An adorable young boy with completely justifiable daddy issues, finds himself in the Abyss, a hell dimension, due to the machinations of a secret society. In his attempts to return to his own world, he meets a seemingly amnesic demon creature named Alice who agrees to help him escape if he, in turn, helps her regain her memories.
There’s actually a whole lot more going on but let’s start with this. As I watched this show all I could think about was, this is a Black Butler spin-off right?, From setting, to mood , to character design – everything is so similar to Black Butler that it’s a bit distracting. Of course, both series were produced by the same studio so some semblance is to be expected but this might as well have been Black Butler: book of Pandora Hearts.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing…. Once you get over the eerie déjà vu feeling, the show proceeds to patiently and deliberately hit you over the head with half-baked Alice in Wonderland references. I mean Alice is even called…well Alice. There’s no need to worry though if you happen to be unfamiliar with Lewis Caroll’s work (although at this point how is that even possible?) because the references are all pretty superficial but they do serve to add to the general gothicky feel that the anime is aiming for. I have noticed that Alice in Wonderland is used surprisingly often in popular Japanese media. I realize that’s it’s one of the most enduring and easily recognizable fairy tales of our times so it would make sense to incorporate it in a lot of stuff, but since it’s one of my favourite childhood books, I tend to really notice when it gets referenced and I see it disproportionately is Japanese works. Is Alice big in Japan? Is it cause her dress is so cute? These are important questions! Do they have anything to do with the story? No. With this review? Not really…
Actually, the story is this sort of period drama full of behind the scene machinations of secret societies trying to control the fates of noble families for political gain, with some demons (called chains in the show) thrown in for good measure. Of course something went terribly wrong – one could say hellishly wrong. Of course, our protagonists must decipher the riddles of the past in order to save the future. OF COURSE you never know who anyone really is and who you can actually trust. It’s great! Or rather, it could have been great. The anime is sort of jumbled and the storyline jumps from one thread to another dropping a few all together, seemingly completely forgetting about certain characters and events and in the end, the conclusion is just messy and not very satisfying, with many questions left unanswered and obviously more story to come. Now this is how you run-on a sentence! However, the anime hints at this huge world governed by complex laws, filled with ten soap operas worth of eccentrics and even with its very own lexicon. It really made me want to read the manga to fill in the blanks. Still, I honestly believe that an anime should stand on its own and shouldn’t be judged on its source material. Bottom line, as it is, Pandora Hearts is just woefully incomplete.
The art is very pretty and I really like the designs of the chains but there is something odd about the overall look. It was, for lack of a better word – grainy? When I was watching it, I was convinced that this was an older series which had served as inspiration for BB, I was very surprised to find out it had been released in 2009, a year after BB. There’s a certain lack of colour saturation that makes it look a little washed out but not like it’s on purpose.
Since I clearly lack the ability to form an actual opinion about this series without just comparing it to BB, let just keep on heading down that road. Although a lot of the themes are similar, family betrayal, murder, demonic contract… I’m telling you, it’s the same dawrn thing. Pandora Hearts is overall much lighter. Both titles have their share of humor but Pandora tends more towards Mystery where BB ventures into drama. Also, the contract is much less predatory and the ho yay much gentler. You could be tricked into thinking that this was meant for a younger audience if it weren’t for the buckets of blood being spilled all over the place.
If you aren’t too OCD about getting all the relevant plot points on and if you liked Black Butler, this may just be for you. If nothing else it will be familiar…
Favorite character: Break
What this anime taught me about myself: I no longer get mad when Alice in Wonderland gets misappropriated
“Never take advice from me, you’ll end up drunk”
Suggested drink: Magical Mad Hatter
- Every time Alice transforms – take a drink
- Every time we see both of breaks eyes – take a drink
- Every time there’s a flashback – take a drink
- Every time we see a watch – check the time
- Every time Gilbert is really protective of Oz – smile knowingly and also take a drink
- Every time we see Oscar – Cheer!
- Every time we hear the Will of the Abyss – take a drink
- Every time we see Jack – raise your glass
- Every time Sablier is mentioned – take a drink
- Take another if you know what Sablier means
- Every time someone talks about Pandora – roll credits