On the eve of nobleman Oz Bezarius's fifteenth birthday, he and his loved ones gather to celebrate in a coming-of-age ceremony. But after Oz steps under a long-stopped clock and the hands finally move once more - thus fulfilling a mysterious prophecy - he is violently thrown into the legendary prison known as the Abyss by three cloaked intruders. Existing in another dimension, the Abyss is home to lifeforms born within its walls known as Chains; these beings can only live in the real world if they make contracts with humans, binding their power to the person's body. However, there's a catch - in time, the human will be overcome by the Chain's power and then thrown into the deepest level of the Abyss. When Oz wakes up in the Abyss he is quickly attacked by hungry Chains, only to be saved by one named Alice - a Chain who appeared just before he was thrown into the prison. Together, the two make a contract and return to the real world, where they are enlisted into the Pandora organization - a group researching both the Abyss and the trio that threw Oz into it. Along with members of Pandora, the duo searches to find Alice's lost memory fragments that are scattered throughout the world, to discover the secrets of the Abyss, and to determine if there's a way their contract can be broken without killing either Oz or Alice.
StoryEvery so often, you stumble upon an anime that tries very hard to ruin itself: School Days, for example, almost runs for too many episodes; Code Geass takes a turn for the overly-complicated in the end of its first season; and Shakugan no Shana allows Kazumi to open her mouth. In all these cases, the foundations of the show prevent its failings from overwhelming the experience. 2009's Pandora Hearts falls into this category, with its setting and cast overriding its animation and plot shortcomings. This one takes about four episodes or so to sink its hooks into you, but it soon proves worth the short wait. Set in an European alternate world, Pandora Hearts weaves a tale spanning one hundred years and centered around an event called the "Tragedy of Sabrie". As the narrative unfolds both in the present and copious flashbacks, viewers follow the cast as they uncover more and more about the terrible event. This backward-looking bent strengthens the plot as continual discoveries prove more interesting than the mediocre action sprinkled through the series. In addition, the pervasive Alice in Wonderland references both provide a point a reference for English-speaking viewers and a wealth of striking imagery that the show puts good use. Significant pacing missteps almost bring the beautiful thing down around its ears, however. The series opens with an introductory arc that poses too many questions while providing neither suspense a la Higurashi no Naku Koro ni nor as much action as the opening salvo of a show like Canaan. While these initial events further the plot and establish important setting details, they also leave the viewers alone with the least interesting character for long stretches. Sadly, even after Pandora Hearts enters its main story, these silly plot hiccups continue. The show tends to bundle its major reveals and seminal events into single installments which it brackets in boring plot fluff that serves either as the build-up or denouement for each minor story. Consequently, the week-to-week experience leaves much to be desired, since throwaway episodes of lesser quality bookend each gripping offering.AnimationPandora Hearts boasts some of the most interesting character designs I've seen. The European setting brings with it sartorial bliss in the form of ruffles, long coats, ties, and dresses that resemble tea cakes. In addition, the angular faces and large eyes of the characters allow their expressions to modulate from attractive innocence or heroic resolve into creepiness or melancholy at the drop of a hat, which helps to add extra dimension to the cast. The well-suited backgrounds help maintain the continental flavor of the visuals, but their limited number sometimes creates confusion (when town #1 looks exactly like town #2, I get disoriented). Unfortunately, substandard execution ruins much of the lovely atmosphere and interesting subject matter. In an attempt to mimic the ethereal feel of the manga, the series uses a softening filter on the animation that deadens the otherwise vibrant colors and blurs the edges of the action in the foreground. Through this lens, the deep blacks of the Mad Hatter's cape and the recesses of the Abyss appear mottled, like a dusty computer monitor and the faint shading washes out so that many surfaces appear flat (especially a crime when it happens to Sharon's lovely dresses). In addition, the action sequences, though filled with interesting adversaries, are also rife with abbreviated motion and awkward angles.SoundWithin the first episode, Pandora Hearts makes the importance of music to the series plain as day. From the haunting music-box melody that comes from Oz's watch to the stellar opening theme, the soundtrack matches the epic sweep of the narrative. Leading things off, "Parallel Hearts" stands almost head-and-shoulders over many of its contemporaries' opening tracks, eclipsed in Spring 2009 by only K-On!'s "Cagayake! Girls", and the second Saki