Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan seems to suffer from an identity crisis much like its protagonist, initially starting off as a serene slice of life about bread making and ending up as a fantastical action anime. Ultimately, although it executes both sections well, this change alienates both the viewers who wanted action and those that wanted a charming Aria-esque show.
There's one thing you can't deny about the show, and that is the high quality art and animation. It's incredibly consistent, the characters faces and the beautiful scenery remain brilliant throughout, and I doubt you'll see food look so delicious in anime for some time. The animation was clean and precise, there were no sloppy errors and only a couple of scenes where they had obviously saved on budget. The soundtrack is just like that of an RPG game which I thought was nice as it displayed the roots of the anime, and there were one or two tracks that were particularly good, overall it's a bit generic but it's enjoyably and compliments the series effectively. The voice acting is strong, although I doubt the Seiyuu were stretched much in their roles. The OP is fairly nice but forgettable, however the ED is incredibly catchy and by the end I found I knew the words and the dance far too well.
The characters have the traits you'd expect from a slice of life show, and cover the fantastical range of Dwarves, Elves, Witches and Furries that you'd expect of a fantasy RPG. The side characters are likable and it's a shame that you see some of them for only one or two episodes, a consequence of the fact it's based on a game. Onto the main characters, the trio of girls are perfectly pure and cleanse your soul, making you feel slightly better about life. Rick the protagonist is initially just as innocent as the rest of them, however he receives development during the series and becomes a more complicated individual, although he is still rather plain.
This brings me to the story, if you want to watch it for the action, then don't, because there is a distinct lack of it and so the series is unlikely to please you. If you want to watch it only for the pleasant slice of life, then you'll be happy for the most of the show, but won't be at the end. This is the problem with the show, it's tried to please both demographics but has ended up letting down both. If you like both action and slice of life then you'll have less of a problem, and to the show's credit it does build up to the action well throughout, creating a sense of mystery and intrigue, but in the end I would have preferred it to be a simple slice of life the whole way through, even if it had to deviate from the story of the game it was based on.
Why? It's because the slice of life was done so brilliantly, it was relaxing and almost therapeutic , the characters as I've mentioned were nice and all lent themselves to the experience perfectly. Nothing much happens, they may go to a nearby castle to deliver bread to the tsundere loli witch who's trying to make the perfect ice-cream, they may visit the elves or go reef diving for treasure, it doesn't matter, you may complain of a lack of plot but that's all a delightful show like this needs. It didn't need an aim, it just needed to provide a pleasing experience every week, which is why I feel the plot introduced at the end was unnecessary.
The whole of Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan feels like a prologue, at the conclusion of the series you'll wonder where everything and everyone went from there, and it's a pity because I think a second season is unlikely, and you'll want to see many of the characters again. Overall I thought the first half was excellent at being a heart-warming experience about four pure people making bread, and if you enjoyed Aria, I'd say this was worth a look, even if the show eventually loses sight of what it was good at.