To young Oz Vessalius, heir to the Vessalius Duke House, the perilous world called the Abyss is nothing more than a folktale used to scare misbehaving children. However, when Oz's coming-of-age ceremony is interrupted by the malicious Baskerville Clan intent on banishing him into the depths of the Abyss, the Vessalius heir realizes that his peaceful life of luxury is at its end. Now, he must confront the world of the Abyss and its dwellers, the monstrous "Chains," which are both not quite as fake as he once believed.
Based on the supernatural fantasy manga of the same name, Pandora Hearts tells the story of fifteen-year-old Oz's journey to discover the meaning behind the strange events that have overtaken his life. Assisted by a mysterious Chain named Alice, whose nickname is "Bloodstained Black Rabbit," and members of a clandestine organization known as "Pandora," Oz begins to realize his existence may have more meaning than he could have ever imagined.
When you lose everything and end up with nothing, how do you pick yourself up and move on? Do you lash out in anger and bitterness, hiding your wounds? Do you allow the emptiness inside you to shut out any emotional reaction, numbly accepting your fate? Do you desperately search everywhere for what remains of you, hoping to piece yourself back together? Or do you fear losing again so much that you spend all your time protecting what you already have, nearly crushing it in your tight grasp?
With each of these suggestions, I refer to a particular character in the story whose struggle with loss
reflects one of these patterns. This theme of loss and the struggle to regain or find acceptance is by no means a new one to either drama or anime/manga, but in Pandora Hearts it is approached in a sensitive, original, and surprisingly light-hearted, pleasing manner. Though emotionally gripping, Pandora Hearts is rarely dark and angsty, favouring quirky, likeable characters and a humourous, tongue-in-cheek storytelling style.
The XEBEC-produced art/animation quality may be somewhat lacking, but the irresistibly charming Pandora Hearts is sure to make you fall in love with its beautifully crafted story, characters, fantasy world, and music.
- most loveable, original and well-developed cast I’ve seen in a long time
- detailed, interesting “Alice in Wonderland”-themed world
- story contains few “filler” episodes and is perfectly paced, sure to leave you gasping for more
- emotional, memorable OST by .hack//SIGN & Noir (and many more) composer Yuki Kajiura
- one of those anime that has a bit of everything: drama, action, humour, even hints of romance
- sub-par art quality, rather unacceptable by today’s standards
- weak, disappointing ending; many story threads left hanging without resolution
- some unavoidably cliché moments and a protagonist who is often ineffectual and, worse, annoying in his willingness to lay down his life
- no clear antagonist in the story, though this isn’t really a problem until the very last episodes
15-year old Oz Vessalius is the typical spoiled selfish noble kid, playing pranks all day, teasing his servant and best friend Gilbert, gaining favours from his indulgent uncle Oscar. Then, on the night of his coming-of-age-ceremony, time freezes and Oz is forced into the Abyss by mysterious strangers. Trapped in this nightmarish alternate dimension, he meets a strange, devilish young girl named Alice, who is really a Chain (a sort of “monster” of the Abyss). They form a Contract: Alice decides to help Oz return to his world, while he promises to search for her missing memories. As they find out more about her, it turns out there’s a lot he doesn’t know about the past either….
The story follows a somewhat well-worn path – disaster befalls naïve youngster, he meets mysterious girl, they discover new things, make friends and beat bad guys – but the difference is that the characters who fill all the traditional roles are so original and interesting. Alice, as the heroine of the story, is refreshingly powerful and strong-willed, with a bad mouth, a meat fetish, and a wicked laugh – and a surprising sensitivity. Oz, on the other hand, is earnest and soft-hearted, though he oddly doesn’t seem to care too strongly about anything.
There are also plenty of mysteries to be solved and plot twists to be revealed. However, I wouldn’t say that the plot is the anime’s strongest point. Not quite. Most of the “plot” really has little to do with the present situation at hand and is more about exploring the characters’ pasts. In fact, almost all of the really interesting moments in the anime are actually revelations about the past. As you might expect, all this jumping back and forth between past and present, real and alternate dimensions, while fascinating, can leave one confused and overwhelmed. Lastly, I can’t neglect the fact that the ending is truly dismal. Like many anime (it seems), a promising beginning, middle and even climax is no guarantee of a satisfying ending. When you reach the final episode I’m sure you, too, will be thinking, “What? They can't leave it at that - there must be some mistake!!"
