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D.Gray-man Complete Collection PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Tuesday, 23 November 2010 00:00
D.Gray-manTime for a look at the dark and atmospheric D.Gray-man. In an alternate version of 19-century England, young Exorcist Allen Walker takes on the might of the Akuma - demons created from the souls of the dead. The victim of a curse, Allen has some unusual abilities beyond exorcism, but will that be enough to keep him on the winning side..?

Exorcists: the ones chosen by God to protect the world from Akuma. Young Allen Walker travels to London to continue his studies in exorcism with the Black Order, but his journey comes at a time when Akuma are becoming increasingly active. On his arrival in the city, Allen is immediately caught in the middle of an Akuma appearance where a police officer is killed - and where the blame for the death is quickly placed on him. With the police unconvinced by his claim to be an Exorcist, it takes some investigative work of his own to prove his innocence before he's able to complete his journey to the Headquarters of the Order, a rather ominous and imposing tower with a sentient gate who doesn't like the look of him. Allen's unfortunate enough to wear a pentagram on his face - the mark of an Akuma, and something certain to cause just a little suspicion, but thanks to a letter of introduction from another Exorcist - the highly-regarded General Cross - Allen finally gains entry, where he begins to learn the history of the Exorcists' powers, and just what sort of eternal battle he's let himself in for...


The EarlWelcome to the Order

Allen's new nemesis is the Millennium Earl, creator of the Akuma. He may look daft, more like a giant clown than a creature of death, but he does represent a real threat - maybe not so much from his own physical presence, but certainly from the Akuma he's able to create and the members of the Clan of Noah who work for him, and you do quickly get a feel for just how difficult he is to defeat. His appearances are usually brief, though, as he far prefers others to do his dirty work for him. Leading his sidekicks are Road - a young girl who has a particular interest in Allen - and Lulu Bell and her loyal sidekick Mimi who are, by quite some margin, the most enjoyable villains of the series: Lulu spends most of her time in the form of a cat, and has all the capriciousness and inbuilt cruelty of our feline masters, while Mimi provides a dose of maidservice to proceedings that doesn't do any harm at all. While being a cutie (at least in her non-Akuma form) Mimi's also as devious as her master and perfectly capable of holding her own in battle, thanks to her prowess with two rather nasty iron fans (hmm, imagine Kaname from Full Metal Panic getting hold of those...) and her ultimate fighting form, which makes an appearance towards the end of the set. These two follow our heroes throughout their journey, laying a number of devious little traps to waylay them and occasionally engaging in direct combat.

Back at the exorcists' HQ we meet the bunch of misfits and malcontents thst make up the Black Order, under the leadership of Kamui. There's a lot of comedy flowing from their antics, although always with a serious undercurrent flowing underneath to reflect their saving-the-world mission. In some ways there's a bit of the Full Metal Alchemist vibe going on there, with similarities to the way that Edward's military colleagues often provided some comic relief. There are certainly worse stories to be compared with.

Friendly AkumaClansman

MimiNew exorcist

For the late 19th century (even an alternate one, as is made clear right at the beginning of the series), the Exorcists seem to have access to an awful lot of high-tech gear that's very out-of-time, which also raises the question of where they got it all from. The Akuma themselves are mechanical creatures endowed with a human soul - more high-technology that doesn't quite fit with the time-period, and just the sort of thing that piques my curiosity a little. There's no indication given as to where all this technology comes from, though, so I've chalked that up as one mystery that'll never be solved.

Beyond the setup, though, there's a mission that the Black Order, its Exorcists and Finders must work on: the search from fragments of Innocence that can be used to save the world. "Innocence?", you say, "Finders?". Both are key to how the Exorcists operate, and both are introduced and explained early in the series. Finders do exactly what they say on the tin - men and women who have tried and failed to become Exorcists themselves, they help the organisation out by acting as a sort of covert ops team, finding Innocence and holding off Akuma until the Exorcists themselves can get there. The fact that they're not good enough to be Exorcists themselves means that they're often looked down upon and treated in less-than-human ways by some of the Exorcists - including Kanda, the first Exorcist who Allen is paired up with, and who is a royal pain in the arse - but that doesn't seem to put them off doing their jobs.

Innocence, meanwhile, is what gives an Exorcist their power - merge an Exorcist with an Innocence and you have a potent anti-Akuma weapon, and Kanda shows his off to good effect during the series' opening mission. Allen has a potent anti-Akuma weapon of his own, but his powers come from another - potentially even more powerful - source. There's a lot of time devoted to the friction between Kanda and Allen - Kanda simply isn't a likeable character, so I find myself on occasions hoping he would be taken down, but he's powerful enough that Allen needs his skills on several occasions to save his skin. There's probably meant to be a lesson to learnt there about the value of teamwork, but with Kanda purely centred on looking after #1 his attitude quickly becomes tedious.

Fortunately, the Order also features the far-more-likeable Lenalee, the token female of the Black Order - she's down-to-earth, friendly and fun-loving, and yet able to kick arse - quite literally (her Innocence specifically powers her boots, which are clearly made for far more than walking) - when the need arises. She's paired with allen for a large chunk of the season and provides what passes for fanservice in the show (it's not something that the series focusses on, to be honest) and is probably the most enjoyable of the 'good guys' to watch - as much for the dose of common sense and empathy that she often brings to situations as to her simply being easy on the eyes.

This "Complete Collection" covers the first 51 episodes of the series - the first half, but unfortunately all that we're likely to get in the UK. Manga UK can't go further for lack of rights, and lack of a dub even if they had them; FUNimation, who licensed the show in the US and produced the dub, haven't ruled out the possibility of picking up the rest of the series but have indicated that there are issues around licensing it. Make of that what you will, but don't hold your breath to see what happens next. I can't really get overly worked up about that, though - for most of its run, D.Gray-man is a by-the-numbers, unremarkable shounen series with little to really recommend it - it's only with the appearance of Lulu Bell and Mimi in the final quarter that it discovers a sense of fun and more of an emphasis on long-running stories. When that happens, it does become a far more enjoyable series - but since by then we're running down to the cliffhanger that closes the show's UK release, there's not a lot of point in enjoying the ride. A shame, really.

What we have, then, is a bit of a wasted opportunity. Three-quarters of what we have here is unremarkable, typical fighting fare, and does nothing to really stand out from the crowd - and then just as it hits its stride and becomes enjoyable, it wanders off into licensing hell, unlikely to ever be seen again. That makes it hard to recommend, as there's no conclusion to it - a pet hate of mine, although in this case not entirely Manga's fault. Worth a rental for curiosity's sake (and if the non-ending won't bug you like a hangnail), but probably doesn't have much appeal past that.

For full episode summaries and screenshots, check the reviews of the individual releases:
» Season One #1
» Season One #2
» Season Two #1
» Season Two #2

Rating - ***

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