I’ve been absent from reviews for a while because I was reading… I read all 24 volumes of Pandora Hearts. What is Pandora Hearts…? Well, I described it thusly, when I was only a couple of volumes into it: “Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki is about… huh, how do I describe this thing? There’s a rich/tragic little lordling named Oz, who gets caught up in a supernatural adventure, probably because he’s the key to some mystery involving “the Abyss,” and ends up in a contract with a devil.”
I’d say that’s fair. At least as an introduction…
…now, for the rest of it.
I kind of liked the beginning of this series. The set-up is neat. After being tossed into the Abyss for the crime of “being born,” Oz ends up making an ‘illegal’ contract with Alice, a “chain.” Chains are basically Abyss demons with superpowers. Alice uses the power of B. Rabbit (a giant, scary, scythe welding black rabbit) to spit them back into the Human World… only the Abyss is a little like fairyland. For you, you might think you spent ten minutes in the Abyss, but years might pass in the Human World. So, Oz is actually reunited with his valet, only to discover that Gil has gone from being a wimpy little kid to a grown-up, gun-totting hottie.
Gil has also joined a secret demon hunting society called Pandora. Oz and Alice get roped into helping hunt down various paranormal criminals–mostly other people with illegal contracts. Why exactly anyone needs to hunt very hard is a little iffy, since they all have this giant tattoo on their chests, counting down the time left on the contract, until they and their Chain are dragged down to the deepest pits of the Abyss. Problem kind of solves itself, no? Well, I mean, I guess the point of stopping them early is because most Chains seem hellbent on destruction, murder, and mayhem.
Ostensibly the trio is also searching for Alice’s memories, which got shredded at some point.
But, not one of them remembers anything, really.
In fact, they’ve–all three of them–forgotten major sh*t. REALLY, INCREDIBLY MAJOR SH*T.
And the characters who have been around for a couple of hundred years, who later seem to have been damn well aware of a good portion of this major sh*t, conveniently chose not to say anything more than a few coy, existential hints. “Where are you, Oz?” (Where is he? That’s what you’re gonna ask, Xerxes Break?? HOW ABOUT WHAT THE F*CK EVEN ARE YOU, OZ??)
A lot of the mysteries are cloaked in a veneer of tragedy. Why does Oz’s father despise him so much, when clearly little Oz just needs a cuddle? Is Gil’s brother, Vincent, a rape-y sociopath or just in desperate need of a hug? Why does Alice understand loneliness so well (would bite-y kisses help)? What is the mystery of the eternally reincarnating Jack and Glen, could all this immortal animosity just be hugged out???!!? HOW ABOUT A TEA PARTY? I HEAR TEA PARTIES HELP!
Look, I’m an a$$hole, okay? I just never really warmed to any of the characters, despite my extremely determined efforts. This came highly recommended; it’s extremely well-received on Goodreads. Clearly, I am a heartless anomaly with zero taste in manga.
In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out what is wrong with me. All day, since I finished this, I’ve been wondering why I had such a profound ‘meh’ reaction to so much of Pandora Hearts.
I mean, I was certainly engaged enough to keep reading volume after volume after volume.
So what happened?
I do know that I suffered a bit of attachment disorder. The lives of fated-for-great-things aristocrats does nothing for me. The only poor person in this entire series turns out to be the Big Bad–a really twisted Stalker-y Non-Love Masquerading as Love-Becomes-World-Ending-Obsession kind of Big Bad. Even the devoted servants turn out to be Lost Princes with a Special Destiny–both of them. That’s just a tough sell for me, personally. Everyone looks lovely dripping in jewels, but, for reasons entirely my own, I’m just not there for them.
I ended up semi-attached to Gil (gun-toting hottie manservant, which is good because he’s kind of a surrogate main character), but, ultimately, I find servant/master devotion that goes beyond the grave to be… not something I can relate to?
This is where I started to wonder if I was just not enough of a Romantic (yes, I capitalized that intentionally,) for this series, because normally, as a hardcore shounen fan, I’m all about the Precious Friends Forever.
And, these guys have GREAT hair.
Seriously good hair.
I will say, too, in the plus column, that I feel that Mochizuki-sensei is a good writer, in that, for the most part, all the big reveals were well foreshadowed. I didn’t get the sense that she was scrambling for an ending or dropping outlandish plot twists just for the shock value or to make the sales numbers climb.
The plot was convoluted af (especially the stuff around the Intention of the Abyss), but it all felt earned, if that makes sense.
This did NOT suck. Nowhere near. I just… didn’t love it. Which, it maybe ironic, given how important love is to the plot.
I think, ultimately, it just wasn’t my cup of tea despite all the apparently delicious cups of tea contained therein.
Would I recommend it to you?
Actually? I would.
I suspect my problem with rich characters is some kind of pathology, and that the majority of manga readers / human beings out there do not share it. I just never had princess fantasies as a girl. Nor did I want to be the prince. The one I wanted to be was the rough-and-tumble rogue: Han Solo, all the way, baby! This story lacks Han Solos. That’s not the mangaka’s fault, she wanted all the princes. That’s not a matter of good vs. bad; that’s a matter of taste. (And there’s no accounting for taste. I like rough-and-tumble so much that I watched that whole Girl vs. Boy anime and secretly enjoyed every minute of it.)
Thing is, I can acknowledge that this did not suit my tastes, but it was still a fine story.
Pandora Hearts has interesting characters and ends well (which is more than I can say for my once-beloved Bleach).