Reading Pandora Hearts is like untangling Christmas tree lights, at first glance it seems like a simple and mundane task, but onceyou really get into it you discover just how tangled it really is. When you are finally done you can’t help but to look back and reflect on how much has changed throughout the process and just how much effort and planning must have been put into tangling it up like that in the first place.
The story beings by introducing us to our protagonist, Oz, a young boy and member of the prestigious Vessalius family. Shortly after meeting Oz as well as some minor characters and getting a sense of normalcy we see Oz accused of committing a grave sin that neither he nor the readers are aware of and then thrown into an alternate dimension called the abyss, full of darkness, ruins, and monstrosities known as chains, luckily he is saved by a chain named Alice and returns back to the normal world, however many things have changed since Oz was banished into the abyss, Oz is introduced to an organization called Pandora, which is responsible for studying the abyss and stopping chains from wreaking havoc in the human world.
Pandora Hearts beings very vague, concealing a lot of information from the reader, we have a large cast of characters but just about everyone’s motivations are unknown, the information we are given about the world is also limited, this lack of information left me very disengaged during the early segments of the manga, the only thing that kept me reading was Oz’s character, which I found to be very strong. Oz deals with a lot of stress throughout the story and constantly suffers, yet we see him always putting on a light hearted façade to hide his true feelings. I found myself wanting to know why he acted this way and to see what the implications of his personality would have later on. However as the story progressed I was left very impressed with much more than just Oz. Character motivations and details about the world and the way it functioned were given in small fragments slowly throughout the manga and each new bit of information gave everything an additional layer of depth and changed my entire perspective on the events beforehand.
Each new fragment of information was not only groundbreaking in the way the events of the story were perceived but also flowed very well within the narrative and were subtly foreshadowed beforehand, I never felt like a plot twist was contrived, nor did they ever feel that what was to come was obvious. The manga does a brilliant job at framing its story while also playing with the reader’s expectations through a mix of lighthearted humor and the various ambiguous aspects of the world and cast. At later parts of the manga I would look back in awe thinking about how much had changed, many things I thought I knew early on was proven false and I almost felt outsmarted by the story’s structure.
Pandora Hearts is a constantly evolving narrative in every sense of the term, as I read on not only did the story unfold in a magnificent and brilliantly planned way but so did the characters. In the early parts of them manga the cast seemed fairly weak, and even a bit one dimensional at times, especially the characters that were shown to have malicious intent, some of their actions made no sense to me and I just dismissed them as being that way to progress the story, however I was very mistaken, nothing was as I thought it was. As the characters were slowly explored and fleshed out their motivations were made clear and the entire cast took on a whole new light, characters that I thought were simply delusional or insane. An example of this would be Vincent who was portrayed as very sadistic and maniacal in the early parts of the manga, this made me dismiss him as a simple crazy villain, but this was by far not the case.
What I adore about Pandora’s cast as a whole is that the line between good and evil becomes very blurred the further the story progressed, every faction and character had reasons for their actions and they were all logical with few exceptions, I found myself empathizing with almost everyone and growing fond of each and every individual character in one way or another. The cast also excelled in diversity, it never limited itself to tropes and cliches and was not scared to break out of the molds. Characters ranged from being conserved and submissive to cynical and maniacal, to fun loving and eccentric. These characters blend very well and create some very unique and interesting dynamics between one another, a big example of this was Ada, Oz’s sister and Vincent who were polar opposites, but managed to bring one of the most interesting relationships in the manga.
The art for Pandora Hearts was drawn by Jun Mochizuki and it was pleasant to see it improve as the series progressed, in the early volumes the art was very simplistic, especially during more comedic scenes and did not particularly stand out in one way or another from similar art styles. As the manga progressed the style became much more crisp and detailed especially with the more creative chain designs later on, the last few volumes even featured some color panels and they were simply breathtaking, the color panels and covers for the later volumes are vibrant and simply beautiful, by far the most visually impressive aspect of this manga.
Pandora Hearts is a manga with a lot to offer but requires some investment, many readers might find themselves turned off by the vague and slow early volumes filled with light comedy and seemingly simplistic characters, however if you do end up giving this manga the time it deserves you will definitely be impressed by what it
truly has to offer at the end of the rabbit’s hole.