And here’s the dark horse…
Pandora Hearts was a show that far and away exceeded the expectations I had going into it – I was initially pretty lukewarm, as the description for the show was pretty bland sounding in that it seemed ripe for mediocrity. Honestly, when I first read the summary, saw the art, and heard the title, I assumed it had somehow been spawned by a video game.
Well, was I ever wrong.
Pandora Hearts ended up being the best show of the season. It took a potentially generic premise and brought it to life through its successful world building, and a surprisingly good grotesque aesthetic. Pandora Hearts was, ultimately, a fantasy-world type series with a strong undercurrent of horror, as evidenced by the disturbing creatures of the Abyss and of the horrific actions of several of the members of the cast (particularly as regarded the Tragedy of Sabrie). To say that the stuffed bunny that appeared in an early episode was one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in a while is no exaggeration.
Also – I liked the incorporation of elements of Alice in Wonderland. The original Alice in Wonderland is a very good read, and is somewhat subversive. If you’ve only seen the Disney version (which really isn’t that bad, just a bit sanitized… although they still try to cut Alice’s head off, so its actually not as sanitized as you would think), I can’t recommend enough that you read the original book itself. The use of elements of that story into Pandora Hearts actually works very well when you consider the nature of the story as written by Lewis Caroll.
However, my favorite aspect of the show was easily the supporting cast; specifically, I loved Break and Sharon. Enigmatic, hard to pin down characters are nothing new in anime, but Break was a breath of fresh air nevertheless, what with his perfectly pitched air of creepiness and general ambiguity. This is probably not the best way of describing why I liked his character so much, but its difficult to come up with an adequate explanation of liking such a character, as the character itself so thoroughly defies a clear description. Anyway, he was certainly my favorite character, and I feel that my enjoyment of his existence of a character came out of the acting of his voice actor – it truly was a dead-on performance, lending a dimension to his character that simply couldn’t have been (and wasn’t) conveyed in the manga.
My affection for Sharon is similarly hard to nail down precisely, although I can say I loved the inherent deceptiveness of her character – I figured I’d despise her in the first episode, as she came across as a typical nadeshiko-type. Instead, Sharon was one of those types who seems to believe in the Lady Macbeth style of behavior – “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” I do wish that her relationship with Break had been explored a bit more in depth, and that she herself had been given a closer inspection.
Yet my adoration of the supporting cast does reveal a flaw in the show – the main characters simply didn’t capture my attention nearly as much. Alice is a fun character, and Gil is alright, but Oz is a bit lacking – too heavy on the angst, not heavy enough on making an impression. At the same time, though, I appreciated the fact that he actually looked and acted like a fifteen year old boy, unlike what one gets in a lot of other shows with young male protagonists (for comparison, consider Ichigo of Bleach – he, too, is supposedly fifteen years old).
There is also the fact that Pandora Hearts doesn’t get a real ending – I’ll argue that its ending does work, but it leaves a lot of things up in the air still. The manga is still running, and the DVD’s I believe sold better than expected (the visible improvement of animation quality lends credence to this), so there is a possibility for a sequel, which I sincerely hope it can get. Whether it gets a sequel or not, I’ll still consider it a good show, but I will probably not be as likely to recommend it if it doesn’t get a second season.
Hmm, other things… I actually liked the art style – it looked like it came from 1997 or so, but I find that that worked since all those fantasy-type shows (Record of Lodoss War, El Hazard, Magic Knight Rayearth… or even something like Those Who Hunt Elves) seem to hail from that time. In that way, it was like a throwback, and pleasantly so for anyone wishing for a bit of sweet nostalgia. Mileage will really depend upon how much you like more recent animation versus older animation – I know a lot of people simply ran for the hills because they’ll only tolerate BONES level animation. Oh well, their loss.
As far as technical details go, though, Yuki Kajiura’s soundtrack had some bright moments but overall felt fairly boring – half the time I felt like I should’ve been watching Mai-HiME during fight scenes. Kajiura really could use some fresh direction.
Honestly, I really, really enjoyed Pandora Hearts, and, yes, I would recommend it at this moment in time. I just hope that it gets a sequel. And I’m dying to see the release of the manga stateside so I can see what happens beyond the timeline of the TV version.