Unpopular Opinion: D Gray Man

So recently it was announced that D Gray Man was getting continued this year.  This has got me excited for a number of reasons.  And naturally I’m going to explain said reasons, but before I talk about the show itself there’s another topic I want touch on in brief.  One of my earliest posts was about the current anime industry and it’s slurry of sequels.  In that post I lamented that many sequels came about because of split core shows, a show which airs 12 episodes in one season, takes a season off, then airs another 12.  In my experience, I felt that many split core shows were actually initially designed as doublecore shows, shows with 24 episodes, and then were cut in half.  There are a number of examples but Gate is an especially good one, since it ended it’s first season on the second episode of a five or six episode arc and just left us hanging for three months.  Anyway my point was that a lot of sequels were coming out but most of the sequels were to new shows, and I thought it made more sense to make sequels to older stuff that was really popular like Black Lagoon or Spice and Wolf.   Which brings us to D Gray Man.  D Gray Man ran from 2006 to 2008, and now after eight years of an ending that left me begging more, it’s here, and against my better judgement I’ve hyped myself up for it.  Now lets get to analyzing D Gray Man, there will be major spoilers, you have been warned.

For those who have never seen D Gray Man, it’s a battle shounen with a total of 103 episodes.  It’s overall narrative setup is similar to Inuyasha’s, with a lot episodes searching after Innocence in-between major battle arc the same way Inuyasha had the main characters search for Jewel shards before and then in-between  major arcs.  The story roughly goes as follows, a secretive sect of the Church, called the Black the Church, found a prophecy that details the end of the world and have taken steps to combat the harbinger of this apocalypse, the Millennium Earl.  Fast-forward to the late 19th century, an unusual boy named Allen Walker, he’s an Exorcist like all the other main characters, arrives at the Black Church just as the Millennium Earl seems to be becoming more active.  The Exorcists, the warriors of the Black Church, all of whom use weapons that have Innocence as their core, are currently in race with the Millennium Earl over finding the lost cubes of Innocence.  And so the series begins.  Anyway that should be enough recap, now I’m going to talk about all the things I liked about the series and what I sincerely hope is coming in the 2016 release.  I should note at this point I have never read the manga so any predictions I make are pure speculation.

Let’s start with the most obvious thing I like about the series, the main character.  I find Allen interesting for a number of reasons.   For starters his cursed eye looks fucking awesome, like someone took the best parts of Naruto’s Rinnegan and Sharingan then put them together.  But more importantly is the effect said eye has on his character.  Like all of the Exorcists, Allen is dedicated to destroying Akuma, the oddly human-while-also-demonic-while-also-robotic weapons of the Millennium Earl.  Unlike his fellow Exorcists however, Allen can see the trapped souls of the people who form the core of the Akuma, and fights as much to destroy the Akuma for the threat they represent to other humans as he does to save the souls trapped inside them.  It seems like a minute difference, I mean he still ends up destroying the Akuma, the same as everyone else, but his desire to save things is a fundamental part of his person and it becomes much more important when he encounters the Noahs later in the story.   But let’s put a pin in that for now and go back to Allen sans the context of the narrative.  His weapon is this fucking huge metal-looking claw that is savage as hell.  Yes I know he gets a sleeker, albeit less awesome looking version later, but his initial claw is a work of art.  More so than just the claw itself, I like how it’s so atypical a weapon for a hero. I mentioned in my post about battle maniacs how, typically heroes had simple weapons and powers that the audience easily relates to, while battle maniacs often fought exceptionally exotic weapons or otherwise fought with things which we don’t identify as weapons at all, like Hisoka’s cards.  And Allen’s claw, while simple, doesn’t look like a hero’s weapon at all, it looks like something a monster would have.  Between the claw and his cursed eye Allen stands from a lot of his shounen hero contemporaries and it just makes for striking image.  It also helps keep feeling different from his fellow exorcists because most of the exorcists have more typical hero weapons.  That’s enough about Allen for now, let’s look at the setting and atmosphere.

D Gray Man is a pretty dark series, particularly for a shounen battle show, and I don’t just mean it looks dark and grim, although many episodes feature mostly dark and grim environments.  Remember in order for Akuma to function, someone has to die, someone close to the deceased has to be tricked into calling their soul back so it can be trapped in the Akuma’s core, and then the Akuma will kill said close someone and wear their body before going on to kill more people.  It’s a pretty fucked up cycle if you think about it, especially considering how many of the fucking things the Exorcists tear apart over the course of the series.  This already dark and depressing cycle is enhanced by many of the characters, there’s the doctor who kills his patients so he can help the Millennium Earl make Akuma in exchange for money for example.  Or Allen himself, who got his cursed eye after he made his foster father into an Akuma as a child, which his claw awakened to and crushed.  But despite all the tragedy and darkness the series curiously resists becoming depressing or edgy as many shows that try to be dark, grim and violent often do.  In part this is because the show has a fair amount of silly comedic moments and routines to keep the grim-ness in check, but it has more to do with the atmosphere.  D Gray Man has a certain haunting or ethereal quality to many of it’s episodes, fights take place in dark places often with no other humans around, the music (which is really good) has many tracks that are airy, haunting and melodic.  The sound complements the visuals and themes of the narrative very well is what I’m saying.  And all of these elements come together to make a show that creates a compelling sense of atmosphere, which helps make the setting both more real in the sense that the fantastical and grim elements make sense there, and paradoxically enhances the fantastical nature of the show and many of it’s elements.   Which brings us to the villains.

