It's kind of funny just how many Shonen Jump shows make the big time, isn't it? From Bleach to Naruto and One Piece, many of these series have hit our shores and have become quite popular. Then again other stuff such as To Love-Ru and Gintama are just as successful in Japan, but haven't quite made their way over here just yet.
One of the latest success stories from Shonen Jump has been D.Gray-Man, which had a manga come out in 2004, but the anime version went strong for two years with over 100 episodes under its belt. FUNimation has picked up the D.Gray-Man license and they have finally begun releasing the first season on DVD. Like some of their other, recent releases such as One Piece they have opted to break the season up into parts. This first part of D.Gray-Man offers up 13 episodes on two DVDs.
The series takes place towards the end of the nineteenth century in Europe and skews history a bit as you'd expect. It all centers around the life of a young boy named Allen, who has something of a tragic history. Born with a deformity of sorts on his left arm, his parents abandoned him when he was younger. He was taken in as an orphan and raised by someone else, but that too turned out poorly when they turned up dead as well. This time around the person came back to life in the form of a beast known as Akuma and thus Allen was thrust into a dark and disturbing world.
D.Gray-Man's take on the world is that it's a fun place to live, really. I mean, where else will you find a fiendish person named Millennium Earl bringing people's bodies back from the dead and harvesting their souls for demons? In the events that introduced Allen to the world of Akuma he was also cursed with an eye that allows him to see the souls in the bodies which they possess. This, combined with his arm, prove to be valuable tools to combat the demons with. Naturally when he comes across a group known as the Black Order, who are basically exorcists out to save the world, his talents make him an obvious inductee into their ranks.
Each of these Black Order members possess powers which are used to fight off the Akuma. Not only are they out to stop Earl's evil master plan, but they also have to recover something known as Innocence, which is a force that allows its user to attain greater powers. It's all relatively simple at its core, but the gothic coat of paint and tragic life of its protagonist set D.Gray-Man apart from other series of a similar nature. I mean, how many shows have we been subjected to where a kid gains power and combats evil? That stereotype feels a tad cliché here, but the way this show plays it off helps subdue that sensation. It's not necessarily fresh, though it stays largely entertaining throughout the 13 episodes here and was enough to hook me.
Now, since this is the first part of the first series, you can bet that there's a lot of plot exposition going on. The show hasn't quite slipped into a monster of the week pattern, but rather it takes each episode to induct Allen into the world of the Black Order and shows us his early missions. In this boxed set he and another Order associate go on a quest to a town which seems to be living the same day over and over again. The pacing of this particular story did seem a tad strange, and it lasted for far too long, but it served as a nice way for us to get a feel for the show. I'm definitely curious to see where the second part takes the series and where Allen goes from here.
It's quite clear even early on that where in for quite the ride with D.Gray-Man. The show's tone is a far cry from what we've seen in Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece. It's darker, more sinister, and yet at the same time the protagonist seems to be better layered. Allen is a level headed and tragic youth and he's definitely not cut from a familiar cloth. Whether you've heard about this series or not it's certainly worth checking out and comes strongly recommended. I'm curious to see where the show goes from here, and it's important to keep in mind that with over 100 episodes there's plenty of room for it to grow.
D.Gray-Man season 1 part 1 is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The transfer for these discs has been enhanced for an anamorphic widescreen display as well. For what its worth the series looks pretty good and FUNimation did an overall solid job with the transfer. Colors appear natural and vibrant, and all around the picture is quite solid. I will say that due to the presentation of 13 episodes on two DVDs there are some compression artifacts that have snuck into the image. Light grain is also visible at times, though it's harder to tell if that's attributed to the transfer or the source material. Either way you slice it though, D.Gray-Man is a nice looking show that probably could have been refined just a little more.
The sound for the series is presented just about like you'd expect it would be. The English language comes with a 5.1 Dolby Digital output while the Japanese selection is presented with 2.0 Stereo. Dub wise both tracks performed well enough and there's plenty to appreciate with regards to the voiceover teams for each language. On the technical side of things the English track offers up a slightly better sense of immersion, but it doesn't quite surround you as much as it could have. Some moments feel a little too flat and there are many points where the channels simply weren't used enough.
Clean animations and trailers are presented here for bonus features. An audio commentary with the English cast is available as well for the second episode. The commentary is on par with other English anime commentaries, meaning you can expect a lot of joking around and talking about each other rather than a focus on the show and its creation. It's entertaining enough, but I personally prefer original Japanese commentaries because you at least get some insight into the production of the show.
D.Gray-Man Season 1 Part 1 is a solid start for the next big Shonen Jump series. The first 13 episodes proved to be a nice introduction to Allen's world and where the show goes from here should be quite fascinating. The dark tone and depressing nature may put off many potential viewers, but the unique gothic motif certainly does a great job of setting this series apart from all the others. Consider this first collection strongly recommended. Hopefully the next installment follows with the same level of quality!