What They Say:
Oz Vessalius, who just turned fifteen, returns to a world ten years in the future after being released from the eternal prison known as “Abyss.” A century-old truth, the secret of Abyss, and the roles of the Citizens of Baskerville are among the mysteries Oz must solve. The true meaning behind his “sin” shall decide where his adventures will lead him in the end.
The monolingual presentation for this release is pretty good with a standard stereo mix encoded at 224kbps. The show has a good balance of dialogue and action scenes so there’s plenty of times where it deals with just the dialogue, which is well placed and has a fair bit of depth when needed, and the action ramps things up rather well. It’s not a huge standout show with the action but it has a good sense of self when it gets rolling which allows it to have some impact to it. The mixes don’t overwhelm but it serves the material well and the Japanese language track here is pretty much spot on throughout.
Originally airing in the spring of 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The two disc set contains the first thirteen episodes spread out in a seven/six format. The show has a good bit rate to it and a very good look overall but it’s controversial as there are stylistic choices made in the visuals as the show has a lot of intentional grain/noise to it. This, combined with the difference in brightness levels that often happens with US releases compared to Japanese releases due to differences in home video releases, makes it stand out more here. Having experienced significant visual design like this before, it doesn’t bother me anywhere neat as much as it used to since it is intentional. It does add a lot to quite a few scenes, but it feels like it could have been used more judiciously. The release looks great overall I think as it captures a very distinct looking show with great animation and some really vibrant and eye-popping colors.
Pandora Hearts gets another great presentation for its packaging. The oversized box is done in portrait mode with a really elegant illustration that has three of the secondary cast members together that’s really quite appealing. With the heavy black border around it, the muted colors really stand out well and the detail to it gives it such a great portrait feeling that you can notice new details every time you look at it. The back side keeps it very simple with an all black piece with just the series name through the middle with some ornamentation on the top and bottom. Within the box we get the two clear thinpak cases where the first volume shows off Break against a mostly white background while the second lets Jack take center stage with his dark green outfit. The back covers are laid out the same with the background wrapping around of the checkered look while having an image associated with every episode number and title listed. The discs features are clearly listed with bonus features for the second disc laid out very cleanly. The reverse sides are done with just the gray and white checkered look with some small pieces from the Abyss world added in.
Like previous NIS America releases, the real big bonus item here is the hardcover book that’s included. With a great visual of Oz holding onto a small version of the B-rabbit which is very, very adorable. It’s all set against the white theme with the watch to one side, it’s eye grabbing right from the first moment you see it. The full color book has about half of it given over to the who’s who pages and a vocabulary breakdown with pictures and descriptions as well as a cast list. There is a really beautiful illustrations section as well that shows off some very detailed images. The very welcome part is a Gilbert side story manga that’s included which is fully translated and adds a good bit of fun to the character. Like previous books, this is something you just don’t see all that often and stands out as a really strong value added item that makes these releases unique and highly worthwhile.
The menu layout uses some of the thematic elements from the cover artwork with the white checkered background for example. Like other NIS America releases, the menus don’t come up at the start, just at the end of the last episode on the disc after the bonus material if any. They can be accessed any time though. The layout is straightforward with the episode number and title selection along the left and submenus that load quickly and without problem. The right side is given over to the character artwork for that volume which we saw on the thinpak cases as well. It’s all nicely stylized and though static in nature with some instrumental music playing along, it fits really nicely and sets the mood well enough.
The extras for this release are on the second volume and we do get some fun stuff like we did on the first set. The basics are welcome here with the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but we also get more bonus sequences. The bonus clips are all about three to six minutes long as they’re cute little pieces that often have the characters speaking directly to the viewer before doing some out of character gag or little side goof to make things sillier.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Pandora Hearts has been a curious series as it progresses by offering up a lot of interesting ideas and a visual design that’s certainly intriguing. With the second half, it closes out one of the stories from the first half wherein we see events taking place within the Abyss where Oz is getting screwed over in the head pretty well by seeing events that took place within Alice’s mind and past. She’s spent so long trying to isolate and hide her past from herself and others that she’s become extremely defensive about it. This part of the story is covered in the first couple of episodes here as we see the world within the Abyss that everyone is operating in start to crumble and disappear, with the chance that they could be stuck within it or that when they get out, a considerable amount of time may have passed. This is something that keeps you unsure of what will happen afterward, but sadly they don’t really take advantage of it much.
