After 24 volumes of battles, betrayals, twists, flashbacks, and Alice in Wonderland references, the story of Oz Vessalius and his friends draws to a close. In these final two volumes, virtually all surviving members of the manga’s large cast are drawn into a place between times and dimensions. Some of them want to preserve the past, while others are desperate to change it.
Much of Pandora Hearts has revolved around the fallout from past events: over a century ago, a woman named Lacie was cast down into the dimension known as the Abyss. She left behind a heartbroken admirer who attempted to join her in the Abyss by destroying the chains that keep the dimensions separate. Although he failed, he managed to destroy one populous city, Sablier. Many of its inhabitants were slaughtered, and the whole city was drawn into the Abyss. The aftermath of these events rippled outward, changing everything from individuals’ destinies to the nature of the Abyss itself. Now Oz Vessalius and his allies and enemies—two categories in seemingly constant flux—find themselves drawn into the otherworldly ruins of Sablier where they must confront the past, the horrors of the Abyss, and one another. Oz and his friends may have a chance to restore the Abyss, now a nightmare realm, to the peaceful and harmonious place it once was. But what will they have to sacrifice to do it?
It’s been almost five years since I reviewed the first two volumes of Pandora Hearts. The story that has unfolded since then is both whimsical and bloody, a convoluted series of reveals and reversals set in a world of fancy clothes, elaborate mansions, grand parties, and lurking monsters. Those monsters give the series its Alice in Wonderland feel: they include twisted versions of popular figures like the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, but also more obscure characters like the Gryphon and the Dodo. Observant readers might even spot monsters based on the Frog Footman and other minor characters from the Lewis Carroll classic. And of course, one of Oz’s allies is the mysterious Alice, who has ties to a powerful monster rabbit.
As you’d expect when murderous monsters and equally murderous humans are afoot, Pandora Hearts has a lot of violence. Killers stalk the streets and the fashionable ballrooms, and minor characters drop like flies. Nor are the series’ prominent characters safe: there’s more than one shocking (and maybe sniffle-inducing) death in this series. Many characters are driven by love, and a few show interest in romance, but the story doesn’t spend much time on romantic plotlines. There isn’t really any sexual content, either: there is the odd skimpy outfit, but most of the characters dress like frilly, fanciful Victorians or are swathed head-to-toe in cloaks.
Visually, the series is elegant and intricate. Its characters flaunt elaborate outfits, but Mochizuki is equally attentive in making them expressive and dynamic. The monsters are distinctive and incredibly creepy, while the scenery—whether soaring mansions, bustling city streets, or the crumbling world of the Abyss—is crafted with lavish detail. I’ve seen few manga series that are as strong across the board in character design, poses and expressions, and backgrounds. The result is a rich and absorbing visual world.
Now that the series is complete, readers may have an easier time following the complicated plot, since they won’t have to wait months to read each new volume. At 24 books, it’s a real commitment: the twists and cliffhangers mean that fans will want the whole series and want it NOW. But for readers who enjoy complex characters and stories, or eerie fantasy with a Victorian feel, it’s worth it: Pandora Hearts is a decadent, immersive delight.
Pandora Hearts, vols. 23-24
by Jun Mochizuki
Vol. 23 ISBN: 9780316352147
Vol. 24 ISBN: 9780316393348
Yen Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen