This anime is what it looks like if a series just stoppped in the middle. While the manga is now completed, this anime was made before the manga's completion. Although some anime aren't too bad when that happens, letting the studio fill in the blanks, Pandora Hearts manages to provide a mystery with no defininitive answer. The viewer can theorize, and some questions are partially answered, but the plotline is never resolved.
This was...a rather interesting, and sometimes terrifying, trip. Filled to the brim with nightmare fuel in the form of animated dolls and Akira-like moving inanimate objects. Strangeness abound, and dozens upon dozens of questions and searching...with little to no payoff.
Oz Vessalius - A noble/aristocrat boy who just turned 15 and has a strange "go with the flow" carefree sort of outlook/attitude towards life which often gets him labeled as "creepy". When he is abruptly cast into the Abyss during his Coming of Age Ceremony, he begins to question certain things about himself and a trauma he had kept locked away.
Alice - An unknown "Chain", a creature of the Abyss, who has a human form of a girl. She is brash and the sort of character one would expect of a "simple and stupid" protagonist, though she does have her deep moments as she hates being alone and wants to recover her memory of who she is.
There are, of course, more characters...but I don't want to give them away as it might spoil things. Very minor things, but with how little is actually explained in this series, even minor explanations can be spoilers.
More like Schrodinger's Plot.
There are two major focal points: Oz and Alice figuring out who they are, and them (and others) trying to find the truth behind the Tragedy of Sebile which occurred 100 years ago.
The character focus is excrutiatingly slow to the point where the characters are pretty much the same except for one or two major revelations (or being literally forced to confront themselves) later on.
The truth of the Tragedy...is a mystery. The anime never wraps it up, and though the viewer might suspect some things, most of it remains hidden completely.
Thus, there is a plot...but at the same time, there isn't a plot.
Music & Animation
Typically, this is where I explain the plot and not the music and animation, but the plot is both there and absent so I'll cover this instead. I don't usually make a separate section for this, but I decided to because the music is incredibly beautiful at times. The opening and ending songs fit the mysterious vibe, and other BGM completely create the atmosphere where the anime itself fails to fully create tension.
Sadly, I saw this in a rather poor quality, but that aside, the animation is very well done with its imagery and use of colors and atmosphere. It brought to life a really creepy and dark vibe (sometimes just being outright disturbing with the toys and dolls coming to life).
However, the animation fails during battles...and even has stillframes while someone is talking (which prompted me to check and see if the video player froze on the video...nope, just stillframes even though the characters were talking to one another during it).
There is a plot, but unfortunately nothing is resolved. Oz and Alice want to find out more about themselves and who they are, while they and others want to find out the truth of what happened 100 years ago at the Tragedy of Sablier.
None of which is given a conclusion. There is a small answer on Alice's part, but it's only a single piece and doesn't explain anything. Rather, it raises even more questions.
By episode 25, we (the audience) still have no clue what really happened 100 years ago. Considering that is the freaking focal point of the entire plot/story, it's a rather crappy thing to pull. Even if they did an "anime exclusive" ending (such as the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, which also had started before the manga was completed and thus has a vastly different ending), it would have been better than leaving off in the middle.
The weakness of this anime is its plot and characters...and sadly, plot and characters are the two main factors of an anime. The characters surrounding the protagonist, Oz, are more interesting and developed more, for example.
This entire anime was pretty much Oz's (extremely slow) character development. And when I say "extremely slow", I mean I've seen slow paced anime which still did much better than this. Oz is unchanging for so much of the anime that I couldn't say whether I liked or disliked his character...he didn't even really HAVE much of a character or presence, and for the protagonist that is not okay.
Alice is only a little more interesting, but because she doesn't have much character development (except for a few moments), she is also boring to watch if she's not fighting or interacting with Oz.
It's really the characters around them who show defined personalities, though even they grow slightly (well, two of them do).
Onto the plot...it brings in quite a few questions, and only actually directly answers one of them; and the one it directly answers (the main focal point of episode 25) is something viewers probably figured out in the first few episodes.
Speaking of, this anime starts out rather disjointed. I had intended to just watch the first episode or two, but wound up getting to episode four trying to just make sense of what was happening. Yes, some anime does that; it has you turning the page or going to the next episode because it's so chaotic and tossing out possible plot points that the viewer has no clue what's going on.
Pandora Hearts continues on this vein, and fails to explain itself properly. When it does finally give (partial) answers, we get them in "info dumps". Typically, two or three points related to the plot and characters are dumped on us (the viewers) as Oz learns them, and they're all typically in the form of somebody verbally explaining something.
This makes the anime feel even more scrambled, because we just had a bucket of information dropped over our heads and we have to pick up everything that was in the bucket and try to put it together even though some of them are different from others.
Basically, it info dumps, and info dumps are lazy ways to explain things. A single explanation does happen often in anime, sometimes dialogue heavy, but I wouldn't refer to that as an "info dump". By "info dump", I mean that it's throwing two or more pieces of information at the viewer, and all of the information is related to a different story/plot/character point.
So, for the first half...pretty much nothing happens. Then, Oz starts to finally get character development, but takes the entire 24-25 episodes to do so (if the first half where he doesn't change is included). Though characters do often change throughout a journey, I don't think I've ever seen a protagonist take THAT long to develop. It's the sort of thing you expect to happen after 12 episodes in a 25 episode series, not after 24 episodes of a 25 episode series.
Also, due to it being created before the manga finished, the last episode or two just goes off the rails. I didn't read the manga (though I did read a summary to learn the answers which the anime failed to give the audience...and it was even more confusing), but I get the feeling that it did what many anime of incomplete series do at that time and go completely off the rails in the last couple episodes in order to try and give the viewer a feeling like something was resolved.
Nothing was resolved. I'm going to lay it flat out.
A couple mysteries have more light shed on them, and Oz shows character growth by the end, but aside from that absolutely nothing is resolved.
Do not expect to have any of your questions answered (except for the one which was obvious).
Do not expect a protagonist you can easily pin down. And this from someone who has experienced trauma as well; maybe it's different in the manga, but the anime doesn't seem to really define Oz as a character (traits, ect) until midway through.
Maybe the manga did a better job, but do not expect any of the questions opened in the entire plot of the anime to be answered (except for the "here's an ending to hopefully mollify the viewer" sort of thing).
I don't know why this anime was hyped the way it was. The mystery and chaos was what caused me to keep watching it, so it does have intrigue there...but then to get to the end and find none of my questions answered just felt like a punch in the face.
My favorite character is Break (Raven is up there as well) because he actually has a freaking personality in the otherwise bland cast of characters.
Honestly, I don't get the hype. This anime ranks barely above average for me because of how flat the characters are for most of it, and mostly because it resolves absolutely nothing.
Sorry, but I can't give this a high rating, nor recommend anyone watch it. If the concept interests you, the manga would probably be a better choice (probably, because I haven't read it and thus don't know how the artwork is or how well it explains the rather complicated story).
The only reason I'm giving it more than a 5/10 is because it had potential, and it did a very good job at building up the mystery...only it failed to deliver the answer.