Pandora Hearts (DVD) Review
Pandora Hearts is an anime set in an alternate European world and is a series that spans nearly a century of history. The anime's premise centers itself around a horrific event appropriately named the Tragedy of Sabrie and the handful of characters who are supposedly involved. Enter Oz Vessalius, an heir to one of the four great dukedoms, who has just turned 15. His life so far has been rather normal for a noble of his status as he has had the privilege of living in a posh mansion, being attended to by his loyal servants, and being free from most worries. However, on his "coming of age" day, everything takes a turn for the worst. Enigmatic personas in robes deem him guilty of a "hidden sin" and choose to cast him into an alternate dimension simply known as the Abyss. Upon his arrival to this dark prison, Oz is immediately attacked by Chains, monstrous creatures who inhabit the Abyss. Just before he is devoured by one, a Chain known as Alice comes to his rescue. Who is this Alice, why was Oz cast into the Abyss, and what other trials await him?
Unlike most series I have reviewed, Pandora Hearts is an odd series that I can't really define its genre very well as there are equal amounts of mystery, intrigue, action-elements, comedy, supernatural, and drama mixed into it. Perhaps it was to appease all types of people within the anime-viewing crowd, but overall to me it seems like the plot keeps switching moods every second. In a way, this begins to hinder the storytelling from truly shining as the plot cannot keep a mood long enough to set up a substantial plot development effectively. As a result, the anime seems to drag on after the first four or so episodes.
The introductory episodes are done very well and keep the viewers engaged. Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes have very little in plot-development. This is frustrating given that so many questions are brought up within the beginning arc. What plot development there is also seems to suffer from pacing issues, as normally the big reveals and details are brought to light at the very end of the episodes and all in one sitting. The prior sections to these reveals are mostly either fluff or additional complex scenes that make very little sense. Combined with clichés and typical shonen tropes, the episodes leave very little impression.
There is also the fact the series' cliffhanger ending only opens up more questions and answers only a few. This sort of ending is more suited to lead towards a second season, but seeing as there is none in production, the plot seems to have an abrupt and rather confusing end.The characters and Chains in Pandora Hearts are all based a little from the familiar "Alice in Wonderland" theme. In particular, I enjoyed how they handled Alice and her additional character as the notorious "Black Rabbit" (or B-Rabbit). The setting of the world is interesting and well done, I just wish that some of the characters were developed better throughout the course of the series. In particular, I felt that Oz was the main issue. He knows nothing about what's around him and has very little drive to figure out what is happening due to his "I accept everything and everything" attitude. As a result, not only does Oz not know what's going on, but the viewers don't as well.
Given the plot and character shortcomings, I have to applaud Pandora Hearts for trying a backwards storytelling approach. It certainly isn't easy to explain a vast amount of history, but the way they tried to execute it was pretty interesting. The execution is similar to that of Baccano!, where it skips time periods in order to fill in gaps of the overall story. In Pandora Hearts, this is done through flashbacks as the majority of the plot builds upon what happened during the Tragedy of Sabrie. The main issue is, I think is that they don't answer as many questions as they should be doing while explaining the flashbacks. There is not a lot of connections being made between the present and the past.
The art animation for Pandora Hearts is pretty good at first. The character designs look promising and the setting is gorgeous. Later on through the series, you'll notice a drop in quality: more static scenes, substandard fight sequences, and lots of recycling going around with the background artwork. On top of this, there is more guassian blur misuse and filter noise than I can shake a stick at. At first I thought that my TV was being finicky as I noticed that the noise filter was very prominent. However, I did some more research online and it says that the filter is intentional by the studio. There is even a little text warning on the 2nd Volume DVDs of Pandora Hearts that is being licensed by NISA. I can understand that the filters are meant to soften the heavy shadows and stark (and quite drab) color palates, but the filters are very noticeable to the point of being annoying. I'm also dismayed by the fact that the character designs look so washed out with the color palates they chose. Instead of vivid colors like a typical anime, the color design on this series uses very desaturated ones. This makes viewing harder for individuals with TV screens that aren't as bright. There also seemed to be some animation hiccups with the fight scenes as the animations were rather short and had some awkward camera angles.
The famed Yuki Kajiura composed a magnificent original sound track. The battle-themes are fast-paced and the main melody "Lacie" is very haunting. The epic soundtrack matches the scope of the project perfectly. It is orchestral-based with some electronic elements thrown in. Despite this, the score fits in very well with the 19th century European vibe of the setting. My favorite tracks from the OST are "Contractor" and "Blood Rabbit," both of which are fight themes.
The limited edition NISA release of Pandora Hearts is separated into two volumes. The DVD sets are housed in large and sturdy chipbox sets complete with a book detailing character designs and more. Like most NISA releases, the audio is in Japanese with English subtitles. Despite this, I found the Japanese dub to be quite enjoyable as all voice actors portray their respective characters well. Special features include omake animation shorts released in the Japanese version of the DVDs.
Overall, I found Pandora Hearts to be somewhat inferior to its manga counterpart. There were obvious pacing issues in the anime and the lack of answers given at the end of the series doesn't help. The characters at least had interesting designs and the original soundtrack was fabulous. The series is still worth a try watching. It just may seem rather slow paced.
Things I loved:
- Character and Chain Design
- Flashback Approach with Storytelling
- The original soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura is AMAZING.
- Setting and "Alice in Wonderland"
- Japanese dub is well done.
Things I disliked:
- Slow pacing
- Lots of questions, few answers
- The ending
- Character development
- Noise filter on animation
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the distributor.