ANIME & MANGA - Review
00:00 - 15th February 2010, by NEO Staff

D.Gray-man

Allen Walker is the newest member of the Black Order, an organisation dedicated to ridding the world of akuma, demons created by the malicious Millennium Earl using the souls of the dead. Kind-hearted Allen struggles to get along with the ruthless swordsman Kando, but finds a friend in Lenalee as he begins his new life as a professional Exorcist.

 

The first thing that catches the eye about D. Gray-man is the superb design of the series, which is based upon the original manga by Katsura Hoshino. It is very stylish, blending a Gothic horror sensibility with a dark twist of the absurd. The Millennium Earl would not look out of place in Yellow Submarine, with his huge toothsome smile and rotund figure cut from the same cloth as the Blue Meanies. The akuma are terrific in a grotesque fashion. One takes the form of a monstrous court jester that looks genuinely evil, while the mysterious and wicked girl Road looks cute, but somehow you know she is up to no good from the moment she first appears.

 

The male characters are very much in the bishonen style. From Kando's long flowing locks to Allen's boyish good looks, Katsura Hoshino likes her men to be pretty rather than burly. Happily, the animation is more than equal to the character design. Battle scenes are slick and high impact, while dialogue scenes have much more care and attention than many other TV series, the kind which employ still backgrounds and only move the characters' mouths as they speak. The pace is kept high, the editing is brisk, and the music is atmospheric and moody.

 

Well, that takes care of the look of the show, for which D. Gray-man receives first class honours. What about the story? Allen is a likeable hero, something of an outcast in normal society because of the cursed arm and eye that enable him to fight akuma in the first place. He has a tragedy in his past that is slowly revealed, which is much more effective than laying out everything about the character's background in the first episode. The source of Allen's power is an ancient and mysterious substance called Innocence, fragments of which are scattered around the planet. Both the Black Order and the Millennium Earl want the Innocence, which sets up frequent clashes between the forces of good and evil.

The first volume switches between self-contained standalone stories and two much longer and more developed plot arcs. These are the real meat of the series. In the first, Allen and Kando head to the deserted town of Mater, which is said to be haunted, to retrieve a piece of Innocence. These episodes are both atmospheric and exciting thanks in no small part to the superb rendering of the deserted city. The second major storyline involves a town where time is endlessly repeating, like Groundhog Day. This plot takes longer to get up to speed and is not helped by the character of Miranda, the only woman in the town aware of the time-loop. She is very highly strung and prone to hysteria, which is not as funny as the anime-makers seem to think. However, once the villainous Road gets involved, the excitement level doubles and there are some impressive sequences that boast imaginative design and several good battles with akuma. For this adventure, Allen is joined by Lenalee, a cute girl in a very short skirt to provide a little eye candy for the boys alongside all the bishonen. Lenalee has a great anti-akuma weapon that involves her flying around the place kicking the bad guys to bits, although the cool factor is rather undercut by a wimpy name - the Dark Boots. Perhaps they just need a good polish.

 

The standalone tales tend to be more comedic than gothic, including a robot running amok in Black Order headquarters, which really does feel like a filler episode. One jarring element is a maid who pops up in one story and appears to be modelled on a gollywog, which is rather racist to western eyes. Perhaps the look of the character has a different meaning in Japan.

 

The Japanese dialogue is notably stronger than the English dub. In Japanese, Allen is voiced by a woman, Sanae Kobayashi, who is very good, while Todd Haberkorn, recently heard in Claymore, is fine but not as engaging. The biggest gap in voice performance is between Junpei Takiguchi and Jason Liebrecht as the Millennium Earl, who is far more menacing and creepy in Japanese than the English version, in which he has a gruff but generic bad guy voice.

 

You certainly get your money's worth with D. Gray-man, as the first instalment covers 13 episodes and almost five hours worth of material. This is a very strong start to the series and a show that looks set to be one of the first highlights of 2010.

Action-packed and massively stylish
SCORE: 4/5
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D.Gray-man Info
  • Type: Anime
  • Price: £22.99
  • Cert: 15
  • Distributor: Manga
  • Director:
  • Extras:

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