Hello again everyone and welcome to the second spooktacular edition of TAY explores. Today I'll be covering a manga that was one of the few mangas I read when I first began reading manga, D Gray Man. Along with the other popular shounens in the early 2000s, I closely followed D Gray Man through legal and eventually illegal means. I just couldn't get enough of it at the time because it had an incredibly gothic art style and I really enjoy gothic art. But in 2008, the author fell ill and the manga when on hiatus for quite a while. When D Gray Man eventually came back, it just didn't feel the same too me. Maybe it was the new plotline, maybe it was how the characters acted now, or maybe my tastes changed during D Gray Man's hiatus. Even so, D Gray Man holds a special place in my heart.
D Gray Man follows Allen Walker, aspiring and eventual exorsist, who travels the world to defeat akuma, lovecraftian esque horrors created by the Millennium Earl, the villain of the series. Early in the series, Allen joins the Black Order, a faction of the Catholic Church that wages war against the akuma and the Millennium Earl, to free the souls bound to the akuma as akuma are made from the souls of the dead and living people's bodies. Also, Allen is tasked by the Black Order to gather innocence, godly essences used to combat the akuma, and find people who can wield the innocence as only specific individuals can wield innocence. So, as Allen travels the globe, he encounters many colorful characters and gets into many battles with the Millennium Earl's faction all while the war between the Earl and the Black Order becomes more complex.
What makes D Gray Man so enticing is that it embraces the gothic aesthetic whole-heartedly. Everything from the buildings and backgrounds to the character designs oozes gothic design and it gives you a sense that the world of D Gray Man is dark and dangerous. This aesthetic works incredibly well with what the akuma are because the akuma are weapons that wear the skin of humans. So literally any random person on the street could be an akuma. So with the gothic designs of the world, you get to feel the fear and paranoia that the characters must feel in the manga. I just love the aesthetic for this manga, not only because I'm a huge fan of the gothic aesthetic, but because the manga uses its aesthetic to immerse the reader even further in its world.
The characters in D Gray Man aren't that special as the manga borrows many character archetypes from other pieces of media, but what makes the characters so good is that they feel like real people. D Gray Man likes to use general character archetypes to introduce its characters so it's easy to understand who each character is and so some of the character's back stories can be a bit stale (see Lavi, Lenalee, bookman). Despite some hackneyed backstories, every character feels alive because they express more than one emotion and their interactions with any other character feels real. It's easy to get invested in the characters because they try to have a good time despite living in constant fear of an akuma attack. You get to see what each character values and what they're willing to do to uphold their values. Also, the character interactions are just amazing because they are incredibly funny while also being able to characterize each character well. Though the characters in D Gray Man can feel generic, each of them is incredibly fun to see in action.
At times, I wish that D Gray Man wasn't a shounen battle manga because it has an interesting world, but doesn't focus on it. Specifically, I wish the manga took the time to actually discuss the mechanics of the akuma because what akuma are raise interesting points. Like I said earlier, the akuma are made from souls of the dead and bodies of the living. I find this is pretty interesting because the dead soul is wearing the skin of someone else and so their identity doesn't match up with their appearance. This fact gets even more interesting when it's shown that higher-level akumas have a form of self-identity and can rebel against the Earl in some cases. Unfortunately, D Gray Man doesn't focus discussing the mechanics of the world and opts to focus on the war between the Earl and the Black Order and Allen's battles while serving the order. There isn't anything wrong with focusing on the elements of the war, but I find it disappointing that almost no attention was given to how the fantastical elements of D Gray Man affects its world.
If I had to describe D Gray Man's pace in one sentence it would be, "It moves so fast that it eventually breaks its shins." One good thing about this fast pace is that it gets through its intro really quickly and begins exploring its main points quickly. The downside to this is that the reader has almost no time to process what is happening in the manga. So, when there's some kind of twist in the story, it's really hard to understand why the twist was important because the reader didn't have the time process what was going on. This gets even worse later in the series when the twists start piling on top of each other until the narrative becomes a jumbled mess of plot twists and shifting alliances. D Gray Man has a quick pace that get the reader from plot point to plot point quickly, but the story eventually gets incoherent when it tries to throw in a plot twist without giving the reader time to process what's going on.
D Gray Man is a manga with a great aesthetic and characters, but isn't able to tell a coherent story. D Gray Man uses the gothic art style to great affect. It helps immerse the reader in its world and it looks very good. The characters fill out many archetypes commonly used in stories, but it's able to make the characters relatable by showing what they value and by having great character interactions. Unfortunately, D Gray Man's story a tad generic as it chooses to focus on the battles between the Black Order and the Millennium Earl instead of fleshing out the world and stakes in the conflict besides the fate of the world. Lastly, the pacing of the manga is awful as it moves way too fast for most readers to understand what's going on. In short, D Gray Man is a shounen manga with a great aesthetic and characters, but has a hard time remaining focus as the series goes on.
All images were taken from mangahere.co and viz.com. I do not own any of these images.
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