Four stories unfold, each tied to a household of the four dukedoms—Vessalius, Nightray, Rainsworth, and Barma. Each a slice into the lives of these people, interlacing the magical with the mundane. It’s a caucus race—with no beginning or end or overall goal. Take a peek at Pandora Hearts ~Caucus Race~ vol 1.
Written by Shinobu Wakamiya, inspired by the Pandora Hearts manga from Jun Mochizuki, who also provides illustrations for the book. Originally published in Japan in 2011, Yen On released the English edition in 2015 with translation done by Taylor Engel. This first volume has also previously been reviewed on the site by Cho.
This book is a collection of loosely-connected short stories, each focusing on the Four Dukes’ houses. This is a book for existing fans of the Pandora Hearts manga, and pre-existing knowledge of the characters is needed. The book lives up to the title’s promise: a caucus race. As described in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the characters “[run] around in a circle, expending great energy but not accomplishing anything”—just as our characters here find themselves in arbitrary, unproductive hijinks, ultimately with no point. Considering how much Alice in Wonderland is used as inspiration and influence within the Pandora Hearts story and world, it’s understandable to why this was chosen as a framework.
The first short story is from House Vessalius, Golden Drops — Shining Things, where Alice is stuck in bed after catching a cold. Oz, feeling responsible for the Chain and wanting to make her recovery as easy as possible, single-handedly takes over her care. Things get worse though after Alice sneezes, expelling over a hundred miniature versions of herself to run around the manor—leaving Oz and Gil to catch them all before they cause too much trouble. It’s a short opening story featuring our main characters, and although the set up is slightly ridiculous, it’s actual purpose is to allow Oz to reflect on the past he once had—the childhood he left behind after being drawn into the abyss. His memories of golden snow shared with Gil and Ada, and how much has changed since. It’s an effective bait-and-switch, of which the series is known for; easing the mood with comedy, before hitting hard with the emotion. This chapter also has a short manga inclusion at the end of it, which is a nice touch from Mochizuki.
Next is House Nightray, with a story called Black Widow — Heart Shadow. This story is also the longest of the four, and arguably the feature of the book. After avoiding Oz’s needling questioning, Gil returns home to retrieve some clothes. He has, it’s revealed, been offered another marriage proposal from a young woman, Dahlia Garland, and her family—somewhat unknown, but still in good standing. His brother, Vincent, inquires to his course of action, and Gil tells him he’ll turn her down—as he did with all the previous. Untrusting towards anyone and everyone his brother interacts with as usual, Vincent warns his brother to never trust women—they’re all venomous spiders—already having asked Echo to investigate the young Miss Garland. Their meeting is surprisingly nice though, and although the offer was made from the Garland house, Dahlia seems just as unenthused at a potential marriage with Gil. She’s quiet and withdrawn, and Gil finds it much easier to spend time with her than the pushier young ladies he had encountered before, thinking that if he was to be married, he’d prefer a girl like her. Nothing can stay peaceful though, as Oz and Break try to interfere by pretending to be scorned past lovers, and even pushing Echo into pretending to be Gil’s illegitimate child. Despite all the craziness, Gil and Dahlia organise another meeting, to appease her father and prevent punishment she may face from turning the match down. It’s only at this point that things start to unravel—because Dahlia’s father has been dead for 6 months, and she may just be the venomous spider Vincent warned Gil about. After a kidnapping, a mysterious and shady dress store and Ada’s love for the occult, things wrap up without worry, and life continues on as normal.
Sharon Rainsworth is the focus of the third story, White Kitty — A Prim and Proper Quandry, as she worries over various things. First, she is sent the incorrect book in her order, and instead is sent one that is particularly salacious—Alice growing curious and peeking into it, finding a picture of two women kissing, and asking Break what it means. His explanation, that they’re ‘eating’ each other, is enough for Alice to misunderstand and decides to throw herself to Sharon’s (supposed) desires. Flustered and unable to correct the misunderstanding, she’s stuck trying to fix her reputation, much to the humor of Break and her grandmother. The way it’s written isn’t done in a vilifying or disapproving way, and the joke is Sharon’s embarrassment over the misunderstanding but it doesn’t really work for me. This is my least favourite of the bunch, and I don’t find humor in the idea of ‘gay panic’, regardless of how innocuous it may be. Also, the inclusion of it doesn’t add anything to the larger story’s point (of Sharon relying on others for help), so it just feels unnecessary.
Finally is the Barmas family in Pink Curse — Turbulent Days. Reim is put in charge of investigating the mysterious Curse of Mahani on his day off, as instructed Rufus who fears for his life. This particular story is written in an interesting format, flicking between a report style to question and answer interviews as he asks others about what the curse may be. This is the shortest story, and it suits the style. It’s a simple mystery that is easily solved and is generally fine—if perhaps too reliant on Japanese culture to be convincing for the Pandora Hearts setting.
As an addition to the larger Pandora Hearts setting, this book offers more interactions amongst a large portion of the cast but none of it is really must-read. For people who love the characters, setting and world of this Alice and Wonderland inspired action mystery, full of Chains and Contractors and hidden worlds, you may want to check it out (especially if you’re really looking for more, now that the manga is over), but for the general light novel fan, this won’t be what you’re looking for.
Gee’s Rating: Maybe good for fans.
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