Friday, 09 October 2009 20:07

Pandora Hearts (TV, 2009)

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Overview


She looks lonely...  I'd be glad to keep her company... One of the things that's always sure to get my attention, at least enough for a first look, is just about any take on the realm and mythos of Alice in Wonderland. Now, I'm not talking about the Disneyland fantastic voyage type of Wonderland, though to be fair looking back on THAT movie now as an adult you can pick out certain… tendrils of the sort of Wonderland I enjoy. No no no… When I say Alice in Wonderland, I'm referring more to the darker, American McGee's Alice type of Wonderland, or the Wonderland of Zenescape's comic universe. The truly twisted, foul and menacing place of former dreams and innocence lost to maturity. The place where everybody's madness – or even sanity – waits, patiently, for the day when you'll revisit it. Imagination is a strange and wonderful thing, but somewhere along the line, we fooled ourselves into believing only good comes out of the mind's playground. Pandora Hearts is a series that borrows some of the darker Wonderland's world, and spins it out in a new way.

Fields USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title Pandora Hearts I'd be afraid to get the present she's bringing.
Alternative Pandora Hartsu, パンドラハーツ, 潘多拉之心
Dates
Company Xebec, Jay Film, Victor Studio, Sound Valley, Flying Dog, Warner Music Recording Studio, Pandora Hearts Project, TBS, FCC, Flying Dog, Media Factory, MOVIC, Pony Canyon, Half HP Studio
Creator Jun Mochizuki
Director Takao Kato
Genre Fantasy, Action, Mystery, Drama
Related Pandora Hearts (Manga)

Review


They say the face you show when you sleep is the true one. Young Lord Oz Vessalius, descendant of the heroic Jack Vessalius, is about to undergo the coming-of-age ceremony marking his fifteenth birthday. A son of one of the four noble houses, Oz's life is good; he's rich, he has his sister Ada and personal servant Gil as companions, as well as his uncle Oscar who's done most of his raising. All that's really missing from his life is his father, the currently reigning lord of the four noble houses. While preparing for the ceremony at the ancient estates where the Silent Clock rests, Oz temporarily escapes the head maid's custody with Ada and Oz and goes exploring through the grounds. He breaks through a covered hole in the ground, into a chamber with a tree and a gravestone, around which an old pocket watch is wound. When he opens the pocket watch, it begins to play a soft, strangely captivating melody. Something stirs, and Oz has a vision of a girl dressed in white, in a room filled with puppet dolls, a girl who grows more insane by the moment and then tries to choke the life out of him, just before Gil snaps him out of it.

Intrepid Trio Pandora Hearts has a plotline that is at times a bit hard to classify. It is, in many ways, a murder-mystery style detective story, but at times that feels almost peripheral to what's actually happening. As I alluded to earlier, it's heavily influenced by Alice in Wonderland, with many, many allusions, such as the pocket watch, to that source material. It's not a romance, though there are certainly moments when that feels to be the focus of the story, it's not an action series, though there's a great deal of action. The plot is very story and character driven – unusually so, for a series with the amount of action that Pandora Hearts has, and that makes it surprisingly refreshing – there's actually a reason for all the hacking, slashing, shooting, shouting, and so on going on.

D'awwwwwwwwwwwww.... A lot of the plot impetus comes from events that took place a hundred years before Oz's time, events that culminated in the 'Tragedy of Sabrie', where a terrible power devoured a great portion of the former capitol city of Sabrie. These events were instigated by the Baskervilles, and it was in fighting to end their deeds that Oz's ancestor, Jack, became a hero. I don't want to spoil, so rest assured that the series does a good job of explaining most of what happened – but not as good a job as the manga it's based on did. I'll remark on that at the end of the review.

Oz Vessalius at the ready. More importantly, though, as I said, it's very character driven, starting with the afore mentioned Oz Vessalius. Oz is something of a strange bird. He seems like a normal kid on the outside edge of it, but very quickly with some of his early dialogue you start to get the sense that something is a little off about him. It's just sort of there, at the edges of your consciousness, a gnawing, nagging suspicion that there's more to him than is being presented. As the series progresses, you'll start to pick up on certain traits – including a point at which he tries very hard to get somebody to shoot Oz, rather than risk harming the other. There is something just… off about Oz's behavior and principles, as you'll see.

... Wowsa...Opposite Oz is Alice, a 'Chain' from the Abyss that Oz meets. She seems to be a normal girl – but as with Oz, looks are deceiving. In this case, it's because Alice is also the Bloodstained Black Rabbit – Bea Rabbit, for short – a HUGE black rabbit with very sharp teeth of incredible power that wields a scythe and multiple, weighted chains. In order to go to the real world, a Chain must form a contract with a human that links them together, and Oz and Alice sign that contract with one another early on in the series. Alice the normal girl can't remember anything about her past – how she ended up in the Abyss, where she came from, nothing but her name. Alice runs the gamut from subdued, introspective girl to REALLY FREAKING PSYCHOTIC INSANE CRAZY in emotion, and I swear her stomach must still be in the Abyss because she's shown to be able to eat anything – ANYTHING – and still want more.

