D.Gray-man Season 1 Part 1 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, April 09, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Take a large group of quirky, serious and unusual people and pit them against an ultimate evil that's intent on destroying the world and place it all in late 19th century Europe and you have D.Gray-man.

What They Say
Darkness is moving in, and young exorcist Allen Walker is humanity's greatest hope against the wicked forces conspiring to bring civilization to its knees. Akuma - cruel spirits born of tragedy and lost souls - lurk in every shadow, willing and eager to do the bidding of their leader, the dread Millennium Earl. With an eye cursed to see evil in its truest form and blessed with an arm to slay soul-devouring demons, Allen stands ready to confront the gathering storm. Should he fail, Innocence will be lost forever.

The Review!

D.Gray-man retains the same bilingual presentation as the DVD run but with an upgrade that makes it somewhat worthwhile for English language fans. The dub for this release gets the 5.1 mix we got on the DVD done in Dolby TrueHD that sounds very good here overall since it's just a forward soundstage based series. It's definitely louder and clearer than the Japanese track which gets its stereo presentation done at 640kbps. Flipping between the two even in quiet scenes has a significant enough difference though some of it feels like it's just a matter of volume level. The differences in quality is noticeable with some of the material though and it's definitely a better mix overall for dub fans, but it continues to be very disappointing that we aren't getting lkossless stereo mixes when Hollywood can offer up lossless mono mixes.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This releaes does not appear to be an upscale, as FUNimation's upscales tend to cap around 20mbps with a little variation. This one spends a lot of time in the twenties and you can see spikes up to the high thirties and to forty as well during regular playback. This set contains thirteen episodes across two volumes and is split in the standard nine/four format. A large percentage of the series takes place either indoors or at night so there’s a lot of darkness to the show overall, though not an overpowering amount. The video for this release is a bit of a mixed bag even with the high bitrate because a fair bit of digital noise reduction has been applied which has smoothed out things in a way that's not good. There's a noticeable amount of stairstepping throughout the set when it comes to character animation and large areas of the same color shows a lot of noise and movement in it. Gradients aren't bad throughout but there are some noticeable ones that are distracting but are likely part of the source. Where the transfer comes across well is with the vibrancy of the colors as they look really strong during key moments, such as the green of Allen's ability or when his red eye comes out for use. Some of the zooming moments showcase green splotches as well which is really awkward looking, such as when it zooms in on Road during episode ten and her face blooms a few different shades. This is one of the weaker releases from FUNimation overall when it comes to the video..
When it came to the DVD release, I really liked the packaging design as it had a good dark feeling to it with an edge of hardness due to the gray metallic styling along the sides that are compounded by the logo itself. The Blu-ray edition, in a standard single sized Blu-ray case, doesn't have quite the menace or darkness that made the DVD release. The front cover has a good image of Allen that takes up the top two thirds of the cover where it's a close-up that has his power shining brightly behind him as he has a serious look to his face. The bottom third has the logo and a listing of what collection it is. It also has a listing of the episode and disc count here but it's soft gray on white and small. Have companies forgotten what burst stickers are to brightly proclaim something? The back cover has a lot of white space as well though I think it works nicely here with the overall layout. The right has a half body image of Allen with a smile with a small strip of shots from the show below him. The left side has a breakdown of the series premise and what extras are on here. The bottom third has a cursive breakdown of all thirteen episode titles as well as the Blu-ray standard technical grid that cleanly, if inaccurately, lists the specs of the discs. It lists the Japanese stereo track as being lossless when it's really lossy. While there are no show related inserts included, there is artwork on the reverse side that has Allen, Kanda and Lenalee all together set against a black backdrop that gives it a strong feeling.
The main menu design for this release is somewhat in them, though it's a slight stretch, as it's laid out with a bit of a curve to it as we're seeing the world through someone else's eye which includes a few sigils. Behind that and the grainy approach used with it, a number of clips play through of various action and key moments that gives it a good bit of motion and action to draw the eye in. Along the lower left corner is where we get the menu navigation which uses the designs we saw on the DVD release with the black and gray/white border that mirrors the logo a little bit. The navigation strip is a bit small and submenus that come up are the same way. When the text is tiny even on a 70” screen, you're doing it wrong. The navigation menu is also the same when it takes on the role of the pop up menu so it's familiar and has the same issues.  As is usual, the discs didn’t read our players’ language presets and defaulted to English language.
The extras mirror the DVD release with this collection as the first disc has an English language commentary track for one episode while the second volume has the clean opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ongoing manga by Katsura Hoshino, D.Gray-Man is a one hundred and three episode series as of this writing that finished its run in late 2008. FUNimation’s picked up the first season which is made up of fifty one episodes and they’re kicking it out in thirteen episode box sets of which this is the first. D.Gray-Man does fit into the Shonen Jump mold in some ways, and you can see some of the familiar elements of the structure there, but it also has enough of its own personality to help it slowly carve out its own identity beyond that. These first thirteen episodes offer up some predictable moments to be sure as it sets things up, but it also does manage to tantalize by avoiding story of the week adventures as well as teasing about what the larger story is going to be about.
