[A ramble/ review about D Gray Man (manga/ anime)]
D Gray Man is a story with numerous twists and turns, and it does it all with style. At the start, it began with a rather banal tone. Everything about it had a ‘been there; done that’ feel to it, and I suppose when we look at the world of anime/ manga, there really was nothing unique and fresh about D Gray Man.
Firstly, the plotline seemed certain from the start – the protagonist was going to get stronger and stronger (like they do in all shonen manga/ anime) and eventually become the powerhouse that defeats the baddie. Secondly, the characters all seemed to follow a stereotype. There was a seemingly two-dimensional, nice-guy-protagonist surrounded by several sidekicks possessing the following standard issue personalities: exceptionally moody, cheerful, flirty etc. And finally, there was a war going on where the good side was fighting the bad side to save the world from annihilation.
So yes, it began as an average story and seemed to continue that way until at some point, I realised that nothing was as it had appeared at first. Our ‘nice-guy-protagonist’ has a thinly veiled darkness to him (and not just in the way he takes pleasure in cheating at Poker). We find out much later that this dark and cynical side is as much a part of his character as the bright and friendly side that he readily performs in front of everyone. He seems so open and sweet at first that we never realise how he builds walls and keeps people away. We are blinded by his kindness and selflessness, which seem so blatant and palpable, and it takes a while to discern that he is also stubborn and fierce.
Of course all these only become evident because Allen’s character develops over time, subtly changing with his experiences, just like the other main characters in this story. The truths surrounding his character are unravelled slowly, like pieces of a puzzle fitting into place. Allen Walker is a remarkably well-crafted character, one of many in this story.
D Gray Man also earns points for plot. Hoshino Katsura is the master of plot twists and although we get only a hint of this in the original anime (it stopped its run before the juicy bits) and a little more in the sequel Hallow, that hint in itself is excellent. D Gray Man is perhaps the most enthralling story I have ever come across, and like the characterisation of the protagonist, there is always more to it– more twists and more turns, weaving a story that is difficult to turn away from or predict. Each reveal leaves more mysteries in its wake and more questions that need answering, adding to an already brilliant plot. Every time I read the manga, I am stunned by the details that have gone into the story-telling and the perfection of the narrative itself.
This story certainly calls human virtues into question. Desperate times call for desperate measures and what could be more desperate than a threat to the world? The Holy War that Allen and his comrades are trapped in reminds the readers/ viewers that things are never black and white, especially with the stakes so high. Morality and sympathy are some of the things that are sacrificed and one begins to wonder who the true villains of the story are. Of course, like any good narrative, D Gray Man builds up slowly so these things happen much later.
One may wonder why D Gray Man did not achieve the critical fame and success that some less deserving anime/ manga have achieved. The reason is rather simple: D Gray Man moves like a particularly tired tortoise. The writer, Hoshino Katsura, went on frequent or long health breaks (ranging from weeks to years) causing the story to make very little progress over the years. This is probably one of the reasons why there is an eight year gap between the original animation and Hallow.
The long gap means that several things in Hallow are different from the original animation (some of these are reflective of the changes in the manga art). The only thing that really bugs me is the change in voice actors. (I find it difficult to accept that Kanda Yuu does not have Takahiro Sakurai’s perfect voice.)
All things considered, D Gray Man is a pretty decent anime/ manga to get into. It is an unusual shonen anime/ manga that seems to focus less on fights and more on the plot. The product is a beautiful story (in progress) that is brimming with suspense and action. It is a haunting tale of love and loss, and I truly hope that Hoshino Katsura will find the strength to see it to the end.