FUNimation, the largest anime company in the US, continues to dominate the market with fairly frequent Bl-ray releases. Their latest one is D. Gray-Man Season One Part One, a 13 episode collection set in a mythical 19th Century world. It concerns a young man who becomes an exorcist, a secret soldier who fights Akuma, demon-like entities that are trying to take over the world. The show gets off to a good start but dub fans should note that there is a synch error in one episode that makes it impossible to watch that one installment in English. (See the audio section for more details.)
Living in a 19th century world that is almost the same as our own, Allen Walker is a traveler. An orphan raised by a migrant street performer and later my a military general, Allen has been taught a unique set of abilities. As the story opens Allen is heading to the Black Order Headquarters in order to join their fight against Akuma, mechanical creatures with a human soul trapped inside of them. The Akuma are created by the Millennium Earl (what a great name for a villain) who tricks grieving relatives into reviving their recently deceased loves. These Akuma, who always kill the one who revived them and wear their bodies so that they are indistinguishable from normal humans, can evolve over time, growing stronger and gaining new abilities.
While most of humanity thinks that Akuma are just the thing of legend, Allen and the Black order know they are real. The Akuma are looking for an ancient magical substance called Innocence, and the Black Guards are trying to beat them to it. In his fight Allen has a couple of things in his favor. First is his cursed left eye. With it, he can see the tortured souls inside an Akuma and it also lets him spot the creatures in their human disguises. The second thing he has going for him is his left arm. It is an anti-Akuma weapon that he was born with. When fighting the demons the arm grows to an immense size and turns into a sharp claw that can slice through an Akuma's metal casing and free the soul trapped within.
In this first set of episodes, Allen makes it to the Black Order's Headquarters and, after a slight misunderstanding, becomes one of them. He's quickly sent out on his first mission to retrieve some Innocence that has been detected in the city of Mater. He's accompanied by a gruff and aloof Exorcist, Kanda, and a Finder, a member of the Black Order who checks out reports of strange phenomenon to see in Innocence could be involved.
Allen has fought Akuma before, so when they get to the city he thinks he will soon have everything under control. Unfortunately this Akuma has evolved making it much harder to defeat, something even Allen and Kanda may not be able to do.
This show does start off a bit slow. Not because there isn't any action, there's plenty, but because they don't take time to give us a reason to care about any of the people. This is a character driven show, and if you don't like the characters, what's the point in watching?
Luckily they do spend some time filling in back stories and presenting the various characters as fully formed well rounded people. That's when the series starts to pick up, about half way through this set. While the first mission that Allen is sent on has a 'monster of the week' feel to it, though the battle does span several episodes, the second one is much more intriguing.
In that story they create a twist on the events in the movie Groundhog Day. There's a town where every day is Ocotber 28th and no one can enter or leave. Allen and another Exorcist, Lenalee, manage to get in since they both control a bit on Innocence themselves, but they can't leave and what they find inside is quite interesting. It also introduces someone who turns out to have a hell of a powerful ability. For that story the characters were more fleshed out and therefore it was a better adventure. I have high hopes for the future of the series.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The first 13 episodes come on a pair of Blu-ray discs, with the episode count split 9/4 between the two. The discs are housed in a single width double case that comes in an illustrated slipcase.
The 1.78:1 1080p AVC encoded image was okay, but not outstanding. The main problem was aliasing, something most 1080p encodes manage to avoid. Fine lines will break rather than being smooth, especially in the backgrounds, in several scenes. The colors were fine, though there was some evidence of banding in a few places. Neither defect was very egregious, but it they were present making this a so-so transfer. On the plus side the blacks were nice and inky and the lines were sharp and distinct.
The set comes with the original Japanese soundtrack in Dolby Digital stereo and with a Dolby True HD 5.1 English dub. Unfortunately there's a problem with the dub for episode 10 (the first episode on the second disc.) The audio is horribly out of synch (I'd guess by about 30 seconds) due to the fact that they included the English audio to the introductory speech that isn't present on that episode. That throws everything off for the whole episode. Luckily it's only that one show that is affected but it's a major flaw. That one show is unwatchable with the dub track.
Aside from that the show sounds very good. Once again the surround track in more enveloping and fun to listen to when compared with the Japanese stereo track, but the original language sounds a bit better overall. I ended up preferring the Japanese track overall.
The extras are pretty meager, as they were in the SD DVD release. Included here is a commentary track on episode two with English voice actors Todd Haberkorn (Allen Walker, he also doubled as the director) and Luci Christian (Lenalee Lee). It's nothing special, as they mainly talk about casting. There's also a clean opening and closing as well as a selection of trailers.
While the first few episodes didn't really grab my attention, the later ones did. It's all a matter of presenting interesting characters, and once that happened the story was more fun to follow. I'm looking forward to the next set, so this one comes recommended.