Every 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.
Pandora 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.
Within 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.
In 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.
All 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.
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!
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
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.
- Animated by studio Xebec, which means it’s goind to have bad production values and unexploited potencial.
- Directed by Kato Takao, who has taken up lots of anime, most of which are way below average. The only ones I kind of liked amongst them are Buso Renkin, and Hen Semi.
- Based on the manga by Mochizuki Jun, which is also her own somewhat good work. She has only made one other short manga with a similar style called Crimson Shell. It was nothing special. And neither is this one.
So here I am watching an anime which has a big fanbase. From the comments I read in various forums, it’s supposed to be equal to the Iliad. From the main image on the main page, it’s supposed to be adventure with bijins. From past experience, bijins means lots of gay innuendos and piss poor story. Well, there is also FMA Brotherhood but what are the chances it will be this good? Anyway, I sat down with no real expectations and watched it in a couple of days. General impressions? It’s incomplete; yank it down to base score. Going to specifics…
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork & Backgrounds 4/4: Renaissance along with goth toys. Not bad at all; it did wonders for D.Grey Man and Soul Eater and it is eye captivating here as well. Medieval castles, nightmarish worlds, luxurious rooms where aristocrats are having a party and other dreamy (good and bad) type of sceneries that help you to emerge into the magic. In a few words, it has interesting artwork.
Character Figures 1/2: Bijins. Not bad by itself but usually that means there is too much focus on looks and not movements. Although not as terribly stiff as in 07 Ghost, the characters tend to have a lot of jerky movements, frozen panels and too many chibi scenes. Plus, their overall looks are not anything special either ; none is memorable because of them. A half-good work.
Animation & Visual Effects 2/4: The production company was never very good in handling action scenes and this is yet another example. All battles in this series are plain uninteresting. Short in duration, full of people talking before exchanging a few simple blows and that’s it. The cinematics are also not that great either for a type of story with such a high amount of dementia and mystery. The camera uses shading, zooming in and fish eye perspective, while the characters usually have some really crazy expressions. Although not bad in any way, other series such as Higurashi did a far better job in inflicting the viewer with fear or anxiety, thus it is again a half-good work.
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3: Good but not great. They all sound lively and the context of the dialogues is not retarded to the most part. They still talk too much though; especially during battles; and that kinda makes the whole deal silly. Not Naruto level silly but I’d rather have mystery exposition by someone who is not monologing while trying to kill me.
Music Themes 3/4: Quite good. Not something worth listening again and again but do aid in sucking you in the magic of the story.
Sound Effects 2/3: They do lose steam because of the poorly executed visual effects, but they are otherwise good in making the jokes funnier and the battles not-completely boring.
STORY SECTION: 3/10
General Scenario 1/2: A boy aristocrat named Oz is cursed for some reason and is chased around by supernatural assassins sent by enemy aristocrats. He is sent to the abyss where he is forced to make a contract with a supernatural girl there named Alice. After they escape, they decide to help one another. They now stroll around the kingdom looking for the reason Oz is cursed as well as clues to Alice’s lost memories (she has amnesia). Rather simple and vague in concept.
By using various concepts and names from famous fairy tales and ghost stories, the story is an interesting mix of fantasy, action, horror, mystery, dementia, and comedy. Sadly, the categories that are given more attention are fantasy and comedy; thus the story never manages to be too scary, or mysterious, or dramatic. With a few twists, it could even be seen as yet another romantic comedy around a tsundere girl and a spineless boy. So, it’s not really something too absorbing, or deep, or serious.
Pacing 1/2: Slow and becomes slower as it reaches the final episodes. It loses a lot of steam from its already almost-episodic nature.
Complexity 1/2: Practically no side stories exist in this story. Many characters have their own portfolios, but down to it the main couple is the epicenter of everything and the rest are just extras.
Plausibility & Conclusion 0/4: Heavy on magic and incomplete. The story stops without any form of closure. It hardly reveals any of its mysteries and leaves you hanging to dry. So, it is a completely unsatisfying ending. You can always read the continuation in the manga but the anime is plain open to everything.
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 0/2
Complete characters are interesting in personality, have good backdrops, and receive catharsis in the end. The cast here does have funny personalities and does somewhat develop but most are left as extras who don’t offer anything and the open ending leaves out any sense of exposure or catharsis. Thus, the cast overall gets the base score.
I could be more lenient if this was a storyless romantic comedy. But it’s not; it clearly has a plot that heads somewhere (and doesn’t really get anywhere). I would also give something extra if the main couple was original in any way but they were quite stereotypical to stand out from other similar couples. If you know of Fate/Stay Night, Shakugan no Shana, Spice and Wolf or even Katanagatari, it ain’t that hard to see that they are the tsundere girl and the dork male in love, an archetype most overused. Not only that, but Alice’s secondary features consist of having amnesia (dang if that’s not overused) and likes eating meat. Not much to go on, is there? As for Oz, he does grow some balls during the last part of the series but beyond that we get no explanation of what is going on in his past or nothing prevents a possible sequel to just reset him back to dork level by making him forget all his manliness (another piss poor yet overused method to prevent development).
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTIONS: 4/10
Value Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 2/4
Enjoyment Analysis: Art 0/1, Sound 1/2, Story 1/3, Characters 1/4
Silly fandom has done it again. This anime is nothing special to give it more that a 6 at best. After all, if this gets a 10, then what vote does FMA Brotherhood get; a series so similar in genre and categories yet so much more complete and well made?
Maybe when they finish the manga and make a sequel it will retrospectively value more but as it stands it’s just a time killer with somewhat funny bijin archetypes.
Shakugan no Shana
Spice and Wolf