Like all standard action-packed shounen anime, D.Gray-Man focuses on the age-old struggle between good and evil. In this case, evil arises in the form of the Millennium Earl who intends to use his army of ‘Akuma’ – demons – and the powerful Noah Clan to bring darkness upon the world. Fighting against him are the Exorcists of the Black Order, who each play host to a fragment of the ‘Innocence’ – mankind’s only weapon capable of defeating the akuma.
The series starts out slowly enough, following its central protagonist, fifteen year-old Allen Walker, from his arrival at the Black Order and through his various assignments. Initially the show centres on fighting akuma and investigating paranormal occurrences linked to missing Innocence fragments. Though the beginning of the series had me hooked, only when its central plot emerges, does D.Gray-Man truly get a chance to shine.
D.Gray-Man creates a feeling of unease by including surprising plot twists, which shatter the preconception that the ‘good guys’ will always win. Removing the certainty of the protagonists’ victory creates a more compelling narrative, allowing the series to maintain its viewers interest. Unfortunately the series’ best material only manifests itself during the second season (episodes fifty-two onwards). One or two less than stellar filler arcs precede this and, in particular, I found myself regularly stalling during the Lulubell storyline. However, make it through the twenty-odd episodes of filler and a reward of the impressive Edo and Noah’s Ark saga prove well worth the wait. One reason for this comes from the fact that none of the battles drag on for longer than two or three episodes, a stark contrast to other shounen series like Naruto, Bleach, and especially One Piece, which typically dedicates ten, twenty or possibly more episodes to a single fight. By condensing the action into fewer episodes, each fight creates a more intense atmosphere and makes for captivating viewing.
The balance of comedy and kick-ass action demonstrates another positive aspect of D.Gray-Man. From the jokes surrounding Allen’s relationship with Cross to ‘Komurin II’ rampaging through headquarters, in allowing the drama of the story to mix with some genuinely humorous moments, the series succeeds in providing all-round entertainment.
D.Gray-Man’s biggest disappointment is its lack of resolution. Though it is foolish to expect a full conclusion considering that the manga is still ongoing, I felt the series left too much unexplained. Adding to my frustration, I found that even during the final set of closing credits I was adding to my number of queries! While it guarantees that I will watch any future series, this does not excuse the lack of fulfillment it leaves.
With splendid animation such as the activation of Allen’s cursed eye and the realistic movement demonstrated in fight sequences, D.Gray-Man’s characters receive an added vibrancy. The series’ visual design, while pleasant to behold, remains standard and provides no innovative style. Nevertheless with its smooth motion and agreeable character design, D.Gray-Man delivers a pleasing ocular experience.
The voice acting perfectly fits each character and brings out the various aspects of their personalities.
D.Gray-Man’s handful of opening and ending themes work nicely with the series, often choosing an upbeat rock track to open and a soft, gentle song to close. This nicely mirrors the harmony between action and emotion portrayed throughout the series. Accompanied by a wonderfully orchestral score, the series’ soundtrack leaves very little to complain about.
D.Gray-Man’s cast improves upon an already captivating (well, for the most part) plot. Displaying a medley of different personalities, the majority of the characters are complex. Most demonstrate contradictory personality traits, such as sociable Lavi who bears the lonely fate of a ‘bookman’ – a clan charged with the job of impartially observing and recording history. This makes them more intriguing, with the exception of Lenalee who, as the series’ weakest character, takes on the role of ‘the nice one’.
The Millennium Earl is one of the most intriguing characters in the series and on the surface he merely resembles a portly old man. This harmless façade makes him appear a feeble villain, but this is where D.Gray-Man’s excellent characterisation comes in. While his grandfatherly exterior encourages a sense of security, the occasional glimpse of his terrifyingly evil eyes, which hide behind glasses, remind viewers not to get comfortable.
Alongside D.Gray-Man’s impressive characterisation comes equally impressive development. Throughout the series, most of the protagonists face their own personal hell. These individual struggles allow each person to evolve; while demonstrating nothing new, this development effectively executes itself within a limited time rather than stretching across two to three hundred episodes. Following these gruelling trials in a more condensed time frame results in a greater emotional investment in this small group of exorcists.
While the concepts of contrasting personality traits, personal improvement and a seemingly harmless antagonist seem like clichés expected of any action-based series, the characters turn out to be anything but generic. By not overemphasizing their flaws or traumatic pasts, and incorporating them into the series’ laudable plot and darker tone, D.Gray-Man’s characters gain an unexpected freshness.
Though not perfect, this series has many positive attributes, which compensate for the tedious filler episodes and the series’ lack of completion. Sure, D.Gray-Man conforms to the basic formula for its genre, but with its sumptuous myriad of characters, stimulating plot twists and striking battles, it stands as one of the better shounen series out there. So while easy to rest on the belief that ‘seen one shounen anime, seen them all’, I would advise at least giving it a chance.
An akuma is a soul which has been brought back to life through sadness and despair with the powers of Millenium Earl. Their mission is to terrorize the earth and all who dwell within it. The Black Order is a group of Exorcists that have sworn to cleanse the souls of the akuma, and collect the substance known as "innocence". This powerful substance can be used as an anti-akuma weapon, and ultimately can help destroy the evil Millenium Earl. Allen Walker is a young Exorcist who has the ability to tell who is human and who is an akuma with the help of his cursed eye. Together with the Black Order, Allen must find all 109 pieces of innocence to protect the world and defeat Earl.
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.