It’s time to experience the world of Pandora Hearts. It was always a very unique title with a whole lot of fantasy and adventure but at times it would get so convoluted that the story couldn’t really move forward. The anime finishes rather early into the series or at least it felt early. It was nostalgic to see the old characters again. I’d still say that it doesn’t end up being one of the stronger titles out there but at the end of the day I’d still call it a good show.
The series follows a kid named Oz who has had a really rough time of things. He is in line to be the King eventually but his father barely ever talks to him. He seems to dislike Oz on a personal level for some reason and no matter what Oz has done, he just never seems to be good enough. As a result Oz seems chronically depressed even if he always forces a smile on his face. One day during a ceremony a group of villains known as the Baskervilles appear and attempt to murder Oz. He ends up falling into the Abyss where he makes a contract with a chain known as Alice. This allows him to return to life rather than being stuck in purgatory but 10 years have passed. There is a lot of mystery about what happened on the fateful day that caused Oz to disappear. Why did his father seem to be in league with the villains and why does Alice have no memories anymore? All of the mysteries appear to converge around Oz’s lineage and so together with his childhood friend Gilbert, he seeks out the answers to these questions.
In a way you could say that the series is part mystery. A lot of characters know much more than they let on but they are always rather dodgy with their answers. Good luck getting a straight answer out of anybody. Everyone here appears to be shady so Oz can’t really trust anyone, not even his best friends. So this also causes him to be even more alone but at the same time part of the theme in the show is about trying to trust people again which is something Oz and Alice both have trouble with.
The show balances out the more serious moments with a lot of humor. The characters will get drunk and run around and we get a decent amount of slapstick humor. Alice certainly enjoys beating people up if they don’t listen to her and there are a lot of antic around. I’d say that the humor lands well and in some ways it even feels a bit nostalgic like an older humor style. While the cast may not be the strongest overall, they all have good dynamics with each other which makes for a lot of good banter.
Another thing the show does well is the soundtrack. It’s got a very grand feel to it like Sword Art Online. There are quite a few operatic themes in here and so it just sounds great on all accounts. It’s definitely a very good strength of the show. Meanwhile the animation is also pretty solid. I wouldn’t say it’s anything amazing but it’s consistent and the fights are on point. I wouldn’t call this an action show even though there are some fight scenes so it’s more about just making sure that the visuals are on point and the show does well there.
One thing the series does not do well is to convince us that Alice (AKA B Rabbit) is one of the strongest Chains out there. So in the Abyss there are a bunch of chains which are effectively monsters. Alice is so advanced that she has a human form and interacts just like a normal person. Everyone is always afraid of her because she basically rules the Abyss. Think of her like Godzilla on Monster Island. He is the unquestioned King. Well, you would expect her to be extremely powerful then and yet she loses so many fights.
There is always an excuse of course like she’s low on energy or Oz isn’t controlling her properly but these are things you would expect her to fight past. If she really is the best then what’s the problem with having a little handicap right? Much like Saber in Fate, I didn’t think Alice actually lived up to the hype. She’s a great character but the power levels in the show just felt a little screwy because of this. If anything Xerxes seemed to have a more useful ability at times since Alice is more about brute force and doesn’t have any hax type powers.
I’d say the other weak point of the show is the actual mystery. Keep in mind that a big chunk of the series is about “The Tragedy Sablier” and you’ll probably hear this phrase at least once an episode. It’s a really big thing and so we get flashbacks and everything but often times you’re more interested in the present. It’s because they really drip feed you things that are happening in the past so after a point you want them to just show you the whole thing or keep it moving. The show is often at its best in the present with the characters having a good time and getting past their personal issues. Each of the main characters have some kind of trauma that they have to get past so focusing on that works really well.
You’ll notice that there are quite a lot of really sad scenes in the show and the OST has a good amount of emotional tracks to reflect that. These scenes are always executed well and you could probably keep the mystery element to a smaller focus and the show would really be able to just focus on the present instead. The lowest point of the show is during one of Alice’s flashbacks where she deals with the other Alice and things get a little rough for one of the cats. One guy even loses an eye in the process. Xerxes and Alice went through a lot back then, that’s for sure.