There’s no way Pandora Hearts gets anything less than full score on this one. The characters are simply enrapturing. It’s hard to pick a favourite because there are so many good choices! For starters, the designs are original, enticing, and complement the characters’ personalities well. Oz, despite being 15, has the vacant, vulnerable look of a younger boy, suggesting his innocence and fragility. Alice looks fiery and ferocious with her red jacket, demonically pointy hair, and long high-heeled boots; but her short stature and smooth, childlike features render her cute and approachable. Gilbert is astonishingly handsome, dark, and mysterious when he first appears as Raven in full black attire; as soon as his hat comes off, however, (so to speak) he becomes comical with his messy “seaweed” hair, his emotional tantrums, and his self-conscious cigarettes. Two other characters I feel deserve special mention: Xerxes Break, a silly yet understatedly dangerous character whose loose sleeves flop over his hands, whose smile is always shaped unnervingly into a V, and who wears a freaky rattling puppet-doll on his shoulder called Emily; and Vincent Nightray, who has two different-colored eyes, one yellow and one red, as if to represent his unpredictable, split personality (at times saccharinely sweet; at others cold-bloodedly cruel and deceptive).
Each character is quirky, with multiple sides to their personality. Oz occasionally shows a hyper-romantic, flirtatious side. Alice, as mentioned earlier, will do anything for meat. Gilbert has an incurable phobia of cats. Sharon, a girl who is older than she looks, likes young boys and seems to have a thing for Alice. Break is addicted to candy and other sweet things. Vincent is disturbingly obsessed with his brother. And so on.
The characters also have incredible chemistry together. Oz and Alice have this cute little "You're my man-servant, do what I say!" "Hahaha, of course Alice! (but not really!)" thing going on, with semi-romantic undertones. Oz and Gilbert, meanwhile, have an endearing "master and servant" relationship that's complicated by the fact that Gilbert looks (and is) much older than his "master" (and made hilarious by the fact that Oz can still get away with teasing him.) Naturally, Gil and Alice find themselves caught in a struggle for the affections of their master/man-servant Oz, hurling funny names at each other that soon become familiar ("Stupid rabbit!" "Seaweed hair!") - though when it comes to Break, they are united in their icy distrust of the slippery, duplicitous character.
The true strength of the characters lies in their multi-facetedness. No character in the main cast feels “all good” or “all bad.” For much of the story, there is even no clear antagonist, as each suspicious individual is shown one by one to be pure-hearted in some way. Somehow, the anime hardly suffers for this lack of “true evil,” which I view as a testament to the strength of the characters.
As for character development, the entire anime basically revolves around the characters’ individual backstories. There is nary a character in the main cast who we do not see some kind of flashback of. In a way, the characters’ pasts define who they are even more distinctly than the present action. Strangely, I found this worked very well, leading one to speculate fascinatingly about what must have happened before the main story.
Art & Animation (6/10)
By today’s standards, as well as the standards set by the rest of the anime, the art really sticks out like a sore thumb. And let me get this clear that I don’t in any way mean Jun Mochizuki’s original designs; I’m talking about the frame-by-frame art quality of the anime, which was produced by studio XEBEC. Compared to contemporaries in the same genre that I’ve been watching such as Kuroshitsuji and Nabari no Ou, the art and animation really has a lot of catching up to do. Unpolished, often with very unappealing colour palettes, and few extremely eye-catching or original backdrops, I wondered frequently why they could not have done this beautiful story justice with a higher budget. Without the charms of Mochizuki’s character designs, the art would nearly render this anime unwatchable. The opening of an anime should be its one greatest chance to dazzle and woo the audience with flashy, high-budget sequences; yet Pandora Hearts is one of the only good anime I’ve watched where the quality of the opening animation failed to impress me at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautifully conceived opening with wonderful music and fascinating visuals, but the animation itself is little beyond lacklustre.
