Reviewby Casey Brienza,
DVD - Season One Part One
The fifteen year old Allen Walker is a rookie exorcist with a powerful weapon in his left arm. He has just arrived in London, on orders from his master, to locate the headquarters of the Black Order and then join their ranks. They are waging secret war against a mysterious, sinister figure known only as the Millennium Earl, who plans on destroying the world. His foot soldiers are corrupted human souls trapped in mechanized bodies that prey on innocent humans known as akuma, and only exorcists, empowered by a mystical substance called Innocence, are capable of destroying them. For Allen, Kanda, Lenalee, and the rest of the Black Order, it's a race against time to collect all of the missing pieces of Innocence…lest the Earl find them first.
A mysterious, god-granted substance known as Innocence is the only weapon in humanity's arsenal with the power to take down the Millennium Earl and his hordes of monstrous akuma. A select few individuals are Accommodators, with the power to utilize Innocence as anti-akuma weapons and therefore the qualifications to become Exorcists of the Black Order. Unfortunately, pieces of Innocence has been scattered all over the planet by Noah's Great Flood, and in addition to battling akuma wherever they surface to prey on the innocent, the Exorcists have been charged with locating the missing Innocence—before the Earl does.
Okay, so the above is D.Gray-man's back story, and it is the foundational justification upon which the show's numerous forthcoming Exorcist vs. akuma battles of the week rest. Got it? Unfortunately, if you are coming to the franchise for the first time through the animated television series, you probably did not. Explanations blow by so quickly that if you stop to listen to the sound of the anime's audience collectively scratching its head, you will undoubtedly miss some crucial component of it. And even if you are paying careful attention, the typical shounen series Stranger Than Thou raison d'entre pops up too early. Episode two is too early to bore with tedious, arcane explanations; newcomers may have trouble caring. Not even Katsura Hoshino's original manga in Weekly Shounen Jump dares broach the subject so early.
In fact, as an adaptation of its source material, the first thirteen episodes which constitute the first boxset for Season One are remarkable primarily for the weakness of their narrative construction. You barely have time to get to know the seemingly meek-hearted yet super-powered Allen Walker before the Black Order's back story gets dumped on you. Then the next two episodes place misguided focus on a subplot of negligible importance that involves a trip to a ruined city and a living doll. And so forth. The script writers waste time in places they should not have belabored, while skimming quickly over the parts that need both time and innovative ideas to impart well. All that truly remains intact are the action scenes, which have a listless, workmanlike feel.
At least the characters are appealing. Fan favorites Kamui and Kanda in particular are sketched out strongly, with their dominant traits facing forward, and Allen is a nice change of pace from your usual, shrill shounen protagonist. Also, TMS Entertainment has remained faithful to Hoshino's beautifully rendered fantasy world; even if the quality of the animation and soundtrack are, at the very best, forgettable, there is still plenty of richly hued eye candy to distract one from the series' many flaws.
As for the English dub, well, it isn't bad on its own merits per se. All of the voice actors are experienced and confident, and they make a good effort, though somebody ought to tell them akuma is not pronounced “ah-KOO-mah.” But taken in context? The dub is terrible. Despite its supernatural elements, D.Gray-man (at least in the beginning), is set in what is recognizably England, so what plausible explanation could there be for the utter absence of British accents? Everyone, including one-off, single episode bit characters, speaks with an appallingly strident American drawl. Now, you might have been willing to believe that the Exorcists might not have British accents—despite the ostensible location of their home base, they appear to be a veritable melting pot of multi-cultural backgrounds. You might even be willing to entertain the possibility that Allen might have an American accent. But the police officers in the first episode? Sorry, no dice. In the original Japanese such issues are largely moot, but in English they are impossible to ignore. The American voice synced up with the bobby's mouth movements just breaks the show's spell. How careless of the FUNimation producers not to have taken the text into better consideration!
With 103 episodes total, the D.Gray-man anime represents a considerable commitment of time. But if you are in it for the occasional action scene with Tim Burton-esque, gothic fantasy flair, you could do much worse. Check your critical faculties at the door, and you might not come away wholly disappointed.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B-
Art : A-
Music : C
+ Great, Tim Burton-esque gothic fantasy flair and an appealing cast of characters who garner intense fan devotion.
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