Now as to the characters, as mentioned earlier Oz is a really good character. For starters I like that he doesn’t feel bad for himself. He’s been through a lot but always puts that big smile on his face so that nobody will worry about him. It works with most of the characters at least. People all handle sadness differently but in general the ones who put on a brave smile and try to keep going always tend to make for the best characters. Then you have characters like Gilbert and Alice who can see through this but they are rare for sure. Oz is always ready to stand up for his friends as well.
He’s definitely not a fighter but will pick up a sword so he can defend his allies and is also not quick to trust others. He’ll say all the right things but always keeps his eyes open and that’s a really smart thing to do. Then we have Alice and while I had the power level issues, I do like her a lot as a character. She’s one of those characters who may have a difficult time speaking her mind without putting in some tough talk but is very attentive. So she’ll notice if something is up right away even if the other characters don’t realize it. Oz would have been in a tough spot without her. I’d argue that she had an even tougher backstory than Oz with everything she had to go through in the Abyss, not even knowing if she would ever get out. That has to be an absolutely frightening prospect. Even if you are the strongest in that realm, being immortal and knowing there is no end in sight while also losing your memories is a raw deal.
Gilbert is Oz’s best friend but the whole thing is a bit awkward for him since he aged 10 years while Oz hasn’t changed at all. Additionally they didn’t part in the best of ways with how the incident went down. Oz is naturally glad just to be back together though and Gilbert is able to warm up and go back to the way he used to be even if it does take some time. It also can’t be quite the same way it used to be now that he’s older. He tends to fight with Alice a lot which makes for some fun scenes. Gilbert also had to make some concessions during these 10 years including leaving the service of Oz’s family for the Nightrays. I was glad that Oz took this in stride because it was a reasonable move. Gilbert needed to get more power and this was the way to do it.
In comparison Oz’s uncle Oscar is not quite as interesting. He didn’t do a ton during these last 10 years and while he is one of the only characters that Oz can really trust, he doesn’t know a lot of the answers that the other characters have. They basically kept him out of the loop so he is rarely all that helpful. He’s a nice guy and all so he’s not bad but you just wish he would be able to contribute a lot more than what he does in the show.
Oz’s sister Ada also gets a decent role here. Naturally the situation is tough on her as well since she was Oz’s younger sister but now she’s so much older. It’s gotta be tough to adapt to that. She’s not really a fighter but she is always ready to help out and stand by Oz’s side which is important. He needs a strong cast around him to make sure he doesn’t break under the strain of everything going on.
Sharon’s got a much bigger role here. She rules over Xerxes as a very mysterious third party. She’s someone who seems to know a whole lot about the tragedy, the abyss, and the Baskervilles so as you can probably guess she rarely ever tells Oz what he wants to know. It’s not that she knows everything, there is plenty that she doesn’t know but the fact that she won’t say what she does understand is why you can’t trust her. I found her and Xerxes to be two of the most suspicious characters in the show.
They can be very helpful and they get a lot of comic relief scenes but that’s not enough to consider them as allies for sure. One of the benefits of this style is that even villains can get comedic moments to try and hide their true evil. It’s an effective ploy in a mystery like this because then you really can’t rule them out. Likewise they could not be the main villains but still have goals that are at odds with the heroes. If Sharon is the planner then Xerxes is the muscle.
He is always sent off to do battle or aid the heroes when things get dangerous. He gets a lot of development here and even a bit of an origin story. It’s the kind of series where everyone is hiding something. Xerxes does come in handy a lot and saves Oz’s life on more than one occasion so whatever his true mission is, you know that Oz is still happy to have him in his corner for the time being.
The Baskervilles make for a very interesting villain group. Their objectives are wrapped in vague shadows but they say Oz is a curse and want him back in the Abyss so something is going on there. They seem to have some kind of cause that they believe in and a flashback gives more depth to this. Part of what helps them as a group is that they all seem to have their own character. They aren’t just mindless minions even if you’re unsure of exactly what their end game is. I guess you can add that as another mystery to the pile.