OP, "Bloooomin'". Closing out the first half of the season, Savage Genuis' "Maze" also lays strong female vocals over synth-rock, and its plaintive strains capture the series' spirit. The same artist also provides the second ending theme, and its sweeter, more relaxed tone echoes the gentle relationship between Oz and Alice which features more prominently as the show progresses. Picking up where the excellent theme songs leave off, the in-episode music features thick orchestral arrangements which help immerse the viewer in the 19th century setting; the score does contain a lone anachronistic electronic track, but it complements the high-tension action sequences it accompanies so well that the viewer can easily forgive this one transgression. Nor does the high-quality of the audio end with the music. The nuanced characters of Pandora Hearts require sensitive readings and the voice actors prove more than equal to the challenge. Whether it be Break's subtle wrongness or Oscar's over-the-top affection, each emotion comes through lound-and-clear, picking up much of the slack left by the sometimes stiff character animations. As the leading lady, Ayako Kawasumi's memorable performance in the role of Alice anchors the production. While Rie Kugimiya's loli readings of diminutive tsundere characters have begun to inspire imitations of late, Kawasumi's full-throated interpretation fits her charge's personality and history far better than a bratty reading would have.CharactersIn a season packed with tsundere leads like Senjogaraha Hitagi (Bakemonogatari) and Sazenin Nagi (Hayate no Gotoku!!), Alice stands out as one of the most interesting characters of her archetype. Instead of showing overwhelming bravado and other obnoxious tsun-tsun tendencies to overcompensate for her emotional weakness, Alice exudes strength because, as a living weapon, might is her lingua franca. Her simplistic worldview imbues her with a sense of genuine honesty because, for Alice, life IS simple. With no memories, a straightforward goal, and power to spare, her childlike outlook and forthright nature make her both likable and true to her background. Sadly, the entertaining rabbit comes part-and-parcel with a typical sidekick in Oz. For most of the series, he whines, frets, wanders into trouble, harbors suicidal thoughts, declares his intention to change, and round and round again without end. While the plot gives ample reason for his feelings of inadequacy, the litany of pathetic moaning grows stale and his real change takes too long to arrive. Oz does demonstrate some interesting traits behind his crybaby exterior, however. When he displays his considerable cunning or great sensitivity to the feelings and motivations of others, even he can play a convincing hero and charm the audience. Should Pandora Hearts get a second season, he has the potential to grow past his more irksome traits and into a compelling lead. Luckily the series also provides a rich, but under-characterized secondary cast to distract the viewer from Oz's lamentations. While some of these guys receive significant back story treatment, others--most notably the villains--behave more like walk-ons while Oz, Alice, and Gil wrestle with their personal demons. With so much narrative ground to cover, it comes as no surprise that intriguing people like Charlotte Baskerville, Eliot Nightray, and Rufus Barma spend only the slightest time in leads' orbit before the eye of the plot turns its gaze to other matters. Even so, each of these characters demonstrates depth and complex motivations in their short span on screen, making these auxiliaries one of the more memorable aspects of the show as a whole.OverallAll told, Pandora Hearts exceeds its narrative shortcomings and almost achieves greatness. Sure, it could look a lot better and the plotting is a little spotty at times, but more often than not, I reach the end of an episode satisfied and even a little excited for what comes next. With the fascinating setting and epic storyline, this anime is a must-watch for fantasy fans. Add a charismatic tsundere lead and some laugh-out-loud humor to the mix, and you have the recipe for a sleeper hit. If you thought Spring 2009 was only about K-On! and Higashi no Eden, then you you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
I adore Pandora Hearts. I love the characters, the plot, the choir music and even the sub-par art. This anime could not have been more perfect if only it had not messed up so incredibly. In Pandora Hearts Oz Searches for why he was sent into the abyss and Alice looks for her lost memories so she may discover her past and why she is a chain. In giving away new information to uncover these mysteries, Pandora Hearts was too slow and hardly revealed anything. It gave more questions than answers by trying to show the background stories of other characters. This added even more questions for the audience without answering the original ones. The ending was terrible. Pandora Hearts did not solve any mysteries except one. In the end we find out who sent Oz to the Abyss. He tries to resolve this in the most anticlimactic way. Don't get me wrong. The ending was terrible but I still thoroughly enjoyed watching Pandora Hearts. I'm hoping the will be a second season because this anime could sure use one.
