Based on the homonymous manga by Katsura Hoshino with a character design by Morioka Hideyuki, the series tell the story of young Exorcist Allen Walker and his war against akuma. Other lead characters include Exorcists Lenalee Lee, Yuu Kanda and Lavi.
Oh, how I hated D. Gray-man and how I now feel like crying tears of joy knowing that a new season is arriving later this year! I started watching the series many years ago at a time when I have merely seen any anime. Having only completed some classics like Sailor Moon and my first Bleach marathon, I was unsure what to expect from a TV series that has more than a 100 episodes.
Pumped up for many kicks and monsters, I was immediately set aback by the slow pace of the first episode: a white-haired boy with an odd scar and a weird arm is approaching the huge gates of a mysterious anti-akuma organisation…and is approaching…and approaching… He meets a cute short-skirted lady with long pigtails (Lenalee Lee) and a striking bishie with sleek black hair and a huge katana (Yuu Kanda) only to establish that both of them find him to be a nuisance. Destined by his mentor General (aka Marshall) Marian Cross to become an Exorcist for the Black Order, Allen is paired with Yuu and sent on a monster hunt.
First case turns out to be a sugar-coated melancholic story of a singing girl in a post-apocalyptic world. Much weakness and emotion entwine to show how different young (and short) Allan is compared to his exorcist-colleague Yuu Kanda with his stone-cold approach (and lean, tall figure).
In fact, it took me several attempts to complete the first (!!!) episode of the series. What a drag…
Challenged (thank you forevermore!) to push through the first three episodes before dropping the series, I found myself slowly falling through the rabbit hole straight into the enchanting craziness this anime is. Silly boyish jokes between the two leads placed amongst a tense reality of unbeatable monsters, strong kicks and punches by an impressive young lady, and one unique presence of a certain science unit – all this makes the journey one you cannot miss. Adding some beautiful dark colours and stunning detailed animation design, you just HAVE to stick around…at least until you meet the first real akuma – from then forth, you shan’t move away from the screen.
Nothing is what it seems in D. Gray-man land. You believe the bad are not so bad, and then they tear you apart; you see how the good fight for your life, then cheat and lie to fall into a whirlpool of nightmares themselves. I am still amazed by how this fragile young mangaka has managed to create such a full-blooded reality skilfully bound by unheard rules and governed by many unwritten laws.
Exorcists are gifted individuals able to synchronise their bodies with the power of Innocence (the Crystal of God) turning themselves into the only proper weapon to ‘exorcise’ akuma – daemons born from an impossible deal to return the death to live, made of human souls, metal and Dark Matter; puppeteered by the unattainable Millennium Earl.
I have never heard of such a story before watching D. Gray-man. And I have never seen an anime unfolding so beautifully as of yet. No plot holes or major discrepancies, not only this idea but its development also are a 10/10 in my books.
There is no other anime but D. Gay-man and Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu where every character matters. No stone is left unturned when it comes to explaining the reason behind someone’s actions; there are no inexplicable mood swings that turn one from hero to zero and back again. Even though some of the plotlines from the manga are missing, and this results in gaps in some of the characters’ background, kudos for the scriptwriting team (Tatsuhiko Urahata, Reiko Yoshida, Kurasumi Sunayama, Joel McDonald and Luci Christian) for never destroying a character and for resisting the temptation to add salt and pepper and cook up a romance, where there has never been such.
The protagonist Allen Walker is not only full of self-irony but also easy to ignore if you would rather follow any of the others. This, in fact, turns out to be a major plus considering the prevailing fashion amongst shounen characters (e.g. Kurosaki Ichigo).
He is also not your typical good boy who is angry at all injustice but a realistic character, prone to flattery, fear and cheating, just like we all are. He manages to doubt and forgive, while fighting for a world he believes to deserve better.
What adds up to Allen Walker’s persona and to every Exorcist in D. Gray-man, is the form of Innocence they possess. In Allen’s case, it seems to reside is his left arm which can transform into claws and a humongous sword. Later on, after a close encounter with death, Allen’s Innocence evolves into a flashy circus-like attire named Crowned Clown. You must really see this!
Most notable, Allen’s strengths come with weaknesses, and his skills are not omnipotent but absolutely logical, having in mind his descent.
I will not reveal any secrets, but I will add that ‘the owls are not what they seem’.
Yuu Kanda is the typical quiet and anti-social bishounen every girl is willing to tame. Acknowledged throughout the anime as undoubtedly handsome, Kanda possesses a sword-shaped Innocence called Mugen (Six Illusions, literally “Eternity”) and a deeply serious approach to every task. Though Kanda is always stern, he is the author of one of the best jokes in the series – Allan’s nickname Moyashi (Bean Sprout) sometimes echoed by Bakanda (i.e. “Baka Kanda” or “Idiot Kanda”).
A very talented Exorcist who is hiding a dark secret and shape-shifting tattoo he received from the Black Order, Yuu Kanda’s the type of character who will unveil and slowly grow on you, especially after watching the forthcoming new season.
Every quality anime needs its leading lady, so D. Gray-man has Lanalee Lee. A strong fighter in the early part of the series, Miss Lee possesses an Innocence called Dark Boots that after one very important fight changes its shape and evolves into a completely new type of Innocence. Though she deteriorates as a person while the anime progresses and becomes more reminiscent of the usual anime heroine, Lanalee is still a very powerful character and keeps on being the ‘big sister’ in the series to the very end of the first series.
Lavi joins the anime later on but quickly becomes identifiable as the missing ingredient – the carefree ginger-haired joker and bff of the lead character. To match his flamboyant manners, Lavi’s Innocence is a warhammer called Ozuchi Kozuchi (Big Hammer Small Hammer) that changes its weight and size upon its wielder’s request.
