#1 Supernatural Victorian mystery
Set in a fantasy world inspired by Victorian-era England, Pandora Hearts is a supernatural mystery anime centered around aristocrat families. Our protagonist is 15-year-old Oz Vessalius, an adventurous flirt who is the heir to his family’s dukedom. At least, that was the intention.
On the day of his coming-of-age ceremony, chaos breaks out. Cloaked strangers assault Oz, his best friend betray him, a giant monster appears out of nowhere, all without explanation. By the end of the ordeal, Oz is cast into a surreal hellworld known as The Abyss. There he meets and forges a contract with one of the realm’s resident monsters; a girl called Alice who can transform into a scythe-wielding rabbit. They break free from The Abyss, but immediately find themselves in even greater trouble.
Pandora Hearts is an anime of many mysteries. First and foremost, the question of why Oz was attacked in the first place. Who were those cloaked figures? Why did they specifically target Oz? What did they hope to achieve? Directly related to this is Alice. She is a creature of The Abyss, yet wholly unlike any of her kin that roam there. She has some tie to the physical world, but she has no memories of before The Abyss. Her deal with Oz, therefore, involves the two of them trying to uncover what or who she truly is.
The mysteries don’t end there. Every character has an agenda, everybody keeps secrets. Pandora Hearts does a great job at keeping you invested by constantly introducing new threads and resolving others. It’s like you’re solving a 100-piece puzzle, except you slowly come to realize that it may have 500 pieces instead. Perhaps even more.
#2 Solid environments
Pandora Hearts mixes 2 distinct styles together to create its setting. On the one hand, you got the Victorian architecture and landscapes. Beautiful, elaborate mansions surrounded by nature and old-timey cities. It has a very historical feel to it that works great for idyllic backdrops, while also looking great close-up when characters go to those places.
Then is the surreal nature of The Abyss. A hellish world fueled by broken memories of its inhabitants, where no coherent logic applies. Ruins and trash from the normal world are scattered about, but their placement makes no sense and half of it is just floating. Pocket dimensions exist within The Abyss and those can have yet more dimensions within them; many of which are surreal in their own ways.
Fittingly, the aesthetics of the abyss draw heavily from classic literature and other fantasy media. Most notably the works of Lewis Caroll, but keen viewers can spot plenty of other references. The Abyss has a lot of Wonderland touches to it, but frequently in a corrupted form. Not unlike American McGee’s take on Alice in Wonderland, but with a distinct feel of its own that I enjoyed a lot.
#3 Angry, pint-sized protagonist
Speaking of Alice, that is also the name of our second protagonist. She is the aforementioned creature from The Abyss, with whom Oz forges a contract. And while I like Oz plenty, I have to admit that Alice steals the show in any scene she is in.
Alice is a tiny girl in a frilly dress, but don’t let that mislead you. She houses within her an endless well of anger. She has the temper and mannerisms of a high school delinquent. The the point where picking fights is a natural instinct for her. Her attitude is further worsened by her admittedly-justified superiority complex. She denigrates everyone around her, going so far as to even treat Oz as “her property”. Though it is fun to watch the other characters slowly figure out ways to reign in her explosive behavior.
All that anger and pride is only matched by 1 other thing: her appetite. Alice consumes more calories in a meal than I get in some weeks. She eats a plate full of meat for breakfast and will happily eat more right after if it’s offered. I know full well that appetite is a recurring joke in shounen protagonist, but to see it play out this extremely for a heroine this tiny was hilarious. They get a lot of mileage out of those gags.
#4 Yuki Kajiura soundtrack
Yuki Kajiura’s music is always a treat to listen to. She is great at music that has a mystical feel to it with ominous melodies, but also still keep a steady—often exciting—beat. Music that is a perfect fit for a stylish fantasy anime like Pandora Hearts.
Consistent with her reputation, Pandora Hearts has a fantastic OST. The background tracks pop out very well and perfectly match the mood that the series is going for. Really, my only “complaint” is that it sounded too familiar. A lot of the music in this show reminded me of Kajiura’s work on Madoka Magica. To the point that I was almost confident that some segments were 1:1 matches. Pandora Hearts preceded Madoka by 2 years though, so I can’t hold that against it.
Kajiura also composed the tremendous opening song “Parallel Hearts” which was performed by her band FictionJunction. An excellent song that quickly became a mainstay in my Spotify playlist.
#5 Shounen mix of action & comedy
I was really in the mood for a shounen anime and Pandora Hearts offered exactly what I was looking for. That perfect mix between exciting action, interesting drama, and silly comedy bits that only shounen anime reliably offer. Hell yea.
The action throughout Pandora Hearts is excellent. The monsters designs are really cool and it’s great watching people go toe-to-toe with them. Everybody has big, exotic weapons and flashy powers; it’s great. The choreography and animation are both solid too, so I had a great time with this.
Likewise, the comedy had me smiling much more than in comparable series. I was never a big fan of the skits in Fullmetal Alchemist because they felt too overdone, whereas here the jokes feel much more natural. They come at portions where breaking the tension feels appropriate and the characters were plenty funny already; making it not-at-all jarring when they ham up their goofiness.
More like this…
Dantalian no Shoka: Supernatural anime in a classical setting with a basis in literature.
Dream Eater Merry: Normal dude becomes part of a conflict involving a surreal, alternate reality.
Madlax: Surreal action series with music by Yuki Kajiura.