by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 1 of
D.Gray-man Hallow ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
D.Gray-man Hallow ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
D.Gray-man Hallow ?
Considering the last episode of D.Gray-man aired almost eight years ago, seeing the series make a television comeback after all this time was a surprise. Further considering that the manga hasn't seen a regular release schedule for quite a while, it probably wasn't a bad idea to limit the total number of episodes right from the start. So is D.Gray-man Hallow going to be the pleasant kind of surprise? And will 13 turn out to be a lucky number?
Within the realm of superpowered shonen heroes, Katsura Hoshino's manga occupies a quirky niche of Gothic horror, wacky (if sometimes ill-timed) humor, and the dark fantasy kind of tragedy. While these ingredients constitute a nice enough blend on their own, at an average of only eight new chapters released per year since 2008, it's doubtful that fan interest could have been maintained without the colorful and well-rounded cast of characters inhabiting this world – characters who could only be developed satisfactorily because there was enough time for interpersonal relationships to bloom and grow between plot points. The old series had 103 episodes (including filler) to cover 157 manga chapters. As readers of the manga will be able to deduce from the promo videos, OP and ED, Hallow will have to fit the content of at least 40 manga chapters into 13 episodes. Saying this is going to be a challenge is putting it mildly.
But fast pacing doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, especially in a genre where promising stories tend to get bogged down by dragged-out battles and plot threads winding around in circles. At least we can rest assured that this is not a trap Hallow can afford to fall into. To make this project work, the staff has to run a tight ship with no time wasted on reflection or respite. It remains to be seen if the story's emotional payoff can keep up with the required change of pace, but with Shirobako and Princess Tutu's Michiko Yokote signed on for the task, I'm firmly in the "hopefully yes" camp until proven otherwise.
The change of pace is evident from the first episode, which doesn't bother devoting even a minute of screentime to entice viewers new to the story. You're either part of the club or willing to invest the time to at least read up on what kind of world this story is set in and who these people are. Structurally, episode one is a strong start, providing old fans with exactly the right amount of recap necessary to settle back into the Black Order. We do so right alongside the Exorcists, first accompanying them on an assignment to reintroduce everyone's unique abilities on a particularly quirky Innocence recovery mission, followed by the move to the Order's brand new headquarters. Exploring this new stage with the characters helps to establish a sense of place and makes for a much better starting point than a direct continuation from the events of the old series would have been.
Even if Lenalee briefly ventures into voice-over recap land, her reminiscing is clearly intended to recall, not substitute, for past events. Viewers are expected to know these characters to fully appreciate Allen and Kanda getting into yet another staring contest and Lenalee freezing up at the sight of Lvellie. Brief moments like these wouldn't work as a surrogate for 103 episodes of amusing head-butting and well-portrayed psychological trauma, but they do serve to refresh old memories. Not only does the first episode do a good job at reintroducing D.Gray-man's world without really exhausting itself with exposition, changes to the chronological order of events help to condense and streamline the plot, making use of every second of screen time while staying faithful to the source material and, in some instances, even increasing the emotional impact. Episode one is a tightly packed but functional package.
Wasting no more frames on old charades than necessary, it's time for Allen to learn the shocking truth about his uncanny ability to control Noah's Ark. In a long overdue heart-to-heart, Cross Marian reveals the connection between Allen's beloved late foster father, Mana, and the shadow Allen hasn't been able to shake since he first moved the ark. Followed by the revelation of Allen's tragic fate, everything Allen thought he was gets called into question. In the dark and often hopeless world of the Exorcists, Allen's relationship with Mana was his lifeline, the human bond he could depend on, if only in memory. The realization that Mana's love for him might not be genuine almost devastates him more than the reality of his own death, which speaks volumes about Allen's character.
When Allen renews the pledge he made after joining the order, it's difficult to tell if he possesses incredible mental strength or is simply in denial. Things could end on this touching note, but the last minutes of the first episode are spent on a scandalous cliffhanger – killing the most powerful Exorcist in the entire D.Gray-man pantheon off screen. This general that half of the cast spent dozens of previous chapters and episodes searching for, the man with all the answers who defeated both Noah and high-level Akuma without ever breaking a sweat, the rule breaker, rebel and all-around badass wielding not one, but two anti-Akuma weapons: Cross Marian is dead, and we instantly know the game has changed.