Of course, it is soon revealed that Lavi is a much more complex character – he possesses phenomenal memory and is the grandson and future heir of the legendary Bookman responsible for keeping track of hidden history.
Taking his name from the famous English occultist and magician Aleister Crowley, Aleister Crowley III is a Romanian Exorcist with an akuma lover, whom local villagers believe to be a vampire. Need I say more? In fact, he received his Innocence after being bitten by a plant gifted to him by Marian Cross. Currently, the Innocence resides in his teeth and allows him to detect akuma and extract the daemon virus before it takes effect.
The best part is, Aleister is shy and naïve contrary to the legend surrounding him and his appearance. When he is fighting, though, he becomes a completely different person.
Having achieved more that 100% sync with his Innocence, Marian Cross is one of the Generals of the Black Order, Allen’s mentor and my personal favourite. You needn’t be told Marian Cross is the Master of Cool, you discover it yourself while watching the series.
One of the funniest moments I can recall is Allen describing to a group of ladies the tough times he has been put through by his Master Cross. To Allan’s sincere amazement, they end up all loved up and wondering when and where they can meet this “caring person”.
Fiery red hair and eyes; a mask covering one third of his face… This is Marian Cross who can prevail all evil with the help of his two pieces of Innocence – a large gun called Judgement and Grave of Maria, a lady Exorcist bound to him by forbidden magic. No wonder Lavi and Lenalee’s first sight of General Cross fighting an akuma is one of the best moments in the anime.
Supervisor Komui Lee and Head of the Asian Branch Bak Chang are undoubtedly a perfect representation of the Black Order’s administrative body, full of endearing and scary nutcases. Unique in their insanity, they are both obsessed with Lenalee. Komui is her older brother, frantic to protect her, while Bak is head-over-heels for her. In brief, the hilarious acts of those geniuses are as numerous as their heroic deeds.
The Millennium Earl and his Noah Family are the antagonists in D. Gray-man – you just have to meet this family!
Grey tan and incredible skills, crazy outfits and confident sarcasm – these are the traits you will find in each of the members of this prodigious ‘famiglia’, strongly reminiscent of a high-end circus troupe.
Carrying the gene of the Biblical saviour of humankind Noah and embodying his hatred, all members of this family command akuma and are immune to its negative effects. Being reincarnations of the 13 apostles and a mysterious 14th, their powers derive from the Dark Matter and are completely unique as each of them is a particular representation of traits such as lust, joy, pleasure, corrosion, wrath or wisdom.
The Millennium Earl is the first most powerful disciple of the original Noah and head of the family. You realise he is the one to fear, because he certainly does not put any effort to look the part. Quite chubby and colourful, the Earl speaks in a joking manner and always carries his pink pumpkin-head umbrella Lero.
Creating as many antagonists, all with unique traits and characters, is a skill that not many manga and anime creators have demonstrated. So, any of you who have dropped the anime before completing a season or rated it poorly should definitely reconsider.
This is the magic spice that completes the perfect anime dish. It is impossible to describe four seasons of incredible music, so I will simply sketch out an outline using some of the highlights I still remember even after that many years.
I will never forget the flustering creepiness of sweet little Noah Road Camelot’s chant Sennen ko wa sagashiteru (The Millennium Earl is Searching), when mumbled by crazed General Kevin Yeegar. You can barely create more precious and impressive seconds in any form of animation.
In fact, every sound in this anime perfectly suits the mystique of the series gently, adding up to the emotion. Needless to say, there are a lot of beautiful piano pieces like Tsunaida Te ni Kiss wo (Hands Sealed with a Kiss) – the 14th’s song sung by Allen’s seiyuu Sanae Kobayashi and stunning aria like The Grave of Maria theme.
Because of the long run of the series, there were four incredible opening themes and eight endings that deserve a mention. My personal favourites are Innocent Sorrow by Abingdon Boys School (OP) and Changin’ by Stephanie (ED).
In short, the soundtrack is perfect and suited for a much wider audience than the typical J-Pop fandom. Kaoru Wada is the man responsible for the pieces in this enchanting musical score. Of course, the openings and endings make sure to deliver enough of the J-music we all love.
The most valuable merit of this anime is that it is a typical shounen, while effectively incorporating influences from all over the world.
For example, if you are an admirer of Japanese culture, but also reminiscent of the Cyberpunk chic of the Victorian era, you will have a visual feast while watching D. Gray-man. If you are interested in urban legends and mysticism, you will also reach far beyond Japan. This is where the animation steps in and beautifully manages to demonstrate the versatile world of D. Gray-man.
While I do realise that most of the work is done by the mangaka, I know it is of utmost importance to find someone who respects the original work and interprets is in a way that keeps its richness and feel. For that we have to thank a team of four led by Hideyuki Morioka – the man behind the character design for anime like Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Fullmetal Alchemist.
The D. Gray-man characters themselves have age and even racial differentiations, as well as vivid expressions. It is also very stunning how, as far as I remember, there wasn’t a single piece of a picture looking crooked or out of place during the entire series – something contemporary anime can only stare at in sheer amazement.
I am biased, yes. But would I be if the anime is not worth it?
You will love D. Gray-man, if you:
- Like Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Ao no Exorcist; K Anime and No. 6 (simply due to the copy of the Walker-Kanda duo they have created)
- Look for a long-going, non-moe, harem-free shounen anime
- Acknowledge that most quality series are slow starters
- Prefer beautiful animation
- Strive for character development and strong individuals
- Think that side characters should not be cannon fodder but bring additional value
- Open your mind to a completely alternate reality and many unique theories on how the world works
The official D.Gray-man website
D.Gray-man in The List
Thank you, Death Scythe, for bringing yet another awesome show review to The Shinigami List!