D.Gray-Man takes place in the nineteenth century, though it seems to be uncertain at times as to the actual year as there are some conflicting dates in the background, and it’s got its own take on how the world works. Much of the world at large is what you would expect from this period, but there’s an interesting group working in it that’s not exactly in the shadows but also not quite out in the open. The Black Order is a group of people that deal with the problem of akuma and monsters that are making their way in the world. The organization is made up of researchers and scientists as well as those on the front lines known as Exorcists. Depending on the Exorcist, they may or may not have some powers to them but they all have the same goal of eliminating the akuma that have been summoned to this world.
These creatures are brought here by someone known only as the Millennium Earl. His goal is stated plainly in that he wants to sow death and destruction upon the world, though his reasons for such have yet to be revealed. The Early has an intriguing way of doing this as he visits those who have suffered great loss and convinces them to call out to the soul of the recently departed. That soul then enters into a strong creepy human frame that the Earl then controls, which in turn consumes the person who summoned it and wears their skin. It’s quite the disturbing idea, though they do avoid showing it all too graphically. The dangers are aplenty there as is the emotional issues that can be derived from it. When you think you’re saving someone you love only to find that you’ve cursed them and then to have them destroy you, it’s tragedy upon tragedy. And the Millennium Earl simply sits there and laughs…
Taking place in Europe and around, the central focus of this series is on the fifteen year old Allen Walker. Allen has spent much of his life under the tutelage of General Cross, one of the more well known and respected Exorcists out there, even if he is the type to avoid going back to headquarters for years at a stretch because of his dislike of such things. Allen’s grown in his skill over the years and he’s being sent to headquarters now in order to move on to the next stage of his learning as well as to put in proper service. Allen’s a rarity when it comes to Exorcists as he’s got an extra skill that sets him apart as his left eye allows him to see if someone is really an akuma. When he was young, he became cursed with that power and more when he called back the soul of his foster father only to have him turn into an akuma. To say he has a real distastes for the Millennium Earl is an understatement.
Allen’s introduction to the Black Order is amusing as he’s suspected of being an Akuma and he kicks off an adversarial relationship with another Exorcist named Kanda. Toss in the cute but powerful Lenalee and a gaggle of slightly wacky researchers and scientists who live there and you have a good mix of serious, silly and relationship material. Much of this is standard setup stuff and it works well enough, but it’s not until Allen starts getting sent into the field as a formal Exorcist that we start to see how things really work. And even better is that these stories generally aren’t single episode stories either. They’re spread over a couple of episodes and the pairings allow us to get to know the routine and rules better as well as the characters involved, including Allen. There are a few standalone pieces in there, generally a bit more humor oriented, but the balance is surprisingly well done for the most part.
And that “for the most part” is where it’s a slight problem, but not really. The initial stories aren’t bad as it has Allen getting to know the way the group operates, but the last story on this set is what felt somewhat problematic. It’s essentially a “Groundhog Day” story where Allen and Lenalee visit a town that nobody else can enter. Their mission is to see if the problem is caused by the Innocence, the ancient material that is being sought out by the akuma and that can cause both great good and great evil. When the storyline starts, you almost figure that it’s a one or two episode piece at most, but it carries on a fair bit longer than that. The supporting character brought into it that’s the central focus of it doesn’t really engage you much since she’s very cowardly, confused and scared and the introduction formally of the Noah’s Family group takes on a lengthy aspect as well. The series was good up to this point – and there’s a whole lot to like through this storyline – but the pacing felt very off. On the plus side, we do get to really understand Allen’s motivations through this arc in a very clear way, both when it comes to his parents, his origin with his powers and his time spent with his mentor. The storyline in general simply feels a bit too busy and jumbled to accomplish all of this smoothly.
With this set covering the first thirteen episodes and so much more still out there, it’s hard to say how the series will really play out. Within these episodes though it is starting to separate out what makes it different from what’s considered traditional Shonen Jump material. It’s not throwing a lot of big fights out there every episode in a similar structure and is carving out quite a particular look and design to itself. Playing within the nineteenth century and in Europe, it avoids a lot of familiar material in the anime world but it also avoids looking too European as well. With the way things have diverged in terms of history, bringing in the supernatural side and the descendents of Noah gives it some interesting flair. And even when the series is reaching big, it does feel like it’s trying to do it in a restrained way, to give itself a bit more credibility. There’s a good serious side to the show that is dominant, but it also knows to have some fun as well. The entire episode revolving around a new robot servant in headquarters alone was worth the price of admission once you know the cast of characters.
In Summary:
Revisiting the start of the series after watching a good chunk of it on DVD was interesting. My favorites are still my favorites, particularly Miranda, so getting to see her introduction again was fun. Some elements of the show feel weaker this time around in terms of how the world is built up with those who know about the Exorcists and those who don't, but it's easy to kind of shuffle that to the background. What they’ve laid down here is interesting though and they’ve given out a good deal of back story and information as well within a relatively short amount of time. With stories that run varying lengths, a small but quirky and intriguing cast of characters and a solid design sense, D.Gray-Man has me wanting to see the next set right away. This Blu-ray edition doesn't hold up well, especially depending on your sensitivity, but hopefully we'll see the rest of this series on the format with a bit of cleaning up of the authoring procedures. Though the show is largely uneven in the end, it is a fun show at times and it has a good mix of humor and seriousness. FUNimation had gotten my hopes up with this title at first by promising lossless stereo audio but they failed on that and left me with a problematic release overall.
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary Track, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 14 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 69.98
Running time: 286
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
Series: D.Gray-Man