Pandora Hearts Vol. 1 Premium Edition (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, November 19, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The coming of age ceremony for one young man leads to an awakening of something that only brings forth pain and suffering.

What They Say
Oz Vessalius, who just turned fifteen, leads a rich and privileged life as the heir to the Vessalius name and estate. But everything changes when, during his Coming of Age Ceremony, he is drawn into an eternal prison known as "Abyss." There he meets and is saved by Alice, the Bloody Black Rabbit (B-Rabbit for short). Join Oz on this fantasy adventure as he unravels the mysteries behind Alice, Abyss, and the "Pandora" organization!

The Review!

Audio:
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.
 
Video:
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.
 
Packaging:
Pandora Hearts gets a really great presentation for its packaging that mirrors what we saw with NIS America's launch titles of Persona and Toradora. The oversized box is done in portrait mode with a really elegant illustration that has three of the principle 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 Alice against a mostly white background while the second lets Gil take center stage with his heavy black 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 technical grids are well laid out though the run times on them are just a bit off, at least for the second volume since it lists it as 330 minutes while the first has 168 minutes. 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 in his coming of age outfit 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.
 
Menu:
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.
 
Extras:
The extras for this release are on the second volume and we do get some fun stuff. The basics are welcome here with the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but we also get some bonus sequences. The bonus clips are all about three minutes long for the five of them and 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. It's a welcome bit of silliness for a series that's filled with serious moments as it's nice to see the cast in different forms and interactions. The tiny form of some of them, such as the bonus episode about the errand, is priceless.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Jun Mochizuki, Pandora Hearts is a twenty-five episode series that really manages to avoid a number of traditional cliches while still playing within others. With the manga series ongoing as of this writing with twelve volumes out there, the anime has a lot of material to work with, though it can't exactly tell a complete story since there is no end. But it can tell an engaging opening story with introducing some interesting characters and settings. What surprised me the most with this show is that they managed to avoid doing a monster of the week show and instead did something really that builds on everything else to form a larger world. And while some of it may be obvious, they craft it well enough so that you can be surprised.
 
Pandora Hearts tells the tale of Oz Vessalius, a young man who is about to attend his coming of age ceremony as he's turning fifteen. The ceremony is an important one within the family as it's filled with tradition and can only be attended by those of that age and up. Oz isn't exactly excited by it, but he's looking forward to getting past it, especially since his estranged father won't be attending but his best friend and servant Gil will be. Gil was a young boy who was taken in by the family and slated to being Oz's servant. The two young men are definitely close and Gil has made himself totally beholden to his masters needs, pledging eternal loyalty. While Gil may be skittish and always looking to please, he has an honest earnestness to himself based on feeling that he's very luck to be a part of Oz's life.
 
The setup for this world is interesting as it has a fairly European style to it as it deals with four dukedoms that have gained power because of acts they performed a hundred years prior in an important war. For the Vessalius family, the coming of age ceremony is important as there is hope that an awaited one from within the family will awaken something during the ceremony that will start something new. While the four dukedoms all have something key from that time, there is a group called Baskerville that has their own and wants what the dukedoms have. So when Oz goes through his ceremony and it turns out that he's (obviously) the prophesied one, they do their best to kill him.
 
Which, interestingly, is done by sending him into an otherdimensional place called The Abyss. It's here that the show starts to pick up a lot more on its Alice in Wonderland themes as Oz faces off against the Black Rabbit, really named Alice, who is something called a Chain, creatures that inhabit this world and form contracts with people that allow them into the real world. Alice has an immense amount of power and quite the reputation in the real world as the Black Rabbit and she sets up quite the deal to get back with Oz. Unfortunately for Oz, it's going to cause a strain on his system and start him down the path to losing his life through it. And as bad as that is, his coming back to the real world happens with the passage of time of about a decade, which puts him on the outside of everyone he knew since if Baskerville discovers he's back, they'll be threatened.
 
Pandora Hearts covers a lot of ground in the first few episodes and shifts things around in a way that really keeps you on your ties. It introduces a few characters and hints at more in the shadows and then throws a lot of it out the window with the leap forward in time. But it's all key material because it deals with the time that Oz first started at but it also goes back and starts to tell the tale from a hundred years prior. There are some interesting layers here and as more characters come into play in the leap forward period as Oz is brought into the Pandora group, it really becomes fascinating to watch to see what threads start to come together and what the real, larger storyline is.
 
Pandora Hearts has a really great look to it that totally won me over as it progressed. Taking the grain/noise style out of the equation, animation studio Xebec really did a fantastic job with it. The character designs have a lot of detail to them and the color palette throughout it is quite rich and vibrant when dealing with the key areas. The Abyss areas have a good mixture of opulence to it that gives off that aristocratic feeling, particularly with the reds and greens. The show also does some really strong animation and flow to it when it comes to action scenes as they do tend to go big and creative. With the couple of Chains that show up in it and their designs, it gives it the otherworldly supernatural feeling while still being grounded with a lot of reality around it. Unless it takes place in the Abyss of course.
 
In Summary:
Pandora Hearts in its first set is kind of awkward to write about because it changes things about halfway through the set in what a lot of it means and how the relationships work. There's a lot to like here, from the visuals to the characters and the storyline itself as it's slowly revealed. Each new episode adds a bit more to the mystery and draws you in before you really realize it. While the show does deal with a fifteen year old lead, he's got that aristocratic element to him that ages him a bit and a different skewed sense of what to do because of his privilege. It's not another typical action/adventure piece but rather one that weaves some really neat elements to it from the Alice lore and kept me wondering where it was going to go on a regular basis. And shows like that are fairly rare in general, making this one to definitely watch. 

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles,Detective Break, Sharon's "Mission: Innocent Maiden," Heartthrob Pandora Academy Parts 1-2, Alice and Echo's Errand, Clean Opening & EndingThis 2-disc premium edition includes a 32-page full-color, hardcover artbook featuring detailed character and background introductions, comments from staff members, illustrations, and the exclusive comic "Gilbert in Wonderland" by original author Jun Mochizuki and a premium box.

Review Equipment

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.
 



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: NIS America
MSRP: 59.99
Running time: 330
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: PandoraHearts