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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Manga Review: Pandora Hearts GN 19

Pandora Hearts volume 19
Author: Jun Mochizuki
Yen Press
192 pages
Pandora, now under the control of Leo and the Baskervilles, bears witness as the truth of the being known as Oz Vessalius is exposed for all to see. Amidst the warped tragedy that plays out mercilessly, one who has lost everything catches a glimpse of the ridiculous fairy tale contrived by a living ghost as though a forbidden box has just been opened. (Source: Yen Press)
Spoiler warning: Spoilers for the Pandora Hearts story up to this most recent volume are in this review.
This review will be slightly incoherent at parts, emotionally heated at others. This is because Jun Mochizuki, whether through a pact with a witch or a contract with the Abyss itself, has the unmatched ability to metaphorically pluck out the reader's heart and squeeze it dry before putting it back, leaving the person in a pool of their own tears.
Do I speak too strongly? Perhaps, but it only begins to describe the emotional roller coaster that Oz, Gil, Alice, and the rest of the Pandora Hearts crew have been on for the last couple of volumes. Volume nineteen is the breaking point, an explosion of drama and revelations, and much like any explosion, it's so very hard to look away.

As explained in the vague synopsis by Yen Press, Pandora has been taken over by the Baskervilles; they also have Oz, who is wrestling with his own existential crisis. Then again, after the revelation of the truth behind the infamous tragedy of Sablier, who isn't? Oz, Gil, Alice, Leo . . . everyone is someone different again, someone new and yet so familiar. Meanwhile, Gil is incredibly upset as what he's done to Oz, Alice has ascended back into the Abyss and to the other Alice, who reveals how our Alice became the B-Rabbit.
Thank God for Eko/Echo-chan, who manages to inject a little brevity into a volume of blood, secrets, and tears. Her gift to Lottie as well as her failed attempt to tell Oz a knock knock joke are much needed laughs after many chapters in which laughter could not be found. Plus, the image of her flailing around, her sleeves dangling in the air, trying to save her joke in front of Oz, is just too darn cute.
This volume belongs to three people: to Alice, to Oz (and, by extension, Jack Vessalius), to Gil. It is about Alice's past, Oz's truth, and Gil's guilt. Their three narratives dominate this book; they are inexplicably tied together. These three souls were clearly fated to meet one another, brought together by some invisible force of destiny - or the intent of the Abyss, the ultimate invisible hand of Pandora Hearts.
Oh, Oz. You precious child, you. Oz, who has always been my favorite character of Pandora Hearts, who is now in such pain due to the revelation of his own true self. It's not only that - it is the pain he thinks he has caused in Gil, the fact that he had to send away Alice and be alone again to protect the ones he loves, that because of him Break is undoubtedly being tortured in the basement by the Baskervilles. And yet, even knowing that he is actually the 'rewound' Jack Vessalius, I still love Oz.
Why? Because Oz is Oz, with his own experiences and loved ones and he is not defined by Jack Vessalius, who has been sleeping for so very long that he pretty much relinquished ownership of his time-defying body. Although the story of Jack Vessalius is as much a tragedy as Oz's. Even Arthur Barma could not handle the burden of Jack's story or the fact that Jack's truths would destroy the Barma family.
The art in this volume is gorgeous. Just absolutely gorgeous. It's the kind of manga that would benefit from a full color treatment, because so many pages are art in itself. Mochizuki is absolutely ace at bringing emotion into a scene through usage of paneling and shadows; the flashback scenes between Arthur and Jack as well as those between Gil and Vincent Nightray are some of the more powerful moments of the book, if not the whole series. Next PH release can be an art book, maybe?
There are only a few manga titles I read which, upon finishing the latest volume in English, I immediately hop onto the publisher's website to see when the next volume will be released. Pandora Hearts is definitely one of them - and with a volume like this one, I'm doubly anxious to read further on in the series. 
Mochizuki has spent many volumes crafting this well-oiled machine of a story that is now starting to spring into motion and reveal its true purposes. I can only imagine what the next part of the story will bring, but I hope it's as dazzling, beautifully drawn, and emotionally manipulative as the rest of it.

Well done, Mochizuki. Well done.