[Synopsis]: During his coming of age ceremony Oz Vessalius, the 15-year old heir to the house of Vessalius and one of the four great duke houses, is set upon by hooded strangers who condemn him for the sin of being alive and banish him into the depths of ‘Abyss,’ an otherworldly dimension out of lore and legend. Desperate to return home, Oz happens upon a chain, one of the denizens of Abyss, by the name of Alice whom he makes a contract with in order for them both to escape and discover for what sin he was banished for, the contents of Alice’s missing memories, and the true nature of Abyss itself.
The cast of Pandora Hearts is fairly small and mainly features the members of Pandora, the organization which Oz and Alice join which manages illegal contractors and searches for information pertaining to Abyss. The main cast was highly self-involved in that a great many of the character interactions and dialogue took place between the same 5-6 people which worked well if the viewer enjoyed the characters on screen but poorly if they found them unrelatable or tiring.
Alice’s contractor and the protagonist of the story, Oz is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to his characterization – succeeding in some areas while appearing pretty plain or boring in others. He is kind and cheerful and more or less par for the course insofar as he is the lead of a shounen anime however there are a few character traits that set him apart; for better or for worse. One thing that the show draws specific attention to, especially in the latter half of its run, is Oz’s selflessness and its impact on his friends. Like many other lead characters he is quick to take the bullet for someone else and exists somewhere between being heroic and suicidal however Pandora Hearts offers a fair critique of his mindset and it can be self-serving and problematic. In this way, Oz presents a fairly compelling character with potential for development and a strict ideology by which he lives but this is where his uniqueness more or less ends. His only other noticeable character trait is that he adapts to situations quickly and takes them for granted and while this isn’t something that all that many characters exhibit it plays out in an unpleasurable fashion making it seem more like he is detached from the proceedings rather than coming to terms with them. Oz receives adequate character development however because of how the show plays out it would seem the bulk of his development exists beyond the last episode which is unfortunate.
Alice, the renowned Black Rabbit and the chain who is contracted to Oz, doesn’t quite offer the same potential that her contractor does. While Oz has some pros and cons to his characterization, Alice is pretty plain and whatever strengths the show attempted to attribute to her where trivialized by how it ultimately handled her as a character. Upon introduction she is brash, powerful, and mysterious – she claims Oz is her servant much to the dismay of Oz’s actual servant Gilbert and is desperate to find her missing memories in order to discover who she really is. At face-value this sounds like a great character and she might have been had the show treated her better. Her earlier forward and blunt attitude is quickly warped to the point where most of her interactions with Oz in the mid and late section of the show mirror that of a tsundere rather than a genuine, lonely, sorrowful person like the show makes her out to be beneath the surface. She is reduced from a powerful being from another dimension to the jealous and doting love-interest in a relationship that didn’t have a whole lot of reasoning behind it. Oz and Alice are similar in several ways and they could make a good romantic couple however their characterization didn’t play out well in this regard and they both felt further stereotypical within their roles because of it. Furthermore, because her search for her memories somewhat disappears for a while as the plot ventures elsewhere, the show seems to lose track of what to do with her as a character and so she receives a great many of the show’s cute and comedic bits which again contrast poorly with her supposed solitary and depressed self.
The rest of the main characters are fairly decent and each offer compelling enough backstory however they are often overruled by the screen time of Oz and Alice and characters like Xerxes Break don’t get any real insight until pretty late into the show. All in all the main two characters were pretty poor with Oz offering a few points of redemption while the remainder of the cast was more interesting yet eclipsed by nature of their role within the story.
The art and animation I felt were pretty typical – capable of presenting the story and its characters in coherent form yet failing to do so extravagantly or in unique ways. The character designs vary from fairly muted and normal like in the cases of Oz and his uncle to fairly outlandish such as Break and the Cheshire Cat though all of them fit well within the gothic aesthetic established by the show and so at the very least the style present is consistent and in-theme. The animation itself was standard and there weren’t many places where it either improved or declined and so it was safe in this way while failing to excite me as a viewer outside of a rare few instances.
While the characters may have proved a source of wasted potential amidst a few infrequent successes the story is much the same though perhaps greater in scale in its dichotomy of pros and cons. Like Alice, the premise of the story and the world at first glance appears quite interesting as a great many mysteries arise early on that kept me wanting to know more all the way through – the show worked well in this way, providing engaging questions which I wanted answered. To upend this compelling attribute, the show spends very little time resolving or adding to these mysteries, only visiting them during infrequent, climactic points of the show and never concluding them in full but allowing them to hang unresolved. This would work fine if the show offered engaging beyond these mysteries with which to satisfy its viewer however this is not the case and what I found to be the most interesting part of the show trails off into obscurity while the show itself spends its time on ultimately trivial things.
To speak more extensively about one of the plot’s major issues, the pacing of the show, especially in its latter episodes, is troublesome at worst and by the ending 3-4 episodes is outright appalling. The climax of the show arrives without any preface given to either its reason or context within the show and plays out uninterestingly with no major players or antagonists to be found despite the show featuring more than a few of these. The beginning of each episode in the final episodes of the show jumps location so often and with so little preface that it often led to the initial feeling that I had skipped an episode by accident however this was not the case and the setting of the end of the show presents itself with neither preamble nor prior reasoning.
With that all said and done, the show does provide an interesting set of mysteries that kept my interest but between the pacing of the show, the out of place characterization, and the overall lack of nearly any resolution the plot and story fall flat for me despite what strengths it brings to the table.
The music was far and away the strongest element of Pandora Hearts and was composed by the brilliant Kajiura Yuki. To those like me who aim to pick up this show almost entirely because of her presence in it I would say that she delivers exceedingly well however her work does not make up for the show itself. Kajirua’s work goes well with the gothic aesthetic of the anime and the many strings and forlorn melodies of the soundtrack mirror the tragedy and sorrow of some of the show’s major plot points beautifully.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Pandora Hearts for me was unfortunately one of those cases of wasted potential where the premise was good and the characters, at face value, could have been truly interesting and compelling in their own right but the show wasn’t able to live up to what it was capable of. The main characters felt highly stereotypical for their roles as the shounen hero and heroine and offered little in redemptive qualities for their shortcomings and because of this the show felt all the more forgettable when in many other circumstances it would have avoided being so.
I gave Pandora Hearts a 5 because it took what could have been an interesting story with compelling characters and twisted into something less than enjoyable – the show made less and less sense as it continued on and the more interesting characters and the world itself took a backseat to the forced antics of Oz and Alice. The show might be worth a watch due to its mystery elements and its musical score however I don’t feel that many viewers would arrive at the end feeling sated in any way.
I would recommend Pandora Hearts to fans of mystery and more specifically fans of the gothic aesthetic as the mystery elements of the show are where it most succeeds and the visuals mirror the tone and setting well. The relationship between Alice and Oz is hardly worth picking up in a romantic sense as their are far more legitimate and entertaining stories than Pandora Hearts in this regard and the action sequences of the show are both intermittent and dull in their execution.