D.Gray-Man, Vols. 1-3

By Katsura Hoshino. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized originally in Weekly Shonen Jump, currently ongoing in Jump Square. Released in North America by Viz Media.

I’ve often felt that the most popular Jump series in the West, the ones with the most fanatical followings, are ones where no one noticed them until 10 volumes in, when they hit a groove. Suddenly, word of mouth is telling everyone “Oh man, you have to read this awesome series! Don’t worry, it gets better!” With that relief in mind, the reader powers through however many volumes are at the start, secure in their knowledge that they will reach the really good bit. Kenshin has its Kyoto arc, One Piece has Arlong Park, Bleach has Soul Society. This even applies to unlicensed titles, such as Medaka Box and the Student Council Battle arc (notably, most fans were frustrated as this is exactly where the anime stopped).


I bring this up because D.Gray-Man seems to be falling into the same groove as most other popular Jump series, in that it’s a slow starter. There’s nothing bad or boring about this omnibus; I found it quite entertaining. But there’s nothing in it, aside from maybe the pretty young men, that makes you go “Oh, that’s why it has a big fanbase here.” Indeed, it’s not even the most popular exorcist series in Jump Square, its current home – Blue Exorcist has that won hands down. The series starts the way most do in Jump (where it ran for years before the author’s health caused it to move to the monthly title) – with a series of one-shot battles followed by a couple of brief, volume-long arcs that introduce us slowly to each member of the main cast, particularly our hero, Allen Walker.

I’ll be honest here – it’s hard for me to read this series and not see Hayate Ayasaki in the lead. Shonen Sunday’s Combat Butler shares many traits with D.Gray-Man’s Exorcist, be it a similar appearance, tremendously tragic backstory, heroic self-deprecation, a desire to save everyone, or just the ability to do one-fingered push-ups. Allen’s rather mild-mannered compared to the loud boisterous Jump heroes we’re used to, and the series itself also seems to run in more muted tomes. That said, the quieter nature of this series does help to emphasize the series’ biggest strength, and the thing I ended up enjoying most: the horror.

This can get quite scary when it wants to. The art is grotesque and bishonen in almost equal amount, and the villain is straight out of the “monster clown” handbook. but it’s not just scary images; the first chapter points out how absolutely horrific an Akuma is, and how its creation and ongoing life involves the eternal torment of an innocent soul. Allen, indeed, feels this torment more than his colleagues do, which can sometimes put him at odds with the standoffish Kanda or the matter-of-fact Lenalee. (Lenalee, sadly, was one of the weaker parts of the book for me, partly as she’s quite similar to Allen in temperament and partly as she didn’t do much but kick things and get captured. I hope that improves.)

D.Gray-Man has been running since 2005, and is up to 23 volumes, so it seems odd to come at it from a newbie perspective as I am. But that’s how I’m seeing it. It’s a promising new series to me, with some good characters, some characters who could be good with more effort, a diffuse plot that could use more direction, some decent goofy humor, and some very nice art. Oh yes, and a BL fandom that is one of the largest of all modern BL Jump fandoms, up there with Reborn! and Prince of Tennis. It didn’t reach out and shake me by the shirt, but I will definitely try a 2nd omnibus.

(Dull cover, though. That black border does it no favors at all.)

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