Run Time: 330 Minutes
Studio: Square Enix/Pandora project
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Drama With Light Comedy Elements
Release Date: 10/27/2010
Pandora Hearts is the fifth anime release and the third series from Nippon Ichi’s new anime line. Until this year Nippon Ichi has only been a video game developer and publisher, but considering their audience, this is a natural evolution for the company. I fell in love with Toradora!, and it’s become my favorite anime release of 2010. Persona: Trinity Soul was good for what it was and it’s nice to see the company succeeding in this area. Pandora Hearts started off as a Manga serialization in Square-Enix’s GFantasy magazine. Broccoli Books was going to licensed as U.S. version of the Manga, but dropped it. As such, this is really the first time Pandora Hearts has come to the US shores. I have to admit the art intrigued me, and my girlfriend fell in love with the box art at first glance, so I was looking forward to reviewing this one. With the first of set sets retailing for $47.99, it’s a pricey set. Is it worth the investment like the previous NIS America releases? Let’s take a look.
When you first get the set, you’ll no doubt be drawn to the amazing packaging the DVD’s come in. The box the DVDs come in is as long as two DVD cases placed next to each other and about as thick as two normal sized DVD releases. Now the size of the packaging might make the Pandora Hearts set hard to fit on your shelf, but it also makes them stand out. As with other NIS releases, the set fits fine on my shelf; it just juts out a bit past the shelf. The box is a very durable, unlike most anime box sets which come in what amounts to flimsy paper. This very hard and glossy box stands out and anime collectors of all shapes and forms will instantly recognize the packaging as the best you’ll see for a series like this. In terms of durability (or in my case rabbit-proofing), this is the best packaging I’ve ever seen, beating out The Irresponsible Captain Tylor Ultra Edition OVA series container. This is honestly one thing Nippon Ichi does better than any anime publisher I’ve ever seen and the cases alone are worth checking out. Finally one side of the box just has the Pandora Hearts name on it while the other has a wonderful gothic Lolita version of Alice, Gil and Oz on it. Honestly, I loved this visual on the case and was a bit disappointed that the characters don’t actually look like this in the anime itself. Ah well.
Once you open the plastic around the box, you can slide out the two thin-pack DVDs along with the artbook for this set, which has become a NIS America staple. Here you are getting an artbook with a shiny white cover that highly contrasts with the black box set in a sublime way. Both the artbook and case are pretty on their own, but the contrast between the two when place next to each other really heightens their beauty. The inside of the book contains 32 pages of character bios, information about the series, straight up character art and several pages of the Manga (localized) which is much…stranger than the anime series. I should also point out that unlike the Toradora! and Trinity Soul art books, the Pandora Hearts one reads from right to left, much like a Japanese publication. Because the first for were printed left to right in a Western style, I actually picked up this art book and assumed it was the same way. I went a few pages into it before I realized what was up. Whoops.
Now for the series itself. Within Volume One, you’re getting 13 episodes and five very funny out of continuity shorts that span three to five minutes each. I will admit upfront that I found the series to be very slow at first and it took me several episodes to actually get into it or care about any of the characters. Once I did, I found the series to be somewhat enjoyable, but it’s still my least favorite of the three that NIS has released so far. Right now the characters are a bit too generic and dull for my tastes and I’m not a fan of the character designs, but there are a couple mysteries that have me intrigued enough to want to check out the second volume.
The story revolves around four Dukedoms, and it takes place 100 years after a great tragedy that befell the lands. To mark the passing of this event, all nobles are required to turn 15 years of age in a mansion directly connected to the tragedy and participate in a “Coming of Age” ceremony in front of a large clock that stopped ticking at 11:59 – right when the tragedy (which I am purposely being coy about because the series doesn’t really explain it in Volume One at all. The art book does however, so read that for spoilers.) occurred. Oz Vessalius, the heir to the most noble, pure and good of the families (OR IS IT) is about to turn 15, so he has come with his sister Ada and servant to participate in the ceremony. Unfortunately, as the ceremony begins, an evil (?) legion known as The Citizens of Baskerville interrupts the ceremony and charges that OZ has commited the greatest sin of all – by simply existing. He is then plunged into a dimension of chaos and madness known as The Abyss which, like most of the anime, is heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Here Oz meets a chain known as B-Rabbit or Alice. A Chain is a spirit that lives the Abyss. Most hunger for human flesh and souls but can only exist in the Abyss without forming a contract with a human. Generally the Chain gives the human some sort of promise like changing the past or killing their enemies and becomes bonded to a human. Unfortunately this creates a brand on the human of a ticking clock. Once the clock makes a full revolution of the dial, the human is dragged into the Abyss. So the Abyss is like an odd mix of Wonderland and the Western notion of Hell.
Oz and Alice eventually make a contract and together their return to Earth, but it turns out ten years have passed in what felt like only a few hours for Oz and he hasn’t aged a bit. Now Oz has to readjust to a world and family that has passed him by and finds hinself involved with the intrigue and political games of the four families, the Citizens of Barkerville and everyone’s machinations around controlling the Will of Abyss. Very little is every really explained in the first thirteen episodes and the series just expects the viewer to go along with the flow. Don’t worry, things do slowly start to get explained, but it’s too late and too meandering for my own personal tastes. Tioio much of the first thirteen episodes feels like padding or filler for me.
Overall, I found the series to be merely okay and the worst of the three series Nippon Ichi has released so far. I did like that there are a lot of literary illusions to several classic Western works, although the only ones that aren’t subtle are those from Alice in Wonderland. I wasn’t a fan of the story or character designs though as those are the two most important things in an anime series for me. The packaging, artbook and shorts are wonderful though and for a collector, this is worth purchasing but a more casual anime fan who is simply looking for an entertaining series to watch, I’d have to suggest they pick up Toradora! instead as it really is the best US anime release of 2010.
You can purchase Pandora Hearts directly from Nippon Ichi’s Official Website. You can also learn more about the series there as well.