In the latest issue of The Mighty Otaku USA—that’s number 12, AKA the whopping second year anniversary for those keeping count—we put together a devilish little feature on Katsura Hoshino’s shonen hit, D. Gray-man. While writing about the anime, it got its hooks in me a little deeper than I expected. I had checked out the first few volumes of the manga back before it was licensed, but I fell out of the habit pretty quickly, so this was as good a reason as any to catch up and see which path the series has taken.
As expected, a lot has happened throughout D. Gray-Man‘s run, and Viz’s releases, while not terribly frequent, aren’t abysmally far behind from where the series is in Japan. Okay, it’s nowhere near the level of a manga that’s simultaneously released or anything, but being just a few volumes behind is no shameful act. There are now 17 tankobon in Japan, though I would imagine that 18 should be hitting the shelves there soon. The manga’s run in Weekly Shonen Jump has been put on hiatus a few times due to Katsura Hoshino’s various health issues, from illness to wrist injury, and actually looks to be returning to hold status soon, unfortunately.
Volume 13 is slated for release in the US this week, so those that have been following D. Gray-man religiously may find themselves past the point I’m at sooner than later. Consider this more of an incentive for new readers to check out the series, then. While newcomers obviously won’t be starting this deep into the story, it’s a good way to gauge whether or not it’s worth sticking with for the long haul. Manga can add up to a pretty hefty investment over time, but D. Gray-man is the type of series that’s pretty quick to click. If it hasn’t released its addictive toxins by the time the first or second volumes are closed, then that’s all she wrote.
Since the series began serialization in 2004, cursed protagonist Allen Walker has gone all Groundhog Day with Lenalee Lee through a rewinding city, traversed from China to Edo and back, and pushed his Innocence to the limit time and time again, all while recruiting new members into the Black Order and vanquishing increasingly nasty Akuma. Hoshino has done a fine job of keeping the story relatively interesting throughout, interspersing new characters when necessary and upping the ante in the way that weathered shonen readers are accustomed. It’s not the heaviest piece of artillery in Viz’s mighty manga armory, but it remains steadily above average.
Volume 12 keeps things rolling with Krory making a shocking escape from certain death by harnessing the Innocence in his blood, leaving his actual body still entombed in an Iron Maiden. What follows is a pretty creative, if a little brief, bout between his conscious-streaming blood flow and the combined form of Jasdero and David. They try in vain to slash and splatter Krory, but his blood splits and contorts around their blows, ultimately overwhelming them.
Krory’s isn’t the only interesting battle here, and that’s one of the aspects that’s been keeping the series relatively fresh. What’s intended to be a fairly civil discussion between Allen and the devious Tyki Mikk progresses into an explosive, hot-blooded fight that awakens even more power in our hero. Occasionally Hoshino is all over the place with her composition, and things can get a little mucky from time to time, but there’s no lack of payoff for each of these events.
Throughout the series, Allen has successfully developed all of the positive traits a shonen lead is required. He’s incredibly powerful, but not without flaw, he can be a bit brash at times and, most important of all, he’s ten times as deadly toward anyone that might consider messing with his comrades. While this is a fairly rote means of progression within the genre’s confines, it all comes down to whether or not these characters strike a particular chord with readers. Hoshino’s designs are competent in that regard, having not yet gotten to the point of absurdity that plagues a lot of series later in their runs. I mean, have you seen some of Tite Kubo’s more recent concoctions in Bleach? It sure ain’t easy to keep it fresh without going too far out there.
It will be a shame if Hoshino’s woes continue to plague the series’ schedule, but maybe there’s a bright side to all of those times spent on hiatus, as well. Though it remains to be seen (on the US end at least) if the adjusted chapter releases have had some kind of positive effect on the storytelling, there’s certainly a fine line between keeping the fire burning constantly and giving the creator some room to breathe. Here’s hoping D. Gray-man continues to pull readers in while staying interesting enough for established fans. It may not quite be at that world-stomping level of recognition enjoyed by Naruto and Bleach, but it’s about as good, and maybe even a tad more consistent at this point.
Stay tuned, though, because it’s still a young’n in the quickly-aged land of shonen manga.
Publisher: Viz Media
Story and Art: Katsura Hoshino