The return to the real world is rather surprising in what does happen though as Oz and Alice, in her B-rabbit form no less, find themselves dropped into a meeting within Pandora that has them instantly at arms over it. Considering her appearance and their understanding of the Abyss, it’s little surprise they want to capture or eliminate her right from the start. There are some neat little moments with this when it comes to those that know the truth and have to hide it, such as Oz’s uncle, but it takes the most curious and amusing turn when the pair are basically trapped and the soul fragment of Jack Vessalius inside of Oz takes control of his body and lays out his list of demands about how he intends to be followed by Pandora. With Jack’s history as the hero of a hundred years prior, and Oz’s own history ten years ago with being a chosen one, the combination of the two allows the gambit to actually work.
Unfortunately, the series feels like it’s a bit unfocused after that as it deals with some smaller side stories and some of the minor character drama that goes on with the various relationships between the core group, particularly with Break at times. The one story that worked well and was actually memorable involved Oscar taking everyone off to an academy to deal with a mystery that actually involves him getting Oz to reconnect with his childhood friend of Ada. Ada’s grown up over the last ten years but still has a long love for Oz and is both excited and frightened to see him since she imagines he wouldn’t be interested in her for a few different reasons, so that adds some nice comedic elements without going over board about it.
The main focus as the show progresses though is that it involves Baskerville to some extent as there is the main fight between them and Pandora over the Gates that they need in order to deal with the Abyss. With Baskerville having one, it’s at a standstill with what each side can do, but the Baskerville players are trying to gain the other Gates so they can move forward with their plans. It’s more of a background story for the most part, but events do turn to trying to understand what happened back in Sablier, which means talking with those who survived it and know some of the secrets. Oz is very intent on figuring this out as he knows his fate is tied to it and there are some strong teases as certain Baskerville players appear and toy with him.
There’s little in the way of real resolution here with the larger storyline since the manga is still ongoing, but what we do see is quite the intriguing tease that has you really wanting more. What becomes the main focus of the two sets though is the story of Oz himself and his shift in being someone who would sacrifice himself for someone without thinking about it to standing his ground and not doing that but finding other solutions instead. With his view for so long, because of his father, that he’s useless and should never have been born, changing his view of self and role in the world is a very important thing. That serves as something of an opening angle to a much larger storyline as he’s going to have to deal with what Baskerville throws at him in the future in combination with the fragment of Jack that’s inside him. Though this evolution of self is a little blunt as the series progresses here, it’s definitely one of the better parts of the show.
Visiting it again after a couple of years, I still find that Pandora Hearts is a series that has a lot of potential but isn’t able to fully capitalize on it. There are a number of interesting ideas here, though I think the Alice in Wonderland riffs are a bit too forced and lack a natural feeling. The characters themselves are where the fun is and seeing Oz really being conflicted with himself rather than being coolly confident all the time like other series would do it is quite welcome. The supporting cast all have their own lives and the show lacks the usual idea of numerous women interested in Oz in a serious manner. There are those that like him, but it never devolves into a comedy of events as they compete for his attentions. And while it wasn’t something that a lot of people cared for, I rather liked the visual design with the intentional grain, even if it is more apparent because of brightness differences. Overall, Pandora Hearts is a series that easily needs another couple of seasons to explore what the manga is doing but that’s simply going to take time. What we get here is an interesting and fun show with a good sense of self that loses focus in this half simply because it can’t really tell a proper ending.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, 9th Time’s the Charm?!, Holy Knight (Picture Story), Cheshire’s Room, Relaxation Dimension Abyss, Clean Ending
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: January 25th, 2011
Running Time: 310 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.