Hello again, readers! I am back, and here to postulate, extrapolate, and expositate about D.Gray-man. D.Gray-man is a long-running shounen series that tends to avoid a lot of the tropes of typical shounen manga, such as the brash and obnoxious male lead and the tournament-style plot structure (where every single new plot arc entails fighting one’s way to the top of a new group of baddies). It’s set in an alternate version of Earth in the late 1800s, where a quasi-religious group called the Black Order has been founded to fight against the scourge of demons called akuma.
These akuma are former humans, transformed in to their current state by the series’ main villain, the Millennium Earl. The Earl preys on those who are mourning the dead, and fulfill their wishes by reviving their lost loved ones – however, the catch no one realizes is that these revived loved ones become akuma, and must live tormented half-lives preying on other humans. The Black Order’s exorcists use a magical substance called Innocence to lay these creatures back to rest, and have the ultimate goal of destroying the Earl and his lieutenants (a group of superhuman beings called the Noah) forever.
The main character of this series is a young exorcist named Allen Walker, whose Innocence allows him to see akuma disguised as humans and to transform his left arm into a weapon with which to fight them. He and his companions travel all over the world (they’ve been to various places in Europe, China, Japan, and America so far) trying to solve problems caused by the Earl, fight the akuma, and retrieve and protect the Innocence that is the only way of stopping him.
The series only has a few introductory arcs before the action gets heavy, meaning most of its 15+ manga/200+ chapters are made up of solid plot advancement and character development. Also, all of the story’s characters have interesting and well-rounded backstories, which are introduced in a very natural way. You really come to care about each of the members of Allen’s team and the Order at large, and the villains (both the Noah and the Earl himself) are intriguing, fun to read about, and strongly developed. Also, the interaction between the sides is excellent. For example, a lot of the Noah really like Allen, and are sort of grumpy when they’re sent to fight him (but even so, they never pull their punches). There are strong female characters on both sides of the war, and unlike those from many other series, even the weepy girls can kick ass, showing that you can have emotions and not be a hardboiled badass and still be competent in a fight. Finally, although this was not known for a long time (she kept to herself, has a gender-neutral name, and never publicly talked about the series) the author, Hoshino Katsura, is a woman, which (as I mentioned when reviewing REBORN!) a rarity among shounen authors.
This is a sad fact about D.Gray-man. If you had asked me two or three years ago (I picked up this series in high school) to rate this series for you, I’d’ve raved about it. However, a number of recent developments have made me extremely disappointed in it. First of all, due to a various and sundry ailments and injuries, Hoshino has put the series on hiatus several times in recent years, making it so that I never know when to expect a new manga or chapter. Possibly because of the injured wrist or the long spans without drawing, her art style has changed dramatically over the course of a relatively small number of chapters, making it really difficult to tell sometimes which characters are which, and what is exactly happening. Sometimes characters change their entire look for no explained reason. And because of the length between updates, I’m more and more confused every time I read a new chapter, because the plot has gotten so intricate that I am not sure what’s going on, and I don’t have time to go back and refresh with the last several chapters just to understand the current one. For example, in the last chapter, one of the main characters showed up at Order headquarters, and everyone burst into tears and hugged him because they all thought he was dead. But I don’t ever remember him dying. This sort of thing makes it very difficult to continue caring about the series, no matter how awesome the characters are, and that makes me sad. Therefore, with a heavy heart, I really don’t recommend you read D.Gray-man, because, despite its strong start, it will only give you a headache in the end.
PS: Fun fact – Hoshino herself has no idea why she called the story D.Gray-man, if you were wondering why that collection of words and letters and punctuation makes no sense whatsoever.