Pandora Hearts and the Permanence of Disabilities

Pandora.Hearts.full.62902This post contains spoilers from the Pandora Hearts Manga. If you are not up to date and do not wish to be spoiled then I advise you do not read this post.

It is troubling when a show trivializes the wounds or disabilities of a character, using them to create a dramatic effect but later disregarding them. A lot of shows or manga (especially Shounen) love to injure their characters as a way of illustrating how tough the character is, or how strong the opponents they face are, but then ignore the severity of such injuries by having their characters miraculously heal overnight or regain lost limbs. Removing serious injuries without addressing them is not only noticeably odd, but it can very often work against the story that is being told. On the other hand, when the injuries of the characters are treated with the proper weight, the story is much more effective and what is trying to tell, and this is something that Pandora Hearts does very well.

To illustrate my point about trivializing wounds and disabilities I am going to use an example from the show Claymore. In episode thirteen of Claymore the main character, Clare, loses her arm in a fight with one of the show’s antagonists. Crippled and therefore unable to properly wield her sword with only one arm, Clare has to learn a new fighting technique in order to overcome her situation. Under the teaching of an older Claymore, Irene, Clare learns the “Quick Sword” technique and becomes stronger than before while simultaneously finding a way to overcome the disability. Before she leaves, however, Clare receives a new arm from Irene replacing the one she had lost.

I have a problem with this development. Losing an arm was okay because it was a way to let the character grow and learn. It forced Clare to have to learn how to deal with her disability both in sword-fighting and in everyday endeavors. However, having Clare receive a new arm promptly undermined all of the development that she had just experienced. It is like the author was too afraid to leave the character in the crippled state so the disability was removed after it served its purpose. Rather than trivializing Clare’s development, it would have been much better to leave her with only one arm. Even if that meant that the author would have to account for the character’s odd situation as the story progressed, but that is the responsibility that comes with disabling a character in such a fashion. If the author isn’t willing to treat such a development with the proper respect, then it is better not to do it at all.

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In contrast, the disabilities experienced by the characters in Pandora Hearts are a lot more meaningful because they are permanent. One of the characters in the story, Xerxes Break, has a fearsome power, the power of the Mad Hatter, but using it is slowly destroying his body. Finally, midway through the manga, Break overuses his power which causes him to go blind. Much like in Claymore, Break’s disability is a way for his character to develop. Previously a character that tried to do everything himself while not relying on anyone else, Break’s blindness forced him to have to face his own weaknesses. With the help of the people around him (especially Sharon Rainsworth), Break learns to be more trusting of the people around him and willing to rely on others.

The key difference between Break’s development and the development of Clare in Claymore is that Break doesn’t regain his sight after his character change takes place. This is important for two reasons. One, losing one’s sight is a serious change and needs to be handled respectfully. For Break to simply regain his sight would trivialize the seriousness of the disability. One does not simply recover from blindness like they would a common cold and then there is also the psychological trauma that comes with a sudden disability. The other reason, and the more important one, is that it does not belittle the condition. Break does not become less of a character in his blindness. He loses something, his sight, but through the loss he acquires an understanding that he previously did not have. Break does not need his sight back. In fact, to miraculously regain his sight would be an insult because it belittles his character and the condition of being blind with the implication that the only way to overcome his disability is to be able to see again.

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Another example from Pandora Hearts would be when Gilbert, the main protagonist Oz’s loyal servant, cuts his own arm off in order to rid himself of a contract that was preventing him from serving his master. Gilbert’s sacrifice is a powerful moment because the seriousness of crippling himself is not lost on us. We see how much Gilbert cares for Oz with the lengths which he is willing to go for him and we are moved because of it. However, the dramatic effect of Gilbert’s sacrifice would be entirely lost if by some magic Gilbert’s arm was replaced. The moment has weight because it is permanent. Because we know that Gilbert has given up something that cannot be replaced.

The exception would be in stories where the plot revolves around the protagonist trying to overcome the affliction or disability (such as Princess Mononoke or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood). But even then, whether or not the protagonist succeeds in his quest depends entirely on the story that the author wants to tell.  In general, though, it is the permanence of disabilities that which makes them  dramatic, and what the characters do as a result of them all the more meaningful.

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