It’s time to take a look at a pretty long anime that I watched quite a while ago. This review’s been in the backlog long enough so it was time to knock it out. This was one of the first manga titles that I read way back in the day. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it in the beginning. It got good towards the middle and then got a little too crazy after it turned monthly. The show covers the manga all the way through the good parts and then stops right before we start to get some time skips and other adventures. That’s for the sequel show which adapts the Kanda arc so that should be good. As for this show, it’s definitely a great title.
The series starts off by introducing us to the world of D. Gray-man. When people die, someone can visit them and make a wish to bring them back to life. Should you do so, the Millenium Earl will bring the husk of the dead person back to life to murder you. You’ll then turn into an Akuma, but hey….at least you got to say good bye one last time right? It definitely does feel like this isn’t worth it, but most people don’t know the cost until it’s too late. The Exorcists are the only ones who can fight against the Earl and his legions of Akuma. Unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of Exorcists left in the world and they’ve been fighting a losing battle for years. Can a local kid born with a cursed arm turn the tides of battle? His name is Allen Walker and there is more to him than meets the eye.
D. Gray-man is a very grim series. That’s not to say that it’s super gritty like Attack on Titan because the show can be pretty light. It’s still a shounen, but when you think about the plot you realize just how serious this is. The heroes learn time and time again that the Earl could murder the whole lot of them at any time. The fact that he chooses to let the human race exist is still a puzzle for the Exorcists. Perhaps he needs enough people to keep the Akuma army going which would make sense. Also, if the Exorcists are not a threat then there is no reason for him to go out of his way to destroy them right? They may win battles here and there, but it really does feel like the war is completely out of reach. They’ll need a few more Allens to even start a comeback.
Lets take a quick step back though. As I mentioned, Allen is the main character here. He has a mysterious past which isn’t looked at much here so there’s always a lot of mystery around him. He’s been a loner for a long time as he worked under General Cross, but now he is ready to join the main order. He’s a powerful fighter and one of the strongest Exorcists on the planet. Once he unlocks his Crown Clown form he can take any Exorcist down aside from the generals. Allen has a lot of your usual main character traits like eating a lot and being rather hot headed, but can also be rather ruthless against Akuma. He believes that destroying them is the only way to purify their souls so he has no qualms about crushing them. The Akuma don’t have hearts and do appear to be dead which furthers his point.
As Allen has some demonic traits the order doesn’t always trust him though. The deaths also take a toll on the guy because there’s no way for Allen to save everyone. For every 5 people he saves another one ends up dying and becoming an Akuma. It’s a pretty depressing cycle for him and as a result it takes him an incredibly long time to regain his powers compared to most leads. I liked him more in the anime than in the manga. He still could have acted faster to save the dog but after that Allen doesn’t really make any big mistakes. He may be outmatched at times, but he’s always fighting to the end. There’s even one match where he continues to fight the Akuma even after he has been knocked unconscious. That shows his determination. Allen also does defy the order at times which is good because those guys always seem corrupt.
Lavi is another one of the main characters and he is the one who was most improved in the anime. It’s not that I disliked him in the manga or anything, but he really didn’t leave an impression on me. In the show he is definitely one of the best characters. Lavi is a bookman and isn’t supposed to get involved with the exorcists. He breaks the rules many times to help them out though and ultimately makes the right calls. While he may not be ready to admit that they’re his friends, Lavi’s actions speak for themselves. Even with his job on the line he goes in to protect them and you can’t ask for a better friend. It’s just a shame that he seems a little weak next to the others. Lavi won’t be giving Allen or Kanda a good fight anytime soon. His hammer is his big weapon and every villain can just slap it to the side.
Kanda is the big rival of the series and definitely lives up to the hype. He has accelerated healing which is very handy and his sword can cut through just about anything. His fights against Tyki and Skin were good showcases of what he can do. He is dependent on his sword though so once it breaks then most of his skills go away. He’s still strong, but in this world you need a weapon laced with innocence to do anything against Akuma. Kanda’s got that Sasuke/Vegeta vibe going and it works quite well. He’s really a textbook rival and the kind of guy you want to have on your side. As you can probably guess he is definitely a standout character.
Lenalee is the main heroine of the show and definitely gets a nice character arc. Right from the start it’s nice to see that she can fight. Lenalee is a very capable fighter and goes through a very similar experience as Allen when she loses her abilities. Both of them have to risk their lives in order to get back into the ring. Her powered up form seems to keep up with Allen pretty well and if anything that means they may have both surpassed Kanda. Just temporarily I’m sure, a good rival never stays down. Her fight against the Level 3 Akuma is top notch and the same can be said of her fight with the Level 4. Lenalee’s a top notch character and part of why the show is so good is because the cast is so strong.
