|Pandora Hearts Box Set 2|
Free time is a rarity for me these days, but I remember when I had it. In high school, I could spend the better part of an hour in the afternoon with headphones on contemplating The Dark Side of the Moon or Moving Pictures. I was always on the lookout for something to stave off boredom...something to provide a break from the paper routes, the mountain of homework, and the other requirements of teenage life. I watched my fair share of really dumb cartoons, stuff like Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, simply because they were on. But this was in the days when VCRs were not in every home and renting a film from Blockbuster was a treat, and so one could be forgiven for watching a fair share of mindless entertainment.
But these days, we have an overabundance of options. Amazing quantities of anime from throughout the years are available to us legally and virtually free via the Internet. There's no reason to watch bad anime when so much good stuff is out there for the taking without even a moral qualm. And that goes doubly for paying for anime that's disappointing. And so I must downgrade my thoughts on Pandora Hearts between the first and second box sets. This anime might be OK if you're bored, have unlimited free time, and some poor somebody you know paid for the sets and lent them to you. But the ending of Pandora Hearts is so thoroughly unsatisfying - and the journey to the ending so unfulfilling - that the little good will I had towards the show after the first box set was trampled to a pulp. (P.S. Since this is a plot-heavy series, I suggest reading the first review to get some background.)
As the set opens with episodes 14-15, a story arc surrounding Alice's kidnapping concludes and we move into the central mystery of the series. The Tragedy of Sablier was a massacre 100 years prior that destroyed a good chunk of the capital city, but the details of the event have been lost to history. What exactly happened that day, and how does it connect our world with the Abyss? Our hero Oz winds up possessed by his relative Jack, who was at Sablier that fateful day and explains at least his role in the whole thing. The show ever so slowly reveals how Alice's fate and her lost memories are interlinked with Jack and the Sablier incident. In the midst of all this, Oz starts growing up and realizing that his willingness to throw his life away for the sake of his friends is really annoying to others. (No, seriously, this becomes a primary plot point.)
After having had a good chunk of time between the first and second sets, I wasn't sure if it would be easy to pop back into the series. That wasn't a problem, as the opening couple of episodes move along at a reasonable pace, even if they feel a bit like they're ripping off the conclusion of Video Girl Ai. But once the narrative moves to the Tragedy of Sablier, it becomes a time suck. I wanted answers the show clearly wasn't ready to divulge. Just as it appeared we might get somewhere, the show would veer off into a comedy episode. While there were a few amusing scenes - the sequence where the cast gets drunk is worth a laugh or two - I just kept thinking, "Get on with it!"
The second half of Pandora Hearts breaks key rules of film and television. First, don't tell what you can show. There are a ridiculous number of scenes where people stand around talking, mostly to avoid the fact that the program's animation budget has sunken into the toilet. They apparently didn't have the money to show anything vital. (There is welcome relief in episode 24, which involves an invasion. The invasion makes virtually no sense plot-wise, but it's cool to watch and reveals virtually every dollar left unspent on the other 11 episodes in this half of the show.)
The second rule broken: when you do have to tell, make the dialogue interesting. I can't figure out how they made describing a massacre boring, but they did. There's little wit or crackle. I don't expect David Mamet out of my anime, but I do want the conversations to be entertaining. I was just put to sleep by explanation after explanation.
The third problem...make the present as compelling as the past. Everything important in the second half of Pandora Hearts has already happened. That makes Alice and Oz virtually unnecessary. If they were doing real detective work, that might be engrossing. But that's hardly the case; it takes Oz getting possessed for real information to come out. It's OK if the past holds a secret vital to the present, but it's not OK for the present to be utterly boring.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is that Pandora Hearts abandons its original plotline. At first, we were most concerned about Oz's contract with Alice and if he could find a way out of it before his time ran out. We were also concerned with Pandora, the agency that tracked down those who made contracts illegally as Oz and Alice did. The second half conveniently forgets that any of this happened. Pandora gets exactly one mention in the second half to my recollection. The issue of Oz's time being limited and being contracted to Alice is mentioned in the last minute of the last episode in passing. The ending's disregard for important story threads is nothing but a total "screw you" to the audience who hasn't read the manga. I felt cheated - not out of my money, since this was a review kit generously sent to me by NIS America, but out of my time.
Speaking of NIS, this set proves yet again that this company produces box sets far worthier than the shows they contain. I know from reading online that this show has its fans, and they will get their money's worth when they purchase NIS's release. It's obvious they put a great deal of care into these packages, and I can hardly wait for the day that they get a release truly worth it. (Admittedly, Toradora came close.) If they were to get a hold of a classic like Macross '84...well, one can dream.
There were moments along the way that I enjoyed of Pandora Hearts, and the show never became awful. Nothing's off-model, and those who love the atmosphere may forgive the other shortcomings. But sadly, Pandora Hearts simply does not pay off the time and effort the viewer puts in.