In the light of D.Gray man returning to serialization I’ve decided to write a post about the awesomeness of this manga, about what it means to me and why I recommend it to every shounen enthusiast out there. Especially those of you, who loved Fullmetal Alchemist (and also Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul). If this post convinces any of you to give this piece a try, I would be immensely happy.
This manga is written by an AMAZING female mangaka Hoshino Katsura. It was originally published weekly in Shounen Jump for 5 years. It was one of the best-sellers for Shueisha, with over 20 million copies sold. Both in Japan and in North America several individual volumes have been featured in weekly top ten lists of best-selling manga. It received a huge amount of rewards. Unfortunately, due to the author’s sickness it was first moved to monthly magazine and then put into an excruciating two year long hiatus that is fortunately coming to an end soon.
Now, this manga is awesome, I tell you. It is a masterpiece in the shounen genre. It was my absolute NUMBER ONE since I was 14, the style and characters of D.Gray-man resonated so much with me that I just couldn’t resist it. Let me tell you about it.
D.Gray man is undeniably a shounen manga, it has the best qualities of this genre (focus on action, personal stories, heartbreaking camaraderie, etc), yet the themes it dwells upon, the distance it makes its characters go, the tragedies it explores are close to a seinen level (Very close to what FMA is dealing with). Forget about Attack on Titan with its raw and meaty violence, here all tragedies and deaths are deeply personal and “enemy” operates on a thin psychological level, disturbing the border between good and evil, desire and fear, reality and nightmare.This is the story about war, the version of the devil that wants to destroy the world and The Church that prepares human weapons (“Exorcists”) to fight against this evil. Yet, there is no “good side”, there is mystery and unbelievable sacrifice, and darkness dwells in The Church just as much as in the streets filled with demons. More than that – this is the manga where enemy is loved, not understood, far from that, but LOVED – by the author, by the characters involved in both sides of the conflict. It was the first time I experienced such raw mixture of heartbreaking love and hate in characters. (By the way comedy is VERY good too.)
Four central elements of style – Gothic, Victorian England, military and catholic church. The world of D.Gray-man is very dark, the author constantly uses deformed and grotesque images to underline how madness leaks into reality. I like it, because it goes much further than scary faces in both AoT and TG (even though Tokyo Ghoul use it on a psychological level as well), sometimes it takes your breath away. A lot of symbolic imagery is used – latin inscriptions, runes, pentagrams, religious imagery. It is not over-complicated in my opinion, nor is it just a mindless decoration, since it creates a very authentic and thoughtful vision of the world. The military uniforms are beautiful – no wonder that my first attempt at cosplay was for this manga. The characters are drawn very pretty – you won’t find an ugly character. There is enough moderate fanservice for any gender preference, though the cast is mainly male (one female out of four main characters). Since the author is a woman, men are drawn REALLY handsome.
The art is mind-blowing. It starts good and juicy, and then gets better and better and better to a point where every panel is worth putting on a wall in a frame. No kidding. To tell the truth, it got worse in the final chapters before the hiatus, but I blame that on author’s sickness and expect a full return of quality.
Very shounen-like, what can I say? Each character has his own type of weapon, the weapon is alive and evolves while straining or even devouring the body of the user. It is always interesting to see the consequences of using some powers – like the power to stop time that allows people who have suffered mortal damage stay alive little longer but with no chance of healing. I’d also say that Hoshino’s battle-style is more context based, more about the adventure, the surroundings than simple moves. And I like that way more than recycling moves again and again by adding little new features.
On the first glance characters in DGM transparently fall into well established “types” – there is a silent cool type, nice guy type, clumsy type, trickster type, etc. – enough to appeal to any taste. The thing is – all these characters eventually get tons of deeper levels, they all exceed expectations. Almost all of them are eventually pushed into a gray zone where their darker sides are explored. It is also important to note that there are no doormat types, all characters are very assertive and have their own agenda, they form events around them.
This is very true especially about the main character – Allen Walker, whom I grew to love deeply. He starts as your average nice guy, gentleman, new to events, but in just a few chapters it is fully implied that this is just his cover persona or a personality shift based on trauma, while he is a much more complex and controversial character. He is perfectly capable of manipulating people, he always has his individual take on events, he is hot tempered and possesses dark secrets and solid principles in the way he handles things. His story is one of the most tragic I’ve ever encountered – his body and mind are constantly deformed and threatened, and the further the story goes the less you believe in a happy ending for him. He does remind you of Edward from FMA A LOT (and arguably even Kaneki from TG as well) – his first background trip is actually about him turning his father into a demon and having to kill him and awakening a weapon in his arm in the process – but later his story and characterization go in a completely different direction, just as his background eventually discovers much more than this simple tragedy.
This manga also works with racial diversity a lot – all characters come from different countries, have different skin color and even different manners\hobbies based on their origin. There are characters of different sizes and even characters with disabilities.
Heroine – Lenalee Lee
Separate paragraph, because it is a touchy issue after Naruto, I think. For once instead of a tsundere heroine we have a true Lady – well mannered, caring, reserved. She comes very close to being a Mary Sue – undeniably strong, beautiful, beloved. Yet, she has a very tragic background, evolving relationships, very natural fears and moments of weakness and anguish. If she is a Mary Sue, I’m ok with that, because she works beautifully in the story and there are no ugly sides of her that are covered up. Hoshino succeeds in showing Lenalee’s strength coming from within her beliefs. I won’t deny – she is used as a damsel in distress (not many times, but rather once and for a period of time as she is disabled physically), she cries, she works as an emotional engine of the plot as she empathizes with her comrades and feels their pain deeply. I’m ok with all that because it is justified by her background, because it actually helps people around her move forward and because apart from that she shows amazingly strong spirit and battle prowess. Her being used as damsel in distress NEVER tarnishes her dignity, it never becomes a one-dimensional ploy to keep the story going, and most importantly – it starts with an awesome display of strength and it ends with an amazing power up.
Shipping (I know it is important for a lot of people)
Good news, Lenalee is NOT a romantic fodder. There is NO explicit romantic plot in D.Gray man at all, only hints, rare blushes and VERY strong comradeship. It doesn’t stop people from shipping Lenalee with everyone in the cast. But to be honest there is a HUGE yaoi shipping potential here too, hardly less than hetero. I myself am an AllenXLavi / AllenxTyki shipper and just as I was never disappointed with choosing them, I was never displeased by other shippers, because all characters’ bonds are honestly unique, beautiful and have potential for blooming into something more. No war, guys.
I highly recommend any person who appreciates great shounen to go read this manga, it is only 200 chapters. I feel like chances that you won’t like it if you like Fullmetal Alchemist, Tokyo Ghoul or\and Attack on Titan are VERY slim, I am almost inclined to say “no way you won’t love it”. I have to confess here that I didn’t like the last ten or so chapters of this manga before it went into hiatus, it was good, but just not as amazingly good as before. I blame it on the author’s sickness and hope that both story and art will return to its previous quality. I am incredibly happy to see this manga continue and I hope that it won’t dissapoint me. (spoiler: it wont)
Also in the meantime you can also check out the anime as well!