Every now and then you come across an anime with all the right tools for success but ends up having to fight an uphill battle against unfortunate surrounding factors. Take a manga that’s nowhere near complete, hand it off to a studio with an unimpressive track record, and what do you get? Well, honestly now that I think about it, a lot of adaptations of manga/LNs/VNs/novels fit this criteria, but today I’ll be highlighting yet another unfortunate case in Pandora Hearts. An anime with a compelling backdrop but not a clue as to how to handle it in the long run. Whilst the show may have come out half-baked, I’d be remiss to leave out mention of its solid foundation
The world Pandora Hearts presents within it’s 25 episode run is one that makes no qualms in making parallels with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland primarily. It plays with various concepts and names from famous fairy tales and ghost stories as well. The story of Pandora Hearts is an interesting attempt at mixing of fantasy, action, horror, mystery, and comedy.The plot unfurls a tale spanning a century revolving around an event known as “Tragedy of Sabrie”. More often then not, plot advancement comes from looking back at these events and seeing what each shocking revelation does to each character and their resolve to move forward. That said as far as titles labeled the “shounen” tag go, Pandora Hearts is rather slow and it’s very obvious that providing exhilarating action is not top priority here. After a while, it becomes clear the story prefers to flesh out elements of the setting and the central mystery as opposed to providing fight scenes in each episode.
The slow pace isn’t something I’d wholly chalk up to the lack of immediately epic plotting however and that’s where on of the major failings of the plot lies. Most of the show’s major revelations are shoved into 1-2 episode events that are sandwiched between….not really all that much. There’re some pretty lengthy stretches here in there that ended up being filled with very trite, very anime-typical comedy which did nothing for me. Comedic timing is also a foreign concept to Pandora Hearts for the most part as the characters often make random “funny” quips during otherwise serious dialogue exchanges. The meat can be pretty delicious here, but there’s way too much fat I found unpalatable. This problem also makes it so that the plot-twists are unevenly spaced out. You get a collection of perspective-changing developments in one episode, none for a fair stretch of time, and then yet another cluster of twists. Episodes 21 and 22 in particular end up being rather dizzying as a result of this. An unfortunate side-effect of the plot developments in Pandora Hearts is that they give rise to many, many questions and character arcs that no series of just 25 episodes is capable of handling properly. Being an adaptation of an incomplete monthly series that presumably didn’t sell well enough to warrant a second, was to be expecting. What can’t be excused, however, is the poorly thought out final episodes. The anime sticks with the storyline of it’s parent manga with blind faith until the last three episodes come along and it becomes clear that the story is nowhere near a satisfying stopping point. This, of course, resulted in the anime attempting to create it’s own ending and it completely betrays the efforts the show had put into all of it’s interesting variables by barely addressing any of them. I’m not really a manga purist, so I say that script-writers should feel free to inject their own ideas into an adaptation though they should do it under one of 2 conditions.
1. Make it their own pet-project of sorts early on. This is undoubtedly very difficult to do as it means not only making a different ending, but giving the story a different narrative purpose. Go out on a limb and change not just the ending, but the entire 2nd half or something. Make it so it has a different set of ideas or themes as well so that the adaptation can be viewed as it’s own thing that can even be preferred over the source rather then just a shittier version of the source with a conclusion that seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute. Examples: Fullmetal Alchemist, Bokurano, Planetes and Gankutsuou
2. Make sure that the added content doesn’t conflict with conflict with the main canon so as to effectively close off all hope for a sequel. Example: Noragami
Pandora Hearts opts for neither of these options and goes for an ending that not only plays around with the established canon, but is also inconclusive. For those of you who’ve seen Claymore, think of that title’s finale, but with even more unanswered questions and much more rushed anticlimax (yes it’s that lame).
As far as the actual cast goes, while they fall short of getting much in the way of impressive development, they still get fleshed out to a remarkable degree. For the most part, however, the series banks on the character arc of Oz Vessalius (the protagonist) to a point at which actually becomes a bit of a detriment. The writers seem to have a hard-on for exploiting his emotional trauma for all it’s worth. And for what? To have Oz angst and fret, and then eventually man up a little and say that he’ll make a change for the better. Doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, the thing is his development is cyclical, as in it resets from time to time. We see him fluctuate from emotional highs to lows several times over in the same way and it ends up becoming a tad repetitious. That said he’s far from what I’d call a bad character exactly. The characters Oz meets on his journey never encourage him to develop into an unstoppable badass (he’s actually quite weak physically throughout) so much as they challenge his value system. He eventually realizes the problems that lie with his childish heroics. It’s a shame that his more introspective moments of sadness were far too numerous and lengthy for the simple points they got across.
The rest of the cast, in particular, do develop a fair bit in the present, but I’d be lying If I said it wasn’t more interesting to see how they ended up becoming who they are. I’m not normally a fan of using flashbacks excessively, but given how all the important clues to the central mystery lie in the past, I can allow Pandora Hearts some lee-way. There really isn’t any going further without taking a good long look back. Because of this, I can’t say the characters “develop” as much as you might like to here that, but the main cast (Oz, Alice, Gilbert, and Break) is made up of individuals that you can fully understand and sympathize with. Alice, her self is a pretty simple tsundere type through and through though unlike others of her type she doesn’t really exude arrogance to mask weakness as she’s strong as hell. Her simplistic nature and arrogance come from the fact that she lacks her memory of the traumatic events of time long before her meeting with Oz. Not the most original character, but as an epicenter to the grand mystery she doesn’t detract much from the series. There really isn’t all that much to say about the characters besides looking at how they are built up, because it’s actually difficult to talk about them without spoiling key plot-twists (and trust me there are a lot of key plot-twists) once we finally have a strong grasp on the main players, the show comes to it’s abrupt ending.
Visually, there’s no escaping the fact that the series doesn’t really deliver. Sure the series has neat set-pieces, but excessively drab, dark and grainy color pallette doesn’t do them much favor. There’s also this odd, blurry filter blurs the outlines of objects in the foreground that I found distracting. The fight-scenes are also not up to par as they lack inspired choreography tactics and overall direction. Audio-wise, Pandora Hearts holds up just fine. Whilst not the best I’ve heard of her work, Yuki Kajiura’s score does a fine job of picking up some of the slack during the slower moments and mediocre fight scenes. This track in particular that’s used whenever Alice is going all out against a foe is typically better then everything happening onscreen. Kajiura’s tendency towards pieces with moody melancholic chants fits a morose title like this one to a tee.
It’s a shame that with as much momentum Pandora Hearts was gaining that it had to succumb not only to it’s own shortcomings, but to the same fate as many adaptations of monthly manga before it. As it is, watching Pandora Hearts is akin to piecing together a vast jigsaw puzzle, only to discover that half the pieces are missing towards the end.