The story opens on one Oz Vessalius, a fifteen year old boy who has been condemned to the Abyss for the crime of “existing.” From there, we’re shown the sequence of events that led up to his banishment; Oz is the heir to a duchy, and he’s supposed to be getting ready for his upcoming coming of age ceremony. Instead, he’s goofing off and hiding from the servants so that he can play with his personal servant (and best friend) Gil, and his little sister Ada. To all appearances, Oz is a mischievous but basically good hearted boy, and the only sign that all is not well, are the hints that Oz’s home life is far from idyllic.
While playing with his sister and Gil, he falls into an old grave site and finds a pocket watch with a music box inside. Playing the tune causes him to have a strange vision of a young girl who threatens to kill him. He snaps out of it, and keeps the pocket watch, intending to ask his uncle about the grave later.
At the coming of age ceremony, the party is crashed by “Baskervilles,” a mysterious group who are “emissaries of the Abyss.” They take over Gil using a “Chain” that can control people, and stage a situation where Gil stabs Oz. At the same moment another gate crasher appears, the Blood Stained Black Rabbit who looks a lot like the girl who threatened to kill Oz in his vision, when she isn’t a ten foot tall anthropomorphic rabbit. She informs the Baskervilles that Oz is her “property” and a battle ensues between the B-Rabbit and the Baskervilles. The B-Rabbit is driven off, and sometime during the fight Oz grabs hold of a sword and tries to defend himself, only to accidentally stab Gil, who jumps between him and one of the Baskervilles.
So Oz is cast into the Abyss, and eventually is found again by the Black Rabbit, who says her name is Alice. She offers to form a contract with her, which Oz initially rebuffs until she rescues him later from another chain. She and Oz leave the Abyss, and become involved with an organization called “Pandora” which is trying to understand–and control–the Will of the Abyss, and which also hunts down illegal contractors.(“Chains” are creatures from the Abyss with a variety of strange powers and a tendency to snack on people if given half a chance.) Oz and B-Rabbit agree to work with the organization, in exchange for help in recovering Alice’s memories, which are connected to an event known as “The Tragedy of Sablier” when the capital of the country was destroyed and sucked into the Abyss.
This manga/anime series took me a while to get into, partly because of the extremely heavy use of Alice in Wonderland imagery. (There is a great deal of dissonance between the way the images were being used by the manga artist and the original work, for instance.) It took watching the anime before I really became interested in continuing the manga. (I was reading a scan-translation of the manga, the team that worked on the translation was grammar impaired, and it was therefore very difficult to read.) The basic repeated themes in this series are memory, identity, and how both formed by interaction with others. There’s also a great deal about how to pave the road to hell with good intentions. The manga really grew on me, and I plan on getting the official manga and anime translations as soon as possible.
A Short List of Characters
Oz Vessalius: Oz is the heir to the Vessalius family, one of four Great Duchies that rule the country. (Which doesn’t seem to have a name or a location in a wider world, which is a small nitpick.) Despite having a cheerful if mischievous demeanor, he hides a great deal of pain due to neglect and animosity from his distant and actively hostile father. This causes him to act in ways that are occasionally self-destructive, and has earned him the name of “creepy brat” from Xerxes Break, who is actually pretty creepy himself. Due to his Illegal Contract with B-Rabbit, he is acting on borrowed time, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother him.
Oscar Vessalius: Oscar is Oz’s uncle, and the person who more or less raised him. He is very fond of both Oz and Gilbert, and has a cheerful, open personality. He is also a member of the Pandora organization, but seems to lack a great deal of the “sneakiness” present in other members.
Alice/ Blood Stained Black Rabbit (shortened to B-Rabbit): Alice is a Chain, and a particularly powerful one. She takes the form of a giant black anthropomorphic rabbit armed with chains and a giant scythe. In human form, she is an aggressive, domineering girl with a usually exuberant personality. She is reckless, doesn’t think things all the way through most of the time, and very quickly becomes Oz’s “most precious person.” She is initially drawn to Oz because of the pocket watch he found, which has connections to her memories from when she was human. She forms a Contract with Oz so that she can leave the Abyss, (but not realizing that this will eventually kill him). She tends to refer to Oz as her “manservant” and gets into terrible arguments with Gil, who calls her “stupid rabbit.” (She calls him “seaweed head.”)
Gilbert “Raven” Nightray: Gilbert was found as a child in the Vessalius household’s garden, badly hurt and apparently with amnesia, and was taken in as a servant. He became a loyal servant and friend of Oz, despite Oz’s tendency to play mean tricks on him. Gilbert is terrified of cats, and was very timid as a child–as an adult, he’s still terrified of cats, but somewhat more bad-ass. After the coming of age ceremony and Oz’s disappearance Gilbert is approached by Xerxes Break to accept an offer of adoption from the Nightray family, which he accepts despite the fact that the Nightrays are the enemy of the Vessalius family. Xerxes wanted him to be a spy/double agent of sorts, keeping an eye on Gilbert’s younger brother, Vincent, among other things. Gil eventually forms a legal Contract with the Nightray family’s chain, Raven, and becomes a member of the Pandora organization, working under Xerxes Break and Sharon Rainsworth.
Xerxes Break: Xerxes is a mysterious and mercurial person with an uncanny ability to turn up at the most unexpected (and usually unwanted) times. He is a servant of the Rainsworth family, and works closely with Sharon Rainsworth within the Pandora organization. He has a legal Contract with the Mad Hatter though at one time, he was an Illegal Contractor. He despises Vincent Nightray (with some cause).
Vincent Nightray: Vincent is Gilbert’s younger brother, and was found as a child by the Nightray household under similar circumstances to Gilbert’s, though he was adopted by the family. He is a deceptively friendly, kind person but under the surface, he’s actually a deeply disturbed person who is something of a sociopath.
Sharon Rainsworth: Sharon looks about fifteen but is actually a lot older because of her legal Contract with her Chain Eques. She works with Xerxes Break and Gilbert in the Pandora organization looking for and stopping Illegal Contractors. (Illegal Contracts with Chains are forbidden because Chains with illegal contracts need to eat/kill people in order to remain in the human world.)