Jun Mochizuki’s manga series Pandora Hearts (Japanese: パンドラハーツ, Hepburn: Pandora Hātsu) was serialized in Monthly GFantasy between May 2006 and March 2015. There are twenty-four volumes. It’s a bit of a read.
Oz Vessalius has it all: social position, a distant, estranged father, one friend (whose salary Oz pays), a doting sister, a loving uncle, and an impeding coming of age ceremony in which he will be elevated to adulthood.
Mid-ceremony, ominous figures descend on Oz, condemn him for the sin of existing, and consign him to the Abyss, the closest thing to hell that exists in this setting. Oz is somewhat taken aback by this development.
The Abyss is the legendary prison for monsters. Why Oz would qualify is an utter mystery to him. A mere human has little chance of escaping from the nightmarish realm. Luckily for Oz, he does not have to rely on mere human abilities. He forms a blood bond with one of his fellow prisoners, the amnesiac Alice AKA B‑Rabbit AKA the Bloody Black Rabbit; her abilities allow the two to escape. If Oz serves as her host, she can too can remain in the mundane world.
Time works oddly in the Abyss. By the time Oz and Alice break out, ten years have passed, years that seemed like hours to Oz. Forced to work together, the pair set out on twin quests: recover Alice’s lost memories and discover what is it about Oz that makes his existence a crime.
Cue twenty-four volumes of increasingly horrifying revelations and quite possibly, the end of the world.
Mochizuki draws on Alice in Wonderland for inspiration. Don’t expect a one to one mapping. Do expect a lot of extremely dangerous, psychopathic monsters, monsters more threatening than comic. Not all the monsters are supernatural — at least not all of them start off as supernatural.
The art is very pretty, as are many of the characters. The setting, on the other hand, seems designed to facilitate pain and suffering, as though there were some cruel architect who wanted a stage whereupon a likeable character could be tested and broken for the delectation of the audience. It’s so bleak that being sent to hell isn’t the worst thing that happens to Oz.
Unsurprisingly, the plot is a long-running sequence of nightmarish discoveries. Oz starts off semi-broken, having been sent away by his father for reasons the father never explained. Oz does find out what it is about his nature that so offends others. It isn’t happy news. There are loving relationships, which only means there will be tragic losses, the inevitable cost of caring about people.
This is a long, skillfully crafted story about the danger of asking questions without first asking if you really want to know the answers. Of course, the whole manga is set up so that even once they grasp how unpleasant the answers are, the characters have no choice but to keep investigating. Ignorance may allow apocalypse.
Recommended to anyone who enjoys semi-hallucinogenic, long-drawn-out trauma.