So far, NIS America’s foray into anime has continually impressed. With sumptuous box sets which rival a summit once established by Geneon Entertainment’s lavish output, the publisher best known for developing and publishing the Disgaea series of games has been catching the attention of animation aficionados. Adeptly, the company’s inspired series selections- from Todadora!‘s quirky and endearing storyline to Persona: Trinity Soul‘s restrained interpretation of the Shin Megami Tensei universe, have helped to convert that initial attention into respect.
The recent release of the first volume of Pandora Hearts manages to maintain NISA’s winning record. Following the treatment given to previous collections, the first thirteen episodes of the series are immaculately packaged. The two DVD Slim packs and accompanying book are housed in an immersive eight by eleven inch black-matte box, adorned with a bit of fanciful script on one side and a gorgeous color print on the other. While the onxy-colored packaging isn’t the fingerprint magnet, viewer might suspect, I doesn’t reveal the slightest scratch and imperfection. Although NIS dutifully packed the case in an ample supply of bubble-wrap, a few slight bumps on the corners and a scratch of the front of the case was noticeable. (Edit: I was told by a NISA representative that box sets sent to customers are shipped within sturdier packaging.)
In sharp contrast to the gothic black cover, Pandora Hearts‘ hardbound artbook is covered with dazzling white cover. Offering viewers a generous amount of series artwork, biographies, insights and even a manga excerpt, the text makes a near-idyllic companion piece to the series. Unlike the supplemental material which accompanied both Toradora! and Persona, Pandora Hearts‘ book reads like a Japanese literature, from right to left.
Set in a alterative Victorian-era universe, the series follows Oz Vessalius- a young man who hails from one of country’s four noble families. Oz is about to be honored in a traditional coming of age ceremony for his fifteenth birthday- a ritual tied to a enigmatic tragedy which beset the land a hundred years earlier. A mysterious group of hooded intruders known as the Citizens of Baskerville storm the ritual, displaying the ability to freeze the guests in time. As the faction confront Oz, they declare that the young boys existence in an unforgivable sin, and banish him to the confines of the Abyss.
Restrained to this realm are Chains- malicious life forms which feed on human flesh. As Oz is attacked, a black, scythe-wielding rabbit named Alice comes to his aid. As the sole method of escaping the Abyss, the aristocrat impulsively signs a contract with the rabbit-girl, not fully aware of the agreement’s consequences. When the duo return to the real world, they find that a full decade has passed, and are introduced to a group studying the Abyss named Pandora.
Western audiences will immediately discern the anime’s inspirations. Drawing from both Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and notions of Purgatory/Hell, viewers are offered a familiar contexts, which help offset the series often plodding explanations. Viewers accustomed to swift elaboration might become frustrated with Pandora Hearts– at the end of the volume several major unanswered questions were looming. Although the series’ main characters blend trope (one character has amnesia, another frets incessantly) with a measured amount of novelty, I thoroughly enjoyed Pandora’s supporting cast who provided unexpected appeal.
From a visual perspective, the series’ offers even erudite animation fans a few twists. Pandora Hearts often uses muted tones punctuated by the sporadic crimson red to promote is dark gothic appeal. While petulant viewers may bemoan the series decision to include a bit of digital grain in some sequences, most will find that it gives the anime a distinctive atmosphere. While I usually don’t notice costume in anime, Pandora Hearts‘ wardrobes helped deliver a gothic vibe. In keeping with NIS’s practice, the volume contains easily-read white colored subtitles, forging a dubbed delivery.
For viewers with a bit of patience and a craving for a competent horror/mystery anime, Pandora Hearts Volume 1 offers thirteen enjoyable episodes along with a first-class art book. While the collection’s price may seem a bit steep, it’s a reasonable premium for the box-set’s elevated aesthetics. Although I didn’t enjoy Pandora Hearts quite as much as Toradora! or Persona: Trinity Soul, I still found myself eagerly anticipating each new episode. As such, I’m hoping Volume 2 will wrap all the loose ends up triumphantly.