Music & Voice Acting (9/10)
Yuki Kajiura’s work truly is beautiful. It’s hard to say anything bad about it. When it comes to emotional drama, suspenseful themes, heart-wrenching themes, and tragic themes, she is the master. Her English-language insert piece, "Everytime you kissed me," is a thorough success, and the ubiquitous "music box" theme she created for Pandora Hearts, "Lacie," is hauntingly memorable. But I can be nit-picky. The themes can get slightly repetitive and, if you’ve heard her previous work, it'll probably feel a little deja vu. The endings and opening, while excellent, are not extraordinarily exceptional. In the end, the one point I knocked off comes down to the music not being extremely original, just very good.
There is nothing really left to be desired from the Japanese voice acting. Everything is just as it should be. The boyish, suave Junko Minagawa (Ryoma Echizen , Ritsuka Aoyagi) is the perfect choice as Oz, while listening to Kosuke Toriumi (Yuri Lowell, Kiba Inuzuka)’s sexy voice as Gilbert is like eating chocolate ice cream, and Akira Ishida (Gaara, Kaworu Nagisa, Athrun Zala, many others) does a spectacular job as the eccentric, foppish Break (and Emily!), as usual. In all respects, a very strong cast.
Bottom line: Pandora Hearts has its share of flaws, and probably won't please absolutely everyone (action fans, why are you still here?!), but once immersed in its lovely, charming little world, its intoxication is a very, very pleasant experience. (9/10)
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!
Pandora Hearts is a prime example of wasted potential. It starts out with an interesting premise that grabs you at the start, but after a few episodes, it’s nothing but downhill from there until it finally crashes and burns at the end of its 25-episode run.
Why do I say this?
There are many interesting plot threads and ideas that are introduced at various points in the story, but they are almost never followed through with or they’re executed in a way that, frankly, makes them boring. For example, when we learn about the four dukedoms of Pandora, I get the sense that there’s a lot of
history and political machinations going on in the background but it hardly ever gets explored, instead focusing on the development of our main heroes, Oz and Alice (which doesn’t sound that bad, but more on that later). Then, we are introduced to the main antagonists, the Baskervilles, who seem really cool and threatening at first, but when we meet them, are like Team Rocket without the silly speeches. In other words, they’re there just to have antagonists in the show and don't do a whole lot to further the story.
The cherry on top was the notably craptastic anime-only ending. I have never even read the manga and I could tell the ending was shoddily put together at the last minute, just to have some sort of conclusion, but honestly, I’d rather have an open ending over what they did here. For fear of being too spoilery, I will just say that the writers thought to throw in a bunch of generic Chains to provide some sort of “ultimate challenge” for the protagonists, but as a result, it comes off as completely random and badly-written.
So let’s move on to the protagonists beginning with Oz. Oz is a lovely young fellow – cheerful, caring, loyal, and brave. However, he’s apathetic, taking everything in stride even when he’s faced with some terrible Chains in the Abyss. It’s completely unrealistic and makes it hard for anyone to connect with him. How can you care about a character who, well, doesn’t care? To his credit, he does get some character development but it either never follows through (e.g. his father issues) or it takes the form of someone lecturing him (this is probably more the fault of the writers than an actual character flaw, though).
Then, there’s Alice, Pandora Heart’s main tsundere. She doesn’t end up being nearly as interesting as she first presents herself to be, although her little quirks make her more endearing than Oz, such as her insistence that Oz is her manservant and her fondness for meat (LOL since when does a rabbit like meat so much?). Still, I’m afraid to say she doesn’t have much depth to her, the most being her desire to regain all the fragments of her memory. The rest of the time, she’s relegated to being a source of humour and/or romantic tension with Oz or, in her B-Rabbit form, being the series own deus ex machina.
There are some notable characters – namely Gil, Break, and Vincent – who receive some notable time and developing on top of interesting histories and colourful personalities, but they’re supporting characters who must eventually step back to let the main plot take center stage.
As for the animation, overall, it’s poor. There are some nice designs floating around, but when it comes down to making everything move, it’s lacking, especially for such a recent and (relatively) short series. I’ve seen longer and older series with equal or better animation, to be honest. I swear, I have never seen so much floating hair and clothes in anime in my life – it was like a gust of wind went by and the animators simply took a single frame from that and kept it for the entire sequence while keeping the mouths moving. Even in the opening sequence (which are nearly always of high quality), there’s a shot of Oz running that looks odd and clunky.