Another exorcist is Miranda, but her role certainly isn’t as big as the main 4. She can freeze time though which is an incredible ability to have. Now, it’s not game breaking since you keep your injuries from when time is stopped, but it will let you fight a little extra even after you should have been dead. Miranda is a great support fighter and her ability also allows you a chance to catch your breath real quick. Then you have Krory who is part vampire. He can bite enemies, but that kind of ability always seems a bit dicey to me. As soon as you face an opponent whose skin is harder than your teeth that’s it. As you can imagine this happens to him quite a bit. Still, he does have enhanced strength and speed so he remains relevant for most of the series. He’s a reasonable side character.
Then you’ve got Lenalee’s brother Komui who is one of the commanders in the order. We learn that he got the position to better watch the organization since he doesn’t trust them. I think he’s too passive though. We learn from Lenalee’s backstory just how extreme they can be. It’s nice that he got such a position, but Komui doesn’t seem to have actually done anything with this position so then what was ultimately the point? It’s not like the corrupt members are scared of him so it feels like his efforts were for naught. I wasn’t a big fan of the guy. His counterpart Bak was way better.
Bak doesn’t mind defying the government and he helped Allen quite a bit. He makes the tough calls and jumps into danger even though he’s only human. His friendship with Fo was also handled pretty well and you actually grew to like that branch more than the main headqarters. Fo was also instrumental in getting Allen back into fighting shape. They sparred quite a lot which wasn’t super convenient for her, but she did it and even gave him a nice pep talk. Allen had a lot of support during his rough patch and that was mainly thanks to Fo and Bak.
Bookman is also around with the group, but he’s definitely one of those guys that you can’t call a true friend. He would be quick to ditch the Exorcists and live up to his role of just being an observer. He doesn’t really believe in taking sides and considering that the Akuma plan to wipe everyone out that just doesn’t really fly. He’s not downright corrupt like Malcolm though. He seems to be the most extreme member of the Order or at least from the characters we’ve seen. He believes that the end absolutely justifies the means and will do anything to destroy the Akuma. Somewhere along the line he became a monster himself. The guy is probably one of humanity’s only hopes against them, but you just don’t want to win at the high price he’ll put you through. I would have liked to have seen at least one of the characters take him down, but no such luck yet.
As for the generals, we get to see them all fight near the end of the series. Most of them haven’t gotten a role beyond that though. The ones with the biggest role is the one with Kanda who likes drawing and Cross. Kanda’s general is pretty annoying the whole time with how laidback he is though. He does a lot of scouting, but never turns up any results so I can’t give him credit. Cross has a lot of bad traits like gambling and messing around, but at least he actually did destroy a bunch of enemy bases and solved a lot of puzzles. He actually made a tangible difference in the war effort and we got to see him fight quite a bit. His battles against the Level 4 and Tyki Mikk show why he got this position. He definitely seemed to be more powerful than the Exorcists and he’s got some great abilities aside from his super gun. I don’t like the guy, but I can respect his power.
Time to look at the villains. Naturally there are a ton of Akuma. All of the Level 0, 1, and 2 are fun enough, but at that level they aren’t a huge threat. Usually they show up so the Exorcists can have a good montage. I suppose the Level 2 fighters were a slight threat in their very first appearance and there’s one fight where they are in the sky and they manage to do some damage. It’s when the Level 3 Akuma show up that things get interesting. For starters, one Level 3 Akuma can basically take on the entire team. Lenalee has to give it her all to take 1 down and even then it was just barely. It was impressive because Allen didn’t seem to do quite as well. Even with Crown Clown form he was getting thrown around a lot. He did last a while even though he was outnumbered though, but the Akuma just wouldn’t stay down. Their speed, power, and defense are all off the charts.
One of the cooler moments in the series is when they make it to the Earl’s island. There are tons of Level 3 Akuma there and just one is enough to be a big deal so you can see how hopeless everything appeared to be. As a result I agreed with their decision to just storm the base and try to assassinate the Earl. It’s not like they could use hit and run tactics to whittle off the Level 3 so at that point you just try to go for the head and take him out right away. This was doomed as well since they had the huge Akuma towers running around the the Earl’s Noah fighters, but no other plan would have been much better.
Then you’ve got the Level 4 Akuma who is my favorite villain in the series. He’s just super intense and the fight with him vs Allen and Lenalee is my favorite in the series as well. This guy’s completely broken. He was able to take many big hits and still kept on going. If Cross didn’t show up then he would have still managed to secure a win which is pretty crazy. If the Earl makes more of those then I just can’t see how the heroes can hope to win without some major power ups. The Level 4 Akuma are basically General level.
The Earl may be the head honcho, but it’s hard to say if he is really the strongest villain around. It makes sense that he would be since the leader usually is the strongest, but I’ve never been too impressed with him He didn’t seem too eager to fight General Cross and Allen was holding his own pretty well. This likely isn’t the Earl’s final form, but he still doesn’t look great yet. He’s definitely a very different kind of villain as he doesn’t mind crying in front of his followers and such. You just can’t forget how many evil acts he does in the meantime. The guy is a complete psycho for sure and it’s hard to see him being redeemed.
