The Millennium Earl is intent on destroying everything in the world and the only thing standing in the way are the Exorcists of the Black Order.
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.
FUNimation has given a bit more effort to the release of D.Gray-Man when it comes to the audio mix. The series is presented in its original Japanese stereo mix which is encoded at 192kbps. This is a good mix overall as it handles the action just right and there’s a fair bit of directionality and placement both in those scenes and with the dialogue. It’s not exactly a standout piece but it fits the material well. The English language mix gets the bump up to a 5.1 mix encoded at 448kbps and that has an obviously stronger feel to it when it comes to placement and clarity, particularly during the action sequences. The music is still generally the biggest benefactor when it comes to the 5.1 mixes for shows done in stereo and this is no exception as both the opening and closing songs sound much better overall. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set contains thirteen episodes across two volumes and is split in the standard seven/six 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 transfer for the show is pretty good overall as there isn’t a ton of noise and the backgrounds remain mostly solid throughout. There is noise to be found and the show does have some gradients that are pretty visible from the source material, but they don’t get bad or distracting. Colors are generally solid looking and quite pleasing, especially with the Exorcists uniforms, and when there are brighter exterior scenes it shines even more.
D.Gray-Man is released in the standard two thinpak in a slipcover style that has populated much of what FUNimation is doing with their new collections these days. The slipcover is nicely done with a good framing border with elements from the show while the interior has Allen in his battle mode all glistening and looking serious. With a black background, it highlights his character design more and the starkness of it since it’s a black and silver outfit. There’s some real vibrancy here though and plenty to draw the eye to with the colors that are there. The back of the slipcover is very dark with just an interior shot that you can barely make out which adds to some of the eerie factor of it all. The summary is painfully short though and the shots from the show are even smaller and harder to discern. The discs extras are clearly listed though but even with all this blank space they still push the technical grid to the bottom. There isn’t that strong of a push to talk about the episode count here either which is a surprise.
The thinpaks inside are done a bit different than most of what we’ve seen from FUNimation as they aren’t clear thinpaks but rather black ones, so there’s not reverse side artwork for either of them. The first volume makes out well with the black case as it uses the same artwork as the slipcover but without the framing to it. The added black space has it looking a bit more ominous, especially as the colors aren’t quite so vibrant with the paper stock used for it. The second volume is very different as it has a full length shot of Kanda with his sword out but he’s set against a white background which adds to the yin/yang aspect that you feel the two represent. The back covers are identical in layout and design, though one is black and one is white, where they have the Exorcist symbol along the top with the logo and a breakdown of the episode names and numbers – in roman – and that’s it. It’s sparse but it works in giving it a good minimalist feel. No show related inserts were included in the release.
The menu design for D.Gray-Man is rather simply but it has that kind of classic elegance to it. Using the same structure as the front cover artwork with the framing as part of the background, it’s mostly just a black filled background with character artwork that’s different for each volume. The first volume lets Allen from the slipcover shine while the second volume has Kanda taking the stage against the black backdrop as well. With the static image and framing/background to it, these are good looking menus overall though a bit minimal in the end. Submenus load nice and fast and navigation is standard material from FUNimation. As is usual, the discs didn’t read our players’ language presets and defaulted to English language.
The extras are pretty mild overall and once again one of them is likely to slip by the notice of some potential fans. The extras section is located on the second disc where it contains the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. There is an extra on the first disc as one episode has an English language adaptation commentary, but it’s only accessible if you go into the episode selection menu. As most people, especially those whose systems remember where you stop, only use the play all feature this extra is likely to be overlooked.
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.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to get going into D.Gray-Man but I came away pleasantly surprised and looking forward to more. With the large amount of episodes out there, there is some hesitancy about it as to whether it can maintain its narrative and keep the interest. 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. And hoping that everything goes well enough both in this season and the sales of it to merit going for the second half. There’s some commitment to be made to this because of the length, but this first set is certainly intriguing and will likely be enough to get someone hooked into it. Definitely recommended if you’re up for a potentially lengthy yet good ride.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 2 Commentary, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
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.