BY JOAN LI
Introducing Pandora Hearts as a Gateway Series
If you’re like me, then you suffer from a kind of wanderlust for places that neither the wondrous stretches of the T nor any amount of funding from the OIE can satisfy. That’s because unfortunately, you can only get to Hogwarts via platform 9 ¾ (or an enchanted car, provided that you know how to drive in the air) and to Pandora via some hyper-advanced space shuttle (as long as you don’t mind the 6-year ride). Luckily these imaginative cravings can be fulfilled by books, movies, and a whole list of other media, which for me, include Japanese anime and manga.
So yes, going along the general perception of what anime is, I have once travelled across the lands searching far and wide to catch ‘em all. I have also met a kid with outrageously spiky hair that might even scare a porcupine, who thinks that any time is a good time to duel (cue dramatic shuffling of card decks). Oh, and I still time-leap back to the pseudo-past of Japan on a weekly basis to check up on a certain ninja clad in an obnoxiously orange jumpsuit. Over the past decade, Pokémon, Yugioh, and Naruto have served as gateway series for many fans in the present anime and manga community. Currently, the industry is experiencing a burst in commercial success due to the anime adaptation of the manga series Attack on Titan, which has rung in a whole new audience, taken over the shelves of Anime Zakka in the form of miscellaneous merchandise, and made its way to our campus with the few people cosplaying as Survey Corps soldiers on Halloween. All this has led me to ask one question: why not Pandora Hearts?
Chances are, you’re part of the majority — including even long time anime and manga fans — who have never heard of Pandora Hearts. The manga features a boy named Oz, whose life is suddenly interrupted when he is cast in a nightmarish realm called the “Abyss,” convicted for his mere existence, which is supposedly a sin. Upon his escape, he becomes determined to investigate his origins. In doing so, he becomes entangled in a string of mysteries and adventures surrounding a historical tragedy. The series is an unfortunately underrated, eclipsed by works such as Naruto and Attack on Titan. As gateway series, the latter two belong in the sh?nen genre which is geared for (but certainly not limited to attracting) boys and young men. Both are set in fictional realms with supernatural elements mixed with action and adventure. Also notable in the two works, along with other dominant titles, are their large cast of characters meant to add to the three dimensionality of the fantastical world they live in. Patterns of successful anime and manga seem to suggest these characteristics as criteria for gateway series, and Pandora Hearts fits them all. Drawn and written by Jun Mochizuki, Pandora Hearts exceeds the basic aspects of dominant introductory series in the industry, taking them one step further and legitimizing the artistic and literary value that anime and manga have to offer.
In terms of world-building, Mochizuki’s universe is a carefully crafted one, with intricate laws, terminology, and culture revolving around and enhancing the authenticity of the supernatural phenomena that occur. The basis of her world is captivating, but it is the characters and the story they drive that really to set Pandora Hearts apart.
More often than not, gateway series like Naruto end up with a cast of what more critical audiences would see as diverse but one-dimensional characters. Personally, I have found myself exasperated with the protagonist’s overly-noble cause and his ability to fix problems through the magic of friendship or ridiculous power-ups apparently catalyzed by a “Will of Fire.” What makes Pandora Hearts so refreshing is that its characters are complex and not quite so black-and-white. In other words, they are like us. Neither Oz nor his friends nor the enemies they face are super-powered heroes and villains with grandiose goals; they are humans. They are children and adults simply trying to reclaim a piece of happiness they’ve lost. Their personal pursuits and struggles with inner demons represent a wide range of themes. Pandora Hearts knows that there is madness in humanity, and so it is more than just a story of friendship and love. Instead, it is a layered story of redemption, vengeance, humility, and the fall from grace — it is a story of life.
And it is a story that is masterfully told and has a high reread value. Taking full advantage of her monthly deadlines as opposed to other creators’ weekly ones, Mochizuki utilizes the narrative potential of the visual aspect of manga. The details of her art and the formatting of her panels all serve to the story arcs under an overall well-planned plot. Allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and a number of other recurrent themes add symbolism and depth, giving the tale a layer of literary complexity.
Pandora Hearts has an anime adaptation that does its brilliance no justice, and it deserves a remake that actually follows the original plot. But until then, you can read the series and watch it progress monthly in the online anthology Yen Plus. Its chapters are compiled into graphic novels published by Yen Press. I suggest you give Pandora Hearts a try. It’s a versatile series good for procrastination and provides a roller coaster of a journey for when your psets aren’t quite action-packed enough. I personally like to read it on Existential Crisis Fridays, when instead of posing college-induced, philosophical questions about my own identity, I procrastinate on life and ask the same questions about fictional characters instead. The slushy gray spell of New England weather calls for a good story to whisk us away every once in a while, and if you’re willing to branch out a little, Pandora Hearts might just open your figurative library to a whole new media of narratives to explore.
Joan Li ’17 (joanli.college) is a magical girl who fights the forces of Awkward Silences with Bad Jokes and Anime References.