Every now and then you come across an anime with all the right tools for success but ends up having to fight an uphill battle against unfortunate surrounding factors. Take a manga that's nowhere near complete, hand it off to a studio with an unimpressive track record, and what do you get? Well, honestly now that I think about it, a lot of adaptations of manga/LNs/VNs fit this criteria, but today I'll be highlighting yet another unfortunate case in Pandora Hearts. An anime with a compelling backdrop but not a clue as to how to handle it in the long run. Whilst the show may have come out half-baked, I'd be remiss to leave out mention of its solid foundation The world Pandora Hearts presents within it's 25 episode run is one that makes no qualms in making parallels with Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland primarily. It plays with various concepts and names from famous fairy tales and ghost stories as well. The story of Pandora Hearts is an interesting attempt at mixing of fantasy, action, horror, mystery, and comedy.The plot unfurls a tale spanning a century revolving around an event known as "Tragedy of Sabrie". More often then not, plot advancement comes from looking back at these events and seeing what each shocking revelation does to each character and their resolve to move forward. That said as far as titles labeled the "shounen" tag go, Pandora Hearts is rather slow and it's very obvious that providing exhilarating action is not top priority here. After a while, it becomes clear the story prefers to flesh out elements of the setting and the central mystery as opposed to providing fight scenes in each episode. The slow pace isn't something I'd wholly chalk up to the lack of immediately epic plotting however and that's where on of the major failings of the plot lies. Most of the show's major revelations are shoved into 1-2 episode events that are sandwiched between....not really all that much. There're some pretty lengthy stretches here in there that ended up being filled with very trite, very anime-typical comedy which did nothing for me. Comedic timing is also a foreign concept to Pandora Hearts for the most part as the characters often make random "funny" quips during otherwise serious dialogue exchanges. The meat can be pretty delicious here, but there's way too much fat I found unpalatable. This problem also makes it so that the plot-twists are unevenly spaced out. You get a collection of perspective-changing developments in one episode, none for a fair stretch of time, and then yet another cluster of twists. Episodes 21 and 22 in particular end up being rather dizzying as a result of this. An unfortunate side-effect of the plot developments in Pandora Hearts is that they give rise to many, many questions and character arcs that no series of just 25 episodes is capable of handling properly. Being an adaptation of an incomplete monthly series that presumably didn't sell well enough to warrant a second, this was to be expected. What can't be excused, however, is the poorly thought out final episodes were. The anime sticks with the storyline of it's parent manga with blind faith until the last three episodes come along and it becomes clear that the story is nowhere near a satisfying stopping point. This, of course, resulted in the anime attempting to create it's own ending and it completely betrays the efforts the show had put into all of it's interesting variables by barely addressing any of them. I'm not really a manga purist, so I say that script-writers should feel free to inject their own ideas into an adaptation though they should do it under one of 2 conditions. 1. Make it their own pet-project of sorts early on. This is undoubtedly very difficult to do as it means not only making a different ending, but giving the story a different narrative purpose. Go out on a limb and change not just the ending, but the entire 2nd half or something. Make it so it has a different set of ideas or themes as well so that the adaptation can be viewed as it's own thing that can even be preferred over the source rather then just a shittier version of the source with a conclusion that seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute. Examples: Fullmetal Alchemist, Bokurano, Planetes and Gankutsuou Or.... 2. Make sure that the added content doesn't conflict with conflict with the main canon so as to effectively close off all hope for