Premiere Date: 4/2/09
Not nearly as impressive as it was made out to be, Pandora Hearts is merely a disappointing mind trip.
Oz Bezarius is the heir to the Bezarius duke and is set to have his coming of age ceremony to be recognized as such. Before the party however, he’s still a kid and as such decides to go play with his servant, Gilbert, and little sister Ada. While out, he discovers a mysterious hidden grave with a pocket watch. When the ceremony actually begins however, his fate is changed as three gods of death appear condemning him to an eternity in the abyss, a fantastical prison where only the worst of the worst are sent. When he arrives, he meets one of the many beings born in the abyss called ‘Chains’ named Alice. With the only way to escape being to form a contract with her, he does and has his life completely changed as he seeks answers to who sent him to the abyss and why.
Good and the Bad
One of the most highly anticipated series of the new season, Pandora Hearts had a lot of buzz surrounding it before the season began. Sadly reality caught up to the series quickly and that buzz faded before anyone even knew what happened. Normally this would be the part where one might say that Pandora Hearts has enough merit to grant some leeway going into the rest of the series but sadly that just isn’t the case here.
Pandora Hearts carried high anticipation prior to its premiere primarily because of how amazing the animation looked in the previews. From the characters to the backgrounds to the fight sequences, everything leading up to the premiere made fans believe that Pandora Hearts was going to look incredible from start to finish. In reality, the backgrounds look decent but little else does.
The character designs were the first thing to catch me off guard, particularly Oz’s servant Gilbert. While Gilbert looks passable for a few seconds, it takes only a moment for fans to start to see the flaws in his designs. In his very first scene, Gilbert is roughed up by another character and his face looks terrible during the entire sequence. His eyes are spaced too far apart and he has the look of an old man rather than a young teenager. At first I thought that this was just to sell the comedy of scene but as the series continues audiences will notice similar flaws with other characters.
In the second episode, Oz’s possible love interest, Sharon Rainsworth, is introduced wearing a beautiful purple dress. Unfortunately said purple dress is drawn with such a terrible lack of definition and detail that she might as well have been introduced wearing a curtain since that’s about what her dress looked like. One episode later the audience gets its first real look at Alice and once again is given almost zero chance with the audience due to terrible definition in her hair and face.
Pulling imagery from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the influences within the animation are overt from almost the very beginning. Never even being subtle about it, audiences who have even a vague recollection of the classic story are going to be able to see the influences within both the real world that Oz inhabits and the fantastical abyss that he is sent to. With dolls that come to life, giant rabbits, a lead female character named Alice and dark backgrounds, it’s impossible for fans to not be overwhelmed by all the references and influences surrounding the characters. Perhaps with a bit more of a subtle touch this could have been much easier to swallow but early on, the bombardment is just a bit much.
Perhaps the biggest fault of Pandora Hearts is how much the staff behind the series assumes from its audience. In the first three episodes, a lot will happen in every episode. Characters will meet, clues will be dropped, fights will occur… and yet almost no story will actually be revealed to the audience. Every episode ends with just enough to keep the audience coming back for more until the end of episode three at which point the hope just kind of fades. Oz has found as exit, Alice has disappeared; Sharon and Oz are in the same place. No matter how many different ways you look at it, it always feels like XEBEC goes halfway with providing questions for fans before assuming that fans will meet them there but provide little incentive for them to do so.
While the lack of early story development plays a large role in alienating the audience, the forced comedy is what finally pushed this viewer over the edge. From the very beginning, the writing staff plays up Oz’s spoiled upbringing to an obscene degree. Always childish, it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s supposed to be attending a coming of age ceremony and yet still wants to go out to play with his sister. Sometimes childish is charming; this isn’t one of those times.
From here Pandora Hearts takes the road of least resistance with its comedy. Never going the clever route, virtually every joke within the first three episodes are over the top reaction gags. Admittedly sometimes they’re funny; the first time Oz meets Sharon is very funny for example. Moving beyond that however the comedy feels forced. Reaction jokes are always going to be funny providing that there is something for the characters to react to. In these episodes though, the dialogue or situations are rarely so substantial that they are worth the characters reacting too strongly, so seeing them react completely over the top ends up feeling forced rather than funny.
Two words: Yuki Kajiura. If you’re a fan of anime music, you might be familiar with that name as she has composed a number of amazing scores over the last decade including Aquarian Age, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, .hack//sign, Madlax, Noir… the list goes on and on. All of the music in this series so far carries her trademarks for fans to enjoy which include beautiful violin solos and haunting vocal tracks which always blend seamlessly into the background. Sadly none of the music ever gets a real chance to shine as it’s constantly so buried in the background that unless you’re specifically listening for it, it’s sometimes hard to even realize it’s there.
This easily takes the title of most disappointing new series this season. Failing to meet early expectations, early episodes of Pandora Hearts have delivered a story fails to go anywhere and characters that are practically two dimensional in their development. While my instincts tell me that the series will get better as it goes on, these episodes just do not provide enough motivation for fans to care.