I first heard that Crimson Shell was the prequel to Pandora Hearts and I can say quite safely that is not the case, although both of them are rather similar. Both are created by Jun Mochizuki (I think this was her first manga actually but don’t quote me on it) and Crimson Shell felt like MochiJun was experimenting with creating a full length series but didn’t have the space, or the experience, to really pull it off.
Crimson Shell by Jun Mochizuki
Summary: Claudia the Rose Witch belongs to the organization known as Crimson Shell which hunts down escaped science experiments known as Black Roses. But the organization is under attack from outside and within which puts all the characters at risk with no idea whose a friend and whose not.
The Good: There was quite a bit of tension, backstabbing, and plot twists in just one volume, several volumes worth in one volume actually. So, while the plot wasn’t the most original thing I’ve read I don’t think I’ve seen so many plot twists in such a short work. And only very good thing is that Pandora Hearts is not simply a longer, remixed version of this story. They do have a lot of similarities but, even though some of the characters looked alike, there are almost no expies and the plots moved in very different directions. That was my biggest worry when I picked up the work so I am very happy to say Mochizuki can write more than one plotline.
The Bad: One volume was really not enough time to tell the story that Mochizuki was setting up and I think she knew it. To her credit, she does a lot of world building very quickly and does end the story neatly enough, but it really feels like a lot of potential was wasted by having it end that fast. A lot of similar themes pop back up in Pandora Hearts so perhaps this was her way of testing out how she wanted to tell a story, but after a read this I put it down and went “that’s nice but did I get anything out of it if the story ended that fast?”
The Art: The art is very delicate and I don’t think there is a single ugly looking person in the series (and not that many that look average or plain). Very flashy but I must admit that I like her art better now, the characters are a bit more solid looking and more dynamic. The art is probably the best part of the story however and I was surprised that the character designs look pretty different from the character designs in Pandora Hearts (with a few exceptions but since both of them have rather large casts that’s an achievement).
So, it wasn't nearly as bad as I feared but since I don't feel like rereading it I won't be adding it to my to-buy list. I can see a lot of people who are fans of the gothic genre loving this, I just really wish the series had more time to tell it's story.