Tug-O-War Lessie, extended cast. Already mentioned is Gilbert. Like… ok, let's get this out of the way now so that I don't keep repeating myself. Every single member of the main cast has secrets, and more to them than they initially appear. Like I said, in some ways, this is very much a murder-mystery detective show, and a big part of the character development is the slow, and well controlled revealing of these secrets. With that out of the way, Gil acts as Oz's personal servant. I can't say too much without spoiling a major event, so let's just say that he's extremely loyal to Oz. Extremely. Sharon Rainsworth is the daughter of one of the other four noble houses, and a member of the 'Pandora' organization. Serving as her protector is Xerxes Break, a strange man who carries a puppet named Emily and has a sweet tooth that would make Willy Wonka rich.

Ooooh...  That smile... somebody's about to HURT hard... The animation is better than average, but not quite great. The motion sometimes felt a bit flat and less than dynamic, but this is relatively rare and for the most part it was pretty good. Unfortunately, most of the action was of the 'post movement' variety, where you see the after effects of the strike, and maybe a flash style hit, but not the entire motion. There's also stunningly little blood, for a series where the main creature of action is called the BLOODSTAINED BLACK RABBIT, and carries a BIG FUCKING SCYTHE. However, the character design, in no small part drawing directly from the manga, is great, and absolutely a high point in the series. Being nobility, much of the characters' clothing is that sort of intricately designed, highly detailed sort of stuff that you just don't see often in anime due to the extra time it takes to do all those little bits and pieces. Not so in Pandora Hearts, where the clothing design isn't just excellent, but consistent throughout the animation.

Soundtrack Cover ArtOn the sound side of things, all I should really need to say is that the soundtrack was done by Yuki Kajirua. I mean, seriously, do I really need to say anything else? The series music has her trademark mix of fantasy styling with synthesizer instruments and excellent composition. Among the highlights in the mix are the watch's song, Lacie and Bea Rabbit's theme, Bloody Rabbit. Bloody Rabbit, in my humble opinion, surpasses anything she did for Xenosaga, .Hack or Noir. The series Op theme, Parallel Hearts by FictionJunction and its Ed theme, Maze by savage genius are also two of the best of the Spring '09 anime season. The VA's are good and solid, though not perfect. I'm not complaining – it was a good performance, very adequate for the series. It's worth mentioning that Ayako Kawasumi, voice actress for Alice, had to run an incredible range of emotion to play Alice, and that she did it excellently.

Bring it on! There is one thing that I wanted to take a minute to talk about, and it's the ending of the anime series. Now, Pandora Hearts the manga is still running strong, having recently released its tenth book. Pandora Hearts the anime, however, pulled a Claymore. For those not familiar with the term, it's what happens when a series follows a manga nearly event for event, such as Claymore did from the first episode right up to episode 23, and then suddenly, and WILDLY deviates from the manga in order to make up an ending for the series. In Claymore's case, that meant completely and utterly destroying everything the anime had done right up until that point, for an ending that was horribly rushed and terribly concluded. Pandora Hearts is both worse, and better than Claymore in this case. Claymore at least took three episodes to make a half-hearted stab at an ending that made something resembling sense. It failed miserably. Pandora Hearts, however, did it's alt ending all in one episode, following the twist-lead in at the end of episode 23. Episode 24 was devoted to a knock-down, drag-out fight that resolved a fair bit of the conflict up to that point. The last episode, 25, was spent concluding the conclusion, so to speak.

That's right, just GRIND that boy under your heel!  As it should be!I can't help but have mixed feelings on a series that tries so hard to follow the manga, then abruptly shifts point. I understand why they did it, in both cases. Both Claymore and Pandora Hearts are long running manga, though Claymore also had the problem of a very slow release schedule that went into hibernation about the time the anime was getting ready to wrap. They didn't really have a choice – if they wanted to do a second season, they had to change course. Pandora Hearts, on the other hand, had a great deal of material still to cover in in the manga, and many of the deepest mysteries. An anime series based on a manga can't afford to depend on that manga forever, though, if it's still an actively running series, so at some point it has to take its own direction.

Red, Black and Blue... just like anybody that gets in her way. All too often, that means an early conclusion to the storyline, and cutting off events that were still in the process of developing abruptly. And how did Pandora Hearts do at this, you might ask? Honestly, when I saw episode 24, I was rather angry. It was a rushed, abrupt ending, as it was in Claymore. The difference is in the details, though, and where Claymore's epilogue took the form of about five minutes and a blatant opening for a second season that never materialized, Pandora Hearts the anime did the job right and actually did a decent job of wrapping things up. Many of the plot threads that were left open in the final fight of episode 24 were tied off, and while they left a few questions unanswered, even a good jumping off point for continuation, the story actually felt complete. That separates it from being a true Claymore, and cements the writing for the anime as excellently solid.

Overall


Who knew rabbits could swim?  Pandora Hearts has proven to be one of the consistently better anime series this season, despite stiff initial competition in its genre by the story-heavy Valkyria Chronicles and Tears to Tiara. It spent its time building a solid foundation over the first three episodes and then did a great job of standing on that foundation and gradually creating an excellent character dynamic and story world. The inclusion of elements from Alice in Wonderland made for a great way to bring familiarity to the story, despite the plot having nothing to do with Lewis Carroll's book. The animation is good overall, the music is excellent, and the ending, despite cutting off the manga so abruptly, is well executed and makes for a worthy ending to the TV series. It's well paced too, but that's more because the manga is extremely well paced and that the TV writers didn't screw with it. I'd recommend this series to anybody that enjoys Alice in Wonderland interpretations or just plain good mystery storytelling.

Additional Info

  • Format: Television
  • Animation: Groovy (+5)
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Groovy (+5)

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