The main villains of the show are the Millennium Earl, who I kid you not, looks like Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog with a creepy goblin face and a top hat, and the Noah clan.  I kind of love how ridiculous the Earl looks but my main focus is the Noah clan.  In a clever bit of narrative work the creators of D Gray Man put a new twist on the story of Noah’s Ark.  In this fictional re-imagining of that biblical tale, Noah turns against God after the flood, and while I can’t say that I remember Noah having any one reason in mind, the best thing I could come up with was that the destruction and loss of life caused by the flood was not an act befitting a merciful god or any god at all really.  My guess here is that writer understood or experienced most of Christianity’s messages about love, mercy and tolerance from the New Testament and didn’t have as firm a grasp on the Old Testament where God lashed out with acts of destruction more often but whatever.  Either way the running idea is that Noah had superhuman capabilities of some kind since by the show’s logic he was considered the greatest disciple of God, and that he passed these powers and assumably his grudge against God onto his descendants.  This is the Noah clan in a nutshell.  There are a total of 13 Noahs presumably inspired by Jesus’ 12 disciples and Judas, a former disciple who betrayed him and have their own powers inspired by certain elements of Noah, Skin Bolic for example is Noah’s wrath and can use lightning to smite his foes.  Anyway the point is, I love what the creators did with this.  There are no shortage of anime that draw on the folklore and religions of cultures, but most of the time it’s kind of incoherent and not used all that well, Misteltainn for example is a name that crops up every now and then, and usually the shows using the name have literally nothing to do with the Norse mythology the name comes from.  By contrast, D Gray Man takes a well known story and turns it entirely on it’s head with a few interesting alterations.  That’s an impressively savvy move in its own right but I find doubly interesting since I’m very much interested in mythology and religious lore.  Narrative tricks and style aside there is one thing I especially like about the Noah Clan, Road Kamelot.

Road is the oldest of the Noahs and her power is the ability to create dimensional spaces, often using the dreams and nightmares of the intended victims as inspiration, which makes sense considering she inherited Noah’s dreams.  What makes Road interesting though is her attraction to Allen.  You don’t see villains trying to hook up with heroes too often and I for one find the idea both narratively interesting and totally hot.  In Road’s case especially, I feel like she and Allen make an interesting match.  Unlike say Esdeath’s attraction to Tatsumi in Akame ga Kill which was used almost exclusively for comedic purposes, I can see Road and Allen having some interesting chemistry.  She leans sadistic and while I wouldn’t call Allen a masochist per se, his obsession with saving people does cause to him have strong self-sacrificing tendencies.  The other reason this could work is that because Road is technically human, all of the Noahs are, Allen’s inclination is to save her not destroy her.  And Road’s obsession with Allen favors a situation in which she hurts him playfully without ever trying to destroy him outright.  Theoretically I could see the two of them sticking together each trying to convert the other to their cause without ever trying to settle their differences by force because they have bigger problems to worry about.  So I ship Allen and Road, end of story.  Sorry you had to see me writing a rough outline for some D Gray Man fanfic, I apologize it won’t happen again, but before I finish I think it’s time to look to the future of D Gray Man and why, I’m really looking forward to the 2016 continuation.

Part of understanding why I’m looking forward to the continuation is in understanding where the old D Gray Man left off.  I mentioned above that Allen fights for different reasons than his companions, and while this never meant much when their opponents were Akuma, the game changes considerably with Noahs involved.  Before I really get into this here’s some context for those who haven’t seen the series.  The Earl’s base is in Japan which consists almost entirely of Akuma at this point.  So our heroes went to this base by boat from China.  This boat was attacked and all but one of the crew dies.  Later after the good guys have invaded the Earls base, its called an ark and it can do weird things with space and doors, that surviving crew member is chosen by a block of Innocence and is going to become an Exorcist.  Shortly thereafter he meets the Noahs for the first time, Road makes out with Allen in full view of the other Exorcists and the Noah that almost killed Allen before they got on the boat from China (I’m not kidding), and a battle begins.  During this battle Allen uses his new powers, which he got after almost dying, and by his own admission is not trying to kill his opponent, he’s trying to kill the Noah within his opponent, thus rendering them a normal human and thus saving them.  The new exorcist can’t understand this and gets really pissed off at Allen, and I’m guessing some of the other ones have a similar reaction even if they don’t show it.  After the fighting is over Allen saves the ark from disintegrating by using powers that aren’t connected to his Innocence but are instead related to his foster father Mana, whom the show suggests was the 13th Noah.

When the good guys return home, it’s not the glorious return afforded most heroes.  Allen in particular is essentially under house arrest because the upper echelons of the Black Church find his connection to the 13th Noah suspect.  I should note here that for the entire show up until this point the upper echelons of the Black Church have done nothing to make them seem like a threat or to be hostile, they were barely even present in the story.  But at the end they suddenly appeared as a hostile force to Allen and while not portrayed as villains, they certainly aren’t portrayed in the same light as the rest of the Black Church, adding a whole new layer to the organization.  So what does this mean for the show?  Well aside from the nuance it lends the Black Church and it lends the story new possibilities, some of them very interesting.  Specifically the story looks like it intends for Allen to go rouge to me.  Rifts are forming between him and the Black Church, he seems to have some kind of connection to the Noahs beyond Road’s attraction to him, and at the time of the shows ending his list of allies looks very thin.  I’m not saying this is what will happen, but fuck do I want to see it go this route.  Again this last bit is entirely speculation, but it makes sense to me particularly because that’s what I would do with the story if someone told to continue writing given the scenario I’ve described.  In any event, the last arc of D Gray Man has made the world of the series a much more complicated and messy place, full of new possibilities.  It’s an exciting prospect getting to see how the story will play out after 8 years, and regardless of the outcome I am looking forward to it.  Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll you in the next one.

 

 

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