were perfect. I love Kajiura Yuki's music and using the English piece "Everytime You Kissed Me" by Emily Bindiger really raised the quality of the anime. The OST is one of the things that gave me goosebumps. One thing I had a problem with, though, is that it tended to become repetitive. At some point, I realised that the same OSTs were repeating and it didn't have as much impact as it should have. Even so, the OST really did help to make this a top-notch and haunting anime. The voice acting was great. There were times when it kind of slipped and you start to wonder if Oz's voice actor is a female but I think she did a really great job of voicing Oz. It was deceiving because I always thought it was a male ( except for those few times she had to scream ). The voice actors manage to bring out the feelings and the characters they are.
The animation appealed to me, but in today's standards, it hardly stands out. The animation, however, holds this certain fluidity and childishness in young characters, showing that, perhaps, the story isn't as deep as it seems and we shouldn't look too much into it. The animation remained smooth throughout so I don't think it was much of a problem.
Pandora Hearts is worth your time and effort. But I wouldn't say that it would appeal to all fans who might be more inclined to other genres. I really enjoyed it, hence the full score. It's still a great watch so give it a try!