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Title:
 D.Gray-Man Series 1 Part 1

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  15

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  22.99

Episodes:  1-13 (of 51)

Audio Options:  English 5.1, Japanese 2.0

Subtitles:  English

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

 

It seems there's a new 'next big thing' every month or so nowadays, in fact they're coming so fast that when a series is released here on DVD fans are often looking for the next one.  Manga's acquisition of D.Gray-Man was big news last year, overshadowing their ongoing release of Bleach, but now it's here everyone's waiting for Soul Eater to hit our shores instead.  We're getting ahead of ourselves though, as D.Gray-Man is here and wants to prove it's worth the hype.

The series focuses on Allen Walker, a 15-year old boy who is in training to become an exorcist, humanity's only hope against the mysterious Millennium Earl and his army of demons known as Akuma.  Allen was born with a holy power called Innocence which allows him to exorcise Akuma and free the souls trapped within, however, his battle with the Earl and his minions is not just for humanity.  Allen met the Millennium Earl years before and had been given the opportunity to bring his recently deceased foster father back to life.  Consumed with grief the young Allen leapt at the chance the Earl gave him but in doing so he turned his father into an Akuma that answered to the Earl's will alone.  He should have died that night but the power of the Innocence saved him and destroyed the Akuma, but not before his father cursed him for what he had done.  The curse makes him to see the tortured souls trapped within Akuma, and determined to stop anyone else suffering as he has done he trains to stop the Earl at all costs.  He's not alone in his battle though, Allen Walker is an Exorcist of the Black Order and his fellow Exorcists all have the power of Innocence too.  They're going to need it as well, after centuries of minor activity the Earl is on the move again, and with the support of his Akuma and the enigmatic Clan of Noah he aims to destroy humanity completely.  The Black Order are the world's only hope, but the Earl is trying to destroy the Innocence that gives them their power.  It's a race against time to see which side can locate lost Innocence first, and Allen will have to learn fast if he wants to stay alive...
 

I've always quite liked the D.Gray-Man manga, it may not be as consistent as the Naruto manga or as enjoyable as One Piece but it has a style of its own.  There's a darker edge to the story than most Shonen Jump titles, and the art and design oozes a kind of gothic cool reminiscent of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas.  The anime, in this volume at least, sticks pretty closely to the plot of the manga, covering Allen's journey to the Black Order and his early Innocence-seeking missions with fellow exorcists Yu Kanda and Lenalee Lee. 

The quality of the animation is absolutely superb, blending CG effects with the traditional animation to good effect and really capturing the series' gothic look.  These first thirteen episodes effectively cover the first three volumes of the manga, starting with Allen's arrest by an over-zealous policewoman investigating a series of disappearances before moving on to his and Kanda's search for the Ghost of Mater in a labyrinthine ruined town and rounding off with his and Lenalee's investigation into the Rewinding City.

The stories are generally pretty good, with some effective moments of horror.  Humans who take the Millennium Earl's offer to resurrect loved ones generally end up being killed by those who they bring back, and there are some pretty nasty deaths throughout the volume too.  The characters are good too, with the cold and unsociable Kanda proving a great foil to the easygoing and sentimental Allen.  However, whilst there are some memorable stand-out moments in the Ghost of Mater story it's really in the Rewinding City story that the series comes to life.  The early part of this volume sees Allen & Co face normal Akuma which are to be honest pretty much cannon fodder, however, as the volume progresses we are introduced to evolved 'level 2' Akuma which have more of a personality.  This means there is some variation thrown into proceedings but the Rewinding City story introduces Road Camelot, a gothic girl who is an intelligent human opponent who causes a real dilemma for Allen.  Killing Akuma with Innocence frees their trapped souls, but killing Road would be nothing more than murder.  Whilst others in the Order have no qualms in doing this, it is against Allen's code so how can he fight her?  It's quandaries like this that add a bit of philosophical bite to proceedings, and bring the sheer unevenness of the battle against the Earl to the fore.
 

Unfortunately though there are bad points to go with the good, and the first I have to mention is the English dub.  I rarely comment on dubs in reviews unless they are exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, as the vast majority of them are absolutely fine.  However, in this case there is some extremely jarring mis-casting that really detracts from watching it in English.  Kanda's voice makes him sound like the Kurgan from Highlander rather than an aloof Japanese swordsman, whilst Chief Komui Lee is camper than a row of

tents.  The dub director also completely failed to take location into account - Allen is English, another character is German and the first episode is set in England but everyone has American accents.  It's one of my main annoyances when dubs ignore accents, it just smacks of lazyness.  There's also the inclusion of the depressingly weak side stories, such as the one about Komui's robot Komlin going haywire.  In the manga it was noticeably limp, but at least it was only a chapter long.  In this it's an entire episode.  I would say that I hope they don't do this in future volumes, but I've seen enough anime to know that this is just wishful thinking.

It's a shame that there are the issues with the dub and the comedy episodes, as it is generally pretty good apart from this.  The anime does a good job of capturing the feel of the manga but, apart from a few moments, it does feel a bit by-the-numbers until Road arrives.  It also pulls its punches a little, with many gory moments from the anime omitted or changed.  The prioritisation of these changes is odd too, in the manga a character is shown with her hands nailed to a grandfather clock but in the anime her arms are tied to it with rope.  However in the same scene another character is stabbed in the eye with a spike and this is kept in.  These kinds of inconsistencies are commonplace and it sometimes seems like the series is being reined in, and therefore it never feels quite as good as it should.  D.Gray-Man Series 1 Part 1 is a solid if unspectacular start to a series that boasts great animation and some decent stories.  At the moment things seem a little disjointed with no real overarching plot, but it's early days and there are promising signs towards the end of the volume of better things to come. 

Extras

Textless opening and closing sequences, trailers and a commentary for the second episode from the US production staff.  Not bad.

Ratings

Feature:   Extras:
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