Kosher Kuts: D. Gray-man

D. Gray-man is essentially a gothic version of the X-Men. The idea has some initial originality. A dark undertone to a classic idea can provide new ground to explore in the action superhero genre. However, the foundation of the team and the plot must be strong to keep the series from sinking into banality. These sentiments are the deciding factors when you read through D. Gray-man.

The aforementioned plot of D. Gray-man has a Zoroastrian bent to it. There are people around the world who possess a super-human power called “Innocence.” An organization called the Black Order is trying to find these people and recruit them to become exorcists. Exorcists are supposed to defend humans from an elf-like creature called the Earl of the Millenium, which is attempting to destroy all humans who utilize Innocence (and thus to bring about the end of the world). He has his own group of human followers and manufactures beasts called Akuma with the souls of dead people whose loved ones want them to live again. In doing so, the Earl fulfills the wishes of humans, but damns the souls of the dead. The exorcists use their powers to save the Akuma from damnation and to protect Innocence.

The exorcists of the Black Order have quite a few characters that match up to Marvel’s mutants. You can easily recognize the counterparts of Wolverine, Beast and Jean Grey among them, but the mangaka, Katsura Hoshino, does not allow them to maintain static personalities. All of the characters have their own personal obstacles to overcome in addition to the monsters they must fight. For example, my favorite character in the series is the Jean Grey mimic, who has the ability to temporarily turn back time and allow a person to be healed of his or her wounds. However, her deep-seated feelings of inadequacy make the return to normal time as emotionally devastating to her as it is physically devastating for the person she “healed.” Characters like this make the story particularly enjoyable to read.

Then, there’s Allen Walker. This kid is a recent addition to the Black Order and basically feels like the team’s Jubilee, only instead of fireworks he has the world’s strongest left hand. He has several other abilities, including the ability to see Akuma when they are in disguise, but this ability has deserted him of late. Allen is the character who is run by his emotions and usually delivers the sappy lines about saving everyone. Furthermore, he’s considered a young upstart who just might be the guy who takes out the Earl of the Millenium. I wouldn’t have a problem with Allen if he had a supporting role in D. Gray-man, but he’s the main character of the series.

It is Allen’s status as “the hero of time” that really irks me about the series. When I consider all the characters I like in the series, Allen is pretty low on the list. Hoshino has clearly taken a shine to Allen and has held the spotlight with an iron grip throughout much of the series. Only very recently have the other characters really had the chance to shine as the first big battle royal in the series occurred. Apparently, Hoshino had made a pilot of the book where Lavi, a supporting character in D. Gray-Man, was the central character. I personally would have preferred him to Allen.

The Black Order has some great characters, but they often take a backseat to the great villains. In the beginning of the series, the main nemeses of Allen and company were the Earl and his Akuma, who grew in levels and were basically dark versions of Pokemon. Hoshino pulled back the curtain story by story and eventually brought Noahs, the human followers of the Earl, to the forefront. One of the younger-looking members of the group looks like a poster girl for Hot Topic, and her older brother has the calm and calculating demeanor of an assassin. These folks have powers and personalities that are as entertaining to watch as most of the good guys.

Aside from the plethora of enjoyable characters, the art and plot contribute to the quality of the series. I look forward to seeing Hoshino’s splash pages and the ways in which they convey details and emotions critical to the story. Battles and investigation scenes are framed well, and the clarity of a scene and its situation assist the reader without feeling like the mangaka is holding your hand and leading you through it. The art, in turn, helps with story progression. There are rarely lags in the plot, and most arcs don’t overstay their welcome. Loose ends still abound in the series and some important characters have yet to appear, but obvious advancement has occurred.

From a relatively trite idea, D. Gray-Man has utilized strengths in characterization, art and plot to create a very pleasant manga. Although the series feels like a retread of old ideas, outstanding writing and art enhance it. A fabulous supporting cast of good and bad guys counters the excess amount of page time that the inadequate protagonist receives. D. Gray-Man is currently in its fifth volume and should be available at your local bookstore. The chances are good that this manga could take off in popularity – especially if the anime comes stateside – so grab your copy today.