I’ll admit it. I used to make fun of people who liked manga. Not being somebody who reads many graphic novels, and not being someone who had ever attempted to read manga, I didn’t understand the attraction. Up until very recently, I avoided manga like the plague. Huge-eyed characters who all look like girls at first glance? Pfft. Please. But a few weeks ago I wanted to try a new style of story, looked around, and realized that I’d read everything except manga. Fine. I’d try manga. But I was determined to keep from becoming one of those “Oh my gosh, manga!” people.
And then I read volumes 1 and 2 of Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki (please don’t ask me how to pronounce that). And at first I only had four words to sum up my feelings: “Oh my gosh, manga!”
I take back every joke I’ve ever made about manga and its readers. This stuff is good and I’m very excited to be able to tell you all about it.
I decided to review the first and second volumes at the same time, mostly because the first volume is confusing and can’t really be understood without the second. Because of this, if you’re going to read Pandora Hearts, you’ll want to read volume 2 immediately after volume 1. So, with that explained, let’s get to it:
A day of celebration quickly collapses into a day of horrors during Oz Vessalius's coming-of-age ceremony. At 15 years of age, he is condemned for a sin he does not understand and tossed into the Abyss: an eternal prison that is said to be inescapable. However, Alice, a young and powerful being of the Abyss, says otherwise. Together, they seek to escape from the Abyss and find the memories that Alice has somehow had snatched from her mind.
After escaping the Abyss and falling into the hands of a mysterious organization called Pandora, Oz and Alice set out to reclaim Alice’s memories and discover Oz’s “sin.” They begin by returning to the site of Oz’s coming-of-age ceremony with Raven, a young man working for Pandora. This simple investigation spirals out of control, revealing a sinister power with an unclear goal that somehow involves Oz. With Pandora lying to him and the Abyss seeking to reclaim him, Oz is now determined to discover to truth being his “sin” and unravel the mysteries of a powerful force called the “intention of the Abyss.”
Pandora Hearts is a shounen manga series (manga aimed at a young male audience) with 24 volumes. It’s a very original, very weird story, has slight Alice in Wonderland influences, and is extremely confusing. Think about how you might feel if you started watching Inception or the Matrix halfway through. Take that feeling, multiply it by 12, and you might understand what it’s like to start reading Pandora Hearts.
Volume 1 makes very little sense, though not in a bad way. It leaves you with a dozen unanswered questions. What is a Chain? Why did Oz end up in the Abyss? What the heck is the Abyss? Why did Oz’s servant go berserk in that one scene? What exactly is Alice? And why on earth does one of Pandora’s workers have a talking doll on his shoulder?
Well, you’re not going to have any of these questions answered by the end of the first volume. Volume 2 does help fill in a lot of the blanks, but it also introduces new questions. It’s a brilliant mix of mystery, development, and confusion.
Oz never asks any of the questions that any normal person might ask if thrust into his situation, which leaves the readers hanging. I found that annoying at first, but it ends up feeding into Oz’s interesting character. He just takes everything as it comes. An Abyss with creepy creatures and living toys inside? Sure, makes sense. A talking doll? Yeah, okay. His attitude unnerves some of the other characters and ends up being pretty hilarious.
There are multiple characters and storylines, which, while a bit difficult to get a hang of at first, makes for lots of interesting events. We have the afore mentioned Oz, an adorably happy kid with a serious side. There’s Alice, the Bloody Black Rabbit, a mysterious and powerful Chain with fears that run deep. There’s Break and Sharon, rather unscrupulous workers of Pandora who deal with forces far out of their control. And Gil, who’s loyalty, friendship, and fighting skills are fearsome to behold.
Unfortunately, I cannot accurately comment on the artwork. I thought it was beautiful, but I can’t draw to save my life and know next to nothing about manga, so I wouldn’t really know. Just go get your hands on a copy (both the first and second volume) and decide for yourself.
As I mentioned before, Pandora Hearts is 24 volumes long. I intend to read all of them and then come back and review the entire series when I’m done. But don’t hold your breath. It may take me a while. Then again, it may not. Who knows? Not me.
Anyway, Pandora Hearts is a lot of fun. You’re going to have a lot of questions, but just suck it up and keep reading. Don’t get hung up on any one detail. It will all start to come together after a while.
Oh, and make sure you read the panels the right way. I think we all know that manga opens at the back. Even I knew that. But what I didn’t know was that you read the panels from right to left, rather than left to right. I got a few pages in and was thinking, “Wow, these panels do not flow well at all.” And then I remembered that manga is Japanese and thus the left-to-right rule does not apply. Yeah. I’m a bit slow on the uptake.
Have you read Pandora Hearts or any other manga? As far as I’m aware, nobody I know reads manga, so I’d love to hear from you. And to those of you who are new to this style of storytelling: Why haven’t you tried manga yet? Jump on in! This series has been a whole lot of fun so far, and I’d love to explore it with some other newbies.
Hannah Heath - bookworm and author