"Pandora Hearts" Part 1: Shoulda Kept the Box Closed
Pandora is an organization that deals with demons known as Chains making “illegal” contracts with humans. These contracts are a pact between the Chain and human, allowing the Chain to escape the dark dimension known as the Abyss in exchange for lending their power to the human. The problem is that (most) Chains aren’t to be trusted and just end up using humans for their own personal goals, using up their life force and eventually causing their death. When Oz Vessalius from the noble Vessalius Dukedom is unexpectedly sent to the Abyss during his coming of age ceremony he is completely unaware of what Chains are, and had figured the Abyss was nothing more than a fairy tale. Upon his arrival he meets a Chain taking the form of a young girl known as B-Rabbit. Unlike the rest of her kind, B-Rabbit, or Alice as she allows him to call her, recalls that she has a past, albeit a past that she can’t remember. Without knowing that help is coming for him on the other side, Oz makes a contract with Alice in order to escape the Abyss. Alice is also different in that she doesn’t feed on human flesh and that her only goal in the human world is to acquire pieces of her memories that are scattered throughout Earth. Pandora decides that while they aren’t supposed to let her (or Oz) roam free since they are illegal contractors, their interest in Alice makes her an exception so long as Oz/Alice follows their rules. During their time dealing with illegal contractors, Oz/Alice and Pandora quickly learn an entity known as the “Will of the Abyss” has a particular connection and hate for Alice, which inevitably becomes an interest for Pandora.
If you couldn’t already tell, the plot line is really generic. Demons have been done numerous times in anime, and making contracts with demons isn’t exactly a unique take on it. Because it has such a generic plot, you’d expect Pandora Hearts to feature some well thought out plot twists and revelations that would add layers of depth to the story. Unfortunately, Part 1 of the series (at least) is not only generic but incredibly simplistic and straightforward. By the end of thirteen episodes only a couple of B-Rabbit’s memories have been uncovered, and they all center on a long-haired blonde man. Being simple in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but generally if I am going to watch a storyline that has been done before I want to see some new cards played. At this point, the plot is relying on the mystery factor to entice viewers. We still don’t know why the Will of the Abyss hates Alice, why her memories are so important, what Pandora’s real intentions are, what the Baskerville residents are up to (they are the ones who sent Oz to the Abyss), and why Oz is the “chosen” one. That’s quite a bit to be covered in just twelve episodes, and past experience with leaving everything to the end has me more than a little bit leery.
The plot also just seems to drag on until the last few episodes. Flashbacks of particular scenes pop up in almost every episode: whether it be Gilbert (Oz’s personal assistant and best friend) swearing his allegiance or Oz being rejected by his father, the list goes on. Showing them once is alright, but to keep delaying the action and current plot line with flashbacks is obnoxious. It doesn’t help that the fighting sequences are pretty boring and stale. Alice’s real form takes the shape of a giant black rabbit wielding a scythe. It is daunting and powerful to watch on screen, but the effect is lost when she wins with just one swing. Perhaps in Part 2, when Baskerville makes more of an effort, there will be some better action scenes, but for now I’m not impressed. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the Will of Abyss and its connection to Alice. So while the plot definitely leaves something to be desired, at the very least it has my attention by the end, and I am intrigued by the hint that Pandora might be having internal problems.
It is hard to judge the majority of the characters because we know so little about all of them. As the protagonist, Oz is pretty likable. He stands up for what he believes in and attempts to do the right thing. He has deep father issues, being ignored his entire life and then overhearing that he should never have been born. It’s an overdone concept, but unlike with the other characters it lets the viewer know a bit more about him. Oz’s relationship with his personal assistant, Gilbert, a boy picked out of the garden with no memories, is a highlight of the show. After going into the Abyss, ten years pass in the real world, but despite this passage of time Gilbert remains highly faithful and protective. Their friendship seems really genuine at times and gives the show some emotional moments.
Other than that, the other characters really don’t do that much, which is odd because a few have been in almost every episode. The blonde-haired man in Alice’s memories is the typical stock mysterious character, while Sharon Rainsworth, a member of Pandora, is the intelligent possible love interest for Oz. Xerxes Break, another member of Pandora, however steals any moment he is on the screen. His odd demeanor, missing left eye and ageless body just sort of give him this enticing quality that makes me want to know more about him. Not to mention it is awesome that he travels through cabinets and seems to be really powerful. I expect in part two he will put on a good show when his Chain is revealed. (Pandora agents make legal contracts with Chains, though the method hasn’t been revealed.) But Baskerville’s motives are still unknown, making them fairly weak antagonists. B-Rabbit is spunky and powerful, but her mysteries are still a mystery, and the same goes with Gilbert, who is adopted by the Nightray Dukedom after Oz disappears. Like the plot, a lot of explaining as been left for the second part, which could easily backfire on Pandora Hearts.
There weren’t too many musical songs that stood out while watching, but Alice’s transformation into the giant rabbit had a nice theme song to it. It appropriately established her vast power and its operatic feel easily sets a chilling atmosphere. The animation in part one often times is hazy and a bit grainy. Despite having nice character designs, it just looks bad and really kind of cheapens the quality of the series, which is pretty disappointing. Really, in this day and age having sloppy animation is unacceptable. The characters also sometimes come off as very bright, which is a shame since the character designs themselves look nice. The art book NIS America has included does a good job in showing off these designs with a series of illustrations depicting the characters in various poses/situations. Also included in the art book is a character relationship chart as well as character descriptions and a comic featuring Gilbert. While it looks nice, it is lacking in interviews from the cast and series creators that made their other art books impressive. The bonus clips at the end of disc two are also worth watching, often putting Gilbert in humorous situations.
There is a lot to criticize about Pandora Hearts Part 1, but there is a certain entertainment factor there that makes me want to watch Part 2. I’d recommend giving it a shot, despite the plot being so generic. The buildup could very well be worth the wait, but I’m just hesitant considering how many episodes are left.