Most reviews will also point out the lovely music, but then it’s by Kajiura Yuki, so that’s a given. If you’ve heard Kajiura’s music before, you’ll recognize her style almost immediately, so whether that’s a positive or a negative is up to you. For me, it’s generally a positive since she pulls through with another solid soundtrack, but personally, I’d like to see her try something different from what she usually composes. For Pandora Heart’s purposes, though, it’s good listening material here, although certain tracks tend to get overplayed. Voice acting was pretty solid, so no complaints here.
So overall, Pandora Hearts began as a very promising series with a lot of great ideas that could have continued being great until the end if executed properly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen and the series falls flat on its face by the halfway point. I would say either read the manga (which I’m told is better?) or find another fantasy series.
Pandora Hearts is an anime that draws inspiration and many thematic elements from the story Alice in Wonderland. It is about a young aristocrat named Oz Bezarius, the heir of a noble house, who becomes the victim of a dark ceremony in the first episode and is cast down into the "Abyss" - a prison like area inhabited by monsters called Chains. While there, he meets the Chain known as Alice, the Black Rabbit.
The show starts out incredibly strong, but its strength doesn't last long at all. The overlying problem with the show is that it doesn't seem to know what
direction it wants to go in. You are initially presented with a dark and gothic horror that almost immediately makes way for super deformed art and bright, flashing colours. The show remains this way, tying together ridiculous anime tropes and scenes right next to its dark and gritty storyline. Alice quickly moves from a creepy and dangerous entity to a glutton and comic relief character. I think a bit more focus in either area would have been fantastic, but as it is Pandora Hearts can be disorientating and very dissonant.
The characters are great. Oz is a typical shounen lead, complete with a tendency to risk himself for others that borders on suicidal. It's quite stereotypical, but not to the point that I hated whenever he appeared on screen, and he at least presented himself in this honest way for the majority of the show. However the other characters are fantastic. Gilbert is written extremely well and undergoes a lot of development throughout the show, and Xerxes Break eventually ends up as a complete scene stealer as soon as he is given even a hint of his backstory. Alice, however, never quite moves past her brutal introduction and despite being the center of the entire story she quickly fades in and out of obscurity for episodes at a time.
The soundtrack from Yuki Kajiura is extremely strong, and has several pieces that match up to her great scores from Kara no Kyoukai. Some tracks are often described as repetitive, but I had no issue with this myself. I do think that a couple of times a song choice for a scene may have been less then amazing, but the music itself was very good.
This leads me to the ending - there are massive plot points that never get resolved and I wish I had known that going in. For such a great premise and beginning so many things slip away through the story that it is really kind of infuriating. The ending of the series is anime only, and like many other poor anime adaption endings you will be able to pick up the exact moment where the story veers off. Anime only ends can be done right - but this one wasn't. Nothing was answered, and the mysteries that Oz and Alice often mentioned resolving were simply ignored until the end.
What is the biggest shame is how much more could have been fit into 25 episodes, where instead the writers wasted absurd amounts of time with super deformed art and typical anime filler scenarios. There are many plot points that are deemed as important to the main characters that never go anywhere and end up being a complete waste of screen time. The most infuriating part comes towards the end of the show, where you should be spending your time getting your answers to the questions you've built up, an entire episode is instead spent on showing everybody drunk. Put simply I kind of wish the series had cut some of the bullshit, a lot of the comedy moments were poor and completely out of place.
Pandora Hearts is a fun ride and there are some FANTASTIC moments, but ultimately your destination ends up being a hole in the ground that goes straight to the Abyss of Anime-Ending-Only Hell. There are no side trips to Resolution or Answers, you just go straight into the pit. And since I've already visited, I'll try to warn you not to.
The waifu and husbando phenomenon has exploded in the world of anime. Every fan has their absolute favorite characters, which they just can't seem to let go of when the series ends. These dream boys and girls have made their place into the hearts of fans worldwide. Let's meet a few of the best!