Never out of mysteries, the show gives us another one with the character Jack. He is one of Oz’s predecessors in the family and for reasons unknown his dead spirit can inhabit Oz’s body and take control of him. While Oz is frail and can’t fight all that well, Jack was known as the greatest member to ever be born into the family. He’s strong and commanding, even the villains will always stop and listen to what he has to say. This doesn’t help Oz’s confidence issues but Jack helps out a lot and he’s definitely one of the best characters in the series. He also tends to be cryptic though and would prefer to just vanish for a while than answer Oz’s questions. So again I would not trust this guy but he’s always cool to see even if his role is small so far.
Then there is Vincent who is up front about being a big villain. He mistreats his maid and comes across as a very intense guy. He’s quite cruel and a big change from Gilbert even though they are brothers. While he will listen to a request from Gilbert, he can ignore everyone else and follows his own agenda. Whatever his end goal is, you know that it’s not good. He makes for an interesting villain as he helps to mix things up even further but hasn’t done a ton yet.
Echo is fairly emotionless but it’s still rough to see her working for Vincent. It would be great if she could strike out on her own and just get away to a happier life. Working for that guy is just plain confusing and she seems like a nice enough character. She just happened to be on the wrong side. One character that is only hear to add more questions is a guy named Rufus. He is one of the dukes and a man of great stature but he spends most of his time messing with the heroes or intentionally spoiling someone’s backstory instead of answering the relevant questions. So he’s intentionally annoying to the characters even though he is someone who could also shed some light on things.
Then we have one of the best characters in the show, Elliot. This guy is great. He’s got a solid honor code and is a really stand up guy. He knows how to fight with a sword and has a very traditional mindset where he will do the right thing no matter how hard it is. He may seem out of his depth at first as a normal guy in a world with a lot of craziness but he always holds his own. He has a good skirmish with the Baskervilles and protects Oz. He may not get along with Oz at all really but he doesn’t let this slow down his sense of justice. That’s how you know that he is a real one. Other characters could have been petty about the whole thing. Unfortunately his role is small so you don’t see him much.
His partner Leo is also around but I was never as big a fan of that guy. He can be a little harsh to Elliot and can’t quite quite as well. His banter isn’t as funny as some of the other characters and so ultimately he doesn’t do anything to really enhance the show. Finally we have Oz’s father who is presented as one of the big villains. We still don’t know exactly why he wants to get rid of Oz but you can bet that his role would continue to get bigger as the series went on. Right now there’s no reason to like him as he just feels like a traitor who is on the wrong side.
So there is a lot going on here. Pandora Hearts builds up quite a large world with a lot of rules and mechanics. At times it feels bigger than what the show can possibly adapt as well which ends up being true since it ended early anyway. I still say that focusing on the present would be more fun but I understand that the mystery is a big part of the experience. One advantage the show has over the manga is it’s much easier to tell characters apart. In the manga quite a few of them look so similar that it’s hard to keep them straight while in the anime you can easily tell who is who. Ultimately I look at the show more favorably than I did the manga. It may not be quite good enough to get to the next level and lacks the replay value that some other shows have but I had a good time here from cover to cover and could easily recommend it. It’ll definitely make you engaged in what’s going on or laugh at the funny moments but either way there is something for everyone.
Overall, Watching Pandora Hearts is like reading half of a mystery novel. You’ve got the setup and all of the questions but the show ends before you can actually get the answers. Maybe one day the show will continue but it seems just old enough and the series just not popular enough to get that chance. You can’t rule out anything anymore though so I’ll just hope that it does return. At least because of this the ending does leave things off on a very intriguing note and you can do your best to fill in the blanks on your own unless you read the manga. I’d still recommend checking out the show. The ost is amazing as I said and it makes for an interesting watch. It’s fairly unique too so it’s got that going for it.