The game has still changed when Cross turns from permanently-and-verifiably-dead to most-likely-deceased-but-mysteriously-vanished in episode two. Some blame is tossed around, but even Lvellie suspects the Central Agency to be the more likely culprit over Allen. When the guy with the Hitler moustache and his own special combat unit is kept out of the loop about what's really going on within the organization, even the notion of a possibly-still-alive-somewhere Cross can't tip the balance towards relief.
The following Innocence recovery mission leads Allen, Kanda, and blind exorcist Noise Marie to Paris, where they have to capture a body-switching, brat-sized wannabe Robin Hood named Timothy. In a long-running series, the first half of this little arc would make for a nice breather between the last boss battle and the tragedy of Allen's fate. But there is little time to enjoy the wacky hijinks of Phantom Thief G, which end up feeling like going through the motions rather than truly enjoying their own silliness (although I'm still a fan of Timothy's possessed Akuma looking and acting like a Duracell bunny on too many recreational drugs). The nature of Timothy's very sentient Innocence is entertaining, but coming to terms with his calling as an exorcist is just the framework for much more important revelations, such as Kanda giving zero netherworld insects about anyone's feelings, and Link being a member of the special combat forces called the Crows. We already knew this, but who would have thought the usually-so-composed Link would be capable of such wonderful outbursts of campy awesomeness like "I'm not dressed in black, but I have black feathers!"
Overall however, things are not campy fun. Where Link is temporarily able to hold his own against a level 2 Akuma, a cloaked fellow Crow breaks through an unreachable magical barrier, stopping a level 3 Akuma with his bare hand (singular) before devouring him – without using Innocence. Allen and Kanda have little time to digest what happened, as there is still a level 4 Akuma to kill (or save the soul of, paraphrasing Allen). Intending to do just that, Allen allows himself to be stabbed by his own Innocence, reaffirming that Crown Clown can only hurt Noah and Akuma. When he subsequently starts bleeding from his mouth, things are already looking dire in light of Cross's revelation. But when his greeting from beyond the grave causes the abominable level 4 to start crying, it's time to be mortified. All of a sudden, Lavi's carefree remark about how Allen recently started to change the way he speaks appears in a whole new light.
While Kanda's insults manage to revert Allen back to his soft-spoken self, watching Timothy and the orphanage's Mother saying their goodbyes feels like the echo of a sad farewell that has already been decided for Allen. Narratively, this is all good stuff, which isn't quite able to sink in emotionally due to time constraints.
Visually, Hallow respects the changes Hoshino's character designs have undergone over the years. While they look different from their 2008 selves, everyone is recognizable and fairly easy to accept as the same character. Colors are more saturated, and the art department was a bit too generous in applying an annoying blue tint to every scene. Fight scenes lack fluidity, just as long shots lack detail. This is hardly the most expensive production of the season, but it's still far from being ugly. Director Yoshiharu Ashino worked on some visually interesting titles (storyboards and key animation for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, key animation for the X movie), so I'm cautiously hopeful we might see some nice compositions over the course of the series, since I always felt the Gothic appeal of D.Gray-man was tragically neglected in the first adaptation. There's already a lot more blood and (relatively tame) gore in Hallow than there was before, but the general feel is still a bit too cold and clean.
The new voices will certainly be cause for discussion beyond the simple question of personal preference. After spending 103 episodes with the old and quite renowned cast, I'm only slowly getting used to the characters' new voices, finding this aural adjustment much harder than the visual one. Ayumu Murase's Allen is the easiest to accept due to recent plot and character developments. For Kanda, Takahiro Sakurai's hate and arrogance have been replaced with Takuya Satō's stoic indifference, which I'm not entirely on board with yet. The other main characters didn't really have enough screen time yet for me to reach a conclusion. As compensation, bringing Kaoru Wada back to score the series helps to establish some wonderfully subdued familiarity.
The pacing of this season will be the decisive factor. Within three episodes, D.Gray-man Hallow burned through 19 manga chapters, leaving me questioning at what point in the story they intend to drop the curtain. As the current arc is nowhere near concluded in the manga, I'm hoping Hallow will use the speedrun we've seen so far as a basis and take their time with what's to come.
D.Gray-man Hallow is currently streaming on Funimation.
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