From the Noah the one with the biggest chance of turning good would likely be Road. She may not actually be a kid, but she does seem the most innocent out of the group. They’re her family so she fights with them, but she doesn’t seem as openly malicious as the others. Road does do a number on the Exorcists with her attacks though and she is very hard to deal with. She’s rather unassuming but may be the strongest member next to Tyki. Lulu Bell gets the smallest role out of the Noah. She is reasonably tough and was beating the Exorcists when they fought, but that was very early on in the series.
Tyki Mikk definitely lives up to the hype of being a Noah though. Not only is he able to stalemate Kanda, but he also takes down Allen very easily when they first fought. In his final form he’s also far too much for Allen to handle even in his final form. Lavi’s help isn’t enough to beat him either. Tyki seems to enjoy his human life with his gambling buddies, but ultimately he never would have been able to have it both ways for long. The humans aren’t going to survive an Akuma invasion so eventually they would have been bumped off. Tyki’s a fun villain though. He keeps a front of formality in all of his conversations before eventually cracking when things get tough.
Jasdevi is sort of 2 different Noah, but they eventually merge into one. I forgot if that’s how they originally were and then they split or vice versa, but I believe they used to be one. They’re a fun duo even if Cross does mess with them a lot. It’s always interesting to have a Noah who’s part comic relief as they do the dishes in one scene and then murder everyone in another. They’re fairly strong, but not on the level of Road or Tyki. Their traps are really what made them a threat to the heroes during the fight. Then you’ve got Skin who is very strong physically but doesn’t have much else going for him. I suppose you don’t need much else when you’re that strong though. His lightning is hard to dodge and he gave Kanda a good fight. That alone tells me that he is very powerful. That was also one of the better fights in the series. He doesn’t have much personality so I wouldn’t say that I was a big fan, but Skin added to the villain ranks pretty well.
The animation in D. Gray-man looks excellent. The colors are sharp and as I mentioned we do get a lot of really great fights. There’s a lot of detail here at all times and the backdrops are suitably grim. It’s almost always night time in the show with very few episodes taking place during the day. You always feel the impending sense of doom with Akuma around every corner. The animators also really kick it up a notch during the big battles in the tower and everything afterwards. You just feel an uptick in the animation and there’s no comparison when looking at the first episodes and the last ones. Initially I didn’t think the soundtrack was that good when I used to listen to it online. Context does tend to help though and the scenes worked well with the music. It’s not the largest soundtrack so you’ll be hearing the tunes quite a lot, but that’ll give you extra time to get used to them. I didn’t have any issues with them by the end.
Now, why doesn’t the Earl just destroy the Exorcists? As I mentioned we don’t really know why, but my main theory is that he wants them around to destroy the weaker Akuma and keep the supply of Innocence around. We see how the Akuma are gradually growing stronger after each invasion and it’s possible that without the Exorcists fighting them left and right this wouldn’t be happening. If anything the Earl is toying with the humans which could come back to bite him. It’s hard to see how though because the Earl can churn out hundreds and even thousands of new Akuma with his factories as well as the personal visits to people who have died. Meanwhile the Exorcists are lucky to get 10 new recruits a year. Mix that in with the fact that it takes 10 or more to defeat one Level 4 Akuma and then you’ve got a problem. The Noah also appear to be as strong as at least a Level 3 Akuma and while there aren’t many of them here we learn in the sequel that there are many more.
The power levels stay consistent in this series, but we can expect them to start flying out the window soon in order to give the heroes a fighting chance. I expect the ending to be Allen getting a way to shut them all down at once or a non-ending where the author just abruptly ends with nothing resolved. At the rate the series is going it’ll likely still be quite a few years before this happens though. Ideally this will also let the Exorcists fight against the order a little more.
The writing and directing are also pretty good. I don’t really think about directing much, but then I watch Naruto Shippuden and it reminds me why it is so important. The characters are all written to be pretty likable here and their day to day conversations don’t drag on. Flashbacks are used quite sparingly and none of the episodes ever feel like they drag on. Even the scenes of the Noah picking off random Exorcists is handled well as they at least get a chance to use their attacks. You do know that they’re doomed either way though.
Overall, D. Gray-man is definitely a great show. It may have gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but it definitely gets to its peak when the Noah start to show up. The animation is solid and the soundtrack is well rounded as well. If you haven’t seen this show yet and are in the mood for a good action title then you can’t go wrong here. It’s quite unique next to most of the other big action anime with a lot of mystery thrown into the mix with the action and horror. A lot of these questions aren’t actually answered here though so be prepared for a lot of loose ends as the series ends. The manga is still on-going so that is inevitable though. Even if it were not to have continued the ending is still pretty solid.