a sequel. Example: Noragami and the 1st season of Knights of Sidonia, which both ended with climaxes that weren't in the original manga nor did they make it impossible for a sequel to happen without major retcons. Pandora Hearts opts for neither of these options and goes for an ending that not only plays around with the established canon, but is also inconclusive. For those of you who've seen Claymore, think of that title's finale, but with even more unanswered questions and much more rushed anticlimax (yes it's that lame). As far as the actual cast goes, while they fall short of getting much in the way of impressive development, they still get fleshed out to a remarkable degree. For the most part, however, the series banks on the character arc of Oz Vessalius (the protagonist) to a point at which actually becomes a bit of a detriment. The writers seem to have a hard-on for exploiting his emotional trauma for all it's worth. And for what? To have Oz angst and fret, and then eventually man up a little and say that he'll make a change for the better. Doesn't sound too bad right? Well, the thing is his development is cyclical, as in it resets from time to time. We see him fluctuate from emotional highs to lows several times over in the same way and it ends up becoming a tad repetitious. That said he's far from what I'd call a bad character exactly. The characters Oz meets on his journey never encourage him to develop into an unstoppable badass (he's actually quite weak physically throughout) so much as they challenge his value system. He eventually realizes the problems that lie with his childish heroics. It's a shame that his more introspective moments of sadness were far too numerous and lengthy for the simple points they got across. The rest of the cast, in particular, do not develop all that much in the present, but I'd be lying If I said it wasn't interesting to see how they ended up becoming who they are. I'm not normally a fan of using flashbacks excessively, but given how all the important clues to the central mystery lie in the past, I can allow Pandora Hearts some lee-way. There really isn't any going further without taking a good long look back. Because of this, I can't say the characters "develop" as much as you might like to here that, but the main cast (Oz, Alice, Gilbert, and Break) is made up of individuals that you can fully understand and sympathize with. Alice, her self is a pretty simple tsundere type through and through though unlike others of her type she doesn't really exude arrogance to mask weakness as she's strong as hell. Her simplistic nature and arrogance come from the fact that she lacks her memory of the traumatic events of time long before her meeting with Oz. Not the most original character, but as an epicenter to the grand mystery she doesn't detract much from the series. There really isn't all that much to say about the characters besides looking at how they are built up, because it's actually difficult to talk about them without spoiling key plot-twists (and trust me there are a lot of key plot-twists) once we finally have a strong grasp on the main players, the show comes to it's abrupt ending. Visually, there's no escaping the fact that the series doesn't really deliver. Sure the series has neat set-pieces, but excessively drab, dark and grainy color pallette doesn't do them much favor. There's also this odd, blurry filter blurs the outlines of objects in the foreground that I found distracting. The fight-scenes are also not up to par as they lack inspired choreography tactics and overall direction. Audio-wise, Pandora Hearts holds up just fine. Whilst not the best I've heard of her work, Yuki Kajiura's score does a fine job of picking up some of the slack during the slower moments and mediocre fight scenes. Kajiura's tendency towards pieces with moody melancholic chants fits a morose title like this one to a tee. Tracks like "Bloody Rabbit" for instance muster up more enthusiasm from me often then anything happening on screen. It's a shame that with as much momentum Pandora Hearts was gaining that it had to succumb not only to it's own shortcomings, but to the same fate as many adaptations of monthly manga before it. As it is, watching Pandora Hearts is akin to piecing together a vast jigsaw puzzle, only to discover that half the pieces are missing towards the end.
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