When I reviewed the Pandora Hearts anime, I wrote that it took a while to really get going and become more interesting. Unfortunately, the manga turned out to be similar to the anime, and the three volumes I was able to finish during my vacation all took place squarely in the less interesting portion of the series. I haven't decided yet whether I want to continue. I suppose I could skip ahead to the point where the anime ended, but I hate doing that. You never know when seemingly minor stuff that was cut for an anime adaptation will turn out to be more important later on in the manga.
As is usual with these vacation reviews, a warning: my descriptions of each of the volumes contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
Pandora Hearts (manga, vol. 1) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura – Oz Vessalius is preparing for his coming of age ceremony with his uncle and servant/friend in attendance. While taking a (long) break and playing, he comes across a gravestone with a pocket watch on it. Later, the coming of age ceremony goes badly – Oz is attacked by his possessed friend and sent to the Abyss. There, he forms a contract with a Chain named Alice and manages to get back to his own world. Alice wants to find her lost memories, and an organization called Pandora agrees to help Oz investigate the Baskervilles, the group that arranged the attack upon him.
This first volume is crammed full of stuff – the Abyss, Chains, the coming of age ceremony, the Baskervilles, Pandora. Just a little bit too busy for my tastes. I don't know what I would have thought of it all if I hadn't already seen the anime. I did think there were some nice aspects, though. For example, I liked the whole setup with the Chains, and Oz's friendship with Gil was good (although Oz does occasionally look like a bully).
From what I can recall, the anime and manga seem to be very similar. The anime had some extra padding – I'm pretty sure the part with Oz's time in the Abyss was shorter in the manga.
There are technically several Alice in Wonderland references – Dee and Dum, Alice, B-Rabbit, plus more to come later on – but the connection is so light that I'm not sure why Mochizuki did it in the first place.
Pandora Hearts (manga, vol. 2) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura – Oz learns more about illegal contractors and the time limit on their lives as the group travels to the mansion to look for more of Alice's memories. At the mansion, Raven is turned into an enemy via some kind of puppetry magic used by one of the Baskervilles, and Oz learns that Raven is Gil and that he was stuck in the Abyss for 10 years, rather than a few minutes or hours. Oz and Gil defeat the Baskervilles person and acquire one of Alice's memories. Oz learns that both Pandora and Baskervilles want the Intention of the Abyss and think that Oz is the key to that.
The second volume is crammed just as full of events and world and character info as the first. The one part with the young illegal contractor was over so fast that, if you blinked, you missed it, which makes me wonder why Mochizuki even bothered. If the point was to show that illegal contractors were not necessarily evil people right from the start, then it might have been better to incorporate that into the illegal contractor story that starts in the next volume.
Two things I liked: Gil and Oz's friendship, and Break. A portion of this volume expanded upon Gil and Oz's first meeting, Gil becoming Oz's valet, and the two of them renewing their friendship after Oz learns that Raven is Gil. It was all very sweet. Break looks potentially villainous at this point in the series. He can go from smiling and silly to sharp and a little scary in a second.
Pandora Hearts (manga, vol. 3) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura – Alice learns a little about Oz's family situation from Gil, while Oz sympathizes with a boy who has lost his mom and just wants to be near his dad. Then Echo shows up and tries to take the boy (Philippe), but Oz interferes. Gil and Alice get into a fight with a Chain, which isn't smart, since Alice can't turn into B-Rabbit without Oz. Fortunately, Oz appears. The Chain's contractor is Philippe's dad. Oz tries to save him, but Vincent kills him. Later, we see a bit of Gil's past, shortly after Oz was sent to the Abyss. He agreed to be adopted by the Nightray family, hoping to obtain the Raven's powers (the Raven is the Nightray family's Chain) and get Oz back. In exchange, Break got him to agreed to be a spy. We also learn that Vincent is Gil's brother.
At this point in the series, Break looks like a creepy user, Vincent is just plain creepy (but also a devoted brother?), and Gil is obsessed with Oz. And Oz is an idiot who throws himself into danger without a single thought.
Again, aspects of Philippe's story and the girl contractor in the previous volume should probably have been combined. Philippe and his father's story is a bit stronger than the girl contractor's, but it still falls flat in the end. Philippe, having served his purpose, ends up being completely forgotten, which doesn't gel well with Mochizuki's efforts to make both us and Oz care about him at least a little. Not a single person asked “Who's going to take care of Philippe now?”, and it bothered me.
One question that occurred to me after I finished this volume: How can killing a Chain free its contractor if damage inflicted upon a Chain affects the Chain's contractor? Wouldn't killing the Chain also kill the contractor? Maybe there was an explanation that I missed.