Themes surrounding exorcists and demons have been treated in previously in other works, and D.Gray-man revolves around such topic. What makes this anime different, is that it takes the liberty to slightly adjust such theme to match the setting, and also make an arguably more intriguing story. With the recent announcement of the upcoming sequel of D.Gray-man, people may wonder whether this battle shōnen is worth their time, and in this case it is, but only to a certain extent, as several crucial elements of a battle shōnen were executed in a lackluster manner. Not to mention the presence of some very lackluster characters.
The story of D.Gray-man revolves around Allen Walker a young boy who enlists in the organization of Exorcists with the purpose of eliminating the akuma that roam the world with the "Innocence" - a gift, a weapon bestowed to serve the apostles of God, the exorcists. The akuma are in fact mechanical weapons made by suffering living souls, as opposed to the regular definition of the term; these are controlled by the antagonist, the Millenium Earl, a twisted and dark "joker" or "clown" if you may. It is the task of this organization to abolish and vanquish the Earl, the source of evil.
While it is a very standard premise, as mentioned earlier, what makes this anime differentiate itself from other similar titles, is the approach on its theme: it is dark and cruel, which was is the first thing that will be noticed when viewing the anime, which isn't frequent in the genre. It gives insight in the working of despair, loneliness, longing and death in numerous occasions when the protagonist seek to quench the attack of these akuma. The side stories provided for numerous situations can be interesting and dramatic as well. Comedy is also present in the anime, which can be at times funny, yet ultimately was overused as the story progressed.
What makes this anime even more interesting is its setting: it takes place in the 19th century, a good and welcoming Victorian/gothic feel, mixed with some futuristic elements, which was achieved by the studio. Furthermore, this enhances the credibility of the situation of humanity currently is in, through the lack of fast communication present currently in ours society, which in turn enables the occurrence isolated and unknown cases where attacks occur. In addition it makes the viewer appreciate the difficulties the people faced in that era. As for the pacing, this was overall a bit lacking at times, where in several instances actions lasted longer than necessary, or either were beating around the bush. It must be mentioned that the first batch of episodes (around 30) are of episodic nature with some small arcs, following a very similar structure, whilst introducing the characters. From there on actual story takes place, which is in turn more intriguing and gripping.
However, where the anime fails in several occasions are the battle scenes and the "powerups". First of all, each exorcist has a unique "innocence" power, which gives diversity to the show. What is a shame is that the majority of the battle sequences are executed in the same manner, and very repetitive, which renders the diversity of the skills a bit pointless, as these are in majority of the cases confined to 2 or 3 action. Other huge issue are the "powerlevels" in this anime, these are very irregular and change whenever the plot demands it. When actual powerups take place, which for the matter are not earned through training or the likes, these seem totally pointless as secondary characters who didn't undergo such changes have the same powers; it doesn't give any real feeling of progression.
The characters of D.Gray-man are rather lackluster in general, who stay in the majority of cases one or two-dimensional, or in even some cases devolve; however, the author managed to make these characters somewhat interesting through their pasts. On the side of the organization there is Allen Walker, the main character who is the typical shonen character who is very caring and values friendship above everything else. On the flip side, as a character he is likable as the aforementioned attribute isn't overused; furthermore, his past is something that certainly will keep viewers intrigued throughout its duration. Some character development takes place, yet this is hardly noticeable.
Then there is Lenalee, easily the worst character in the show: at first she seems to be a somewhat mysterious person, with a dark past. However, her character seem to change over the course, the author seemingly not very sure what to use her for, consequently several times her actions being incomprehensible. What is worse, she ultimately devolves to being a simple damsel in distress, which was a huge drawback. Other character of interest is Kanda, who as opposed as Allen, doesn't care about the others, which nicely contrasts in the show.
As for the antagonists, these are typical as well, yet the most intriguing by far is the Millenium Earl himself, as audiences are intrigued on what his ultimate motives are for creating the akuma. He appears to be a comical character, yet dead serious when necessary, which can be a drawback for some, as it makes to difficult to take him seriously, with no motives apparent. Concerning the supporting cast of characters, these are for the most part uninteresting, on both sides, being either one-dimensional characters, or too mysterious to care about these. I might want to add that the akuma are not always simple evil beings; in several occassions it is shown that these can have a will of their own.
~Animation and sound~
The art style of the anime was well done, having its share of detailed and varied backgrounds, which enhaced the overall viewing experience; this can't be really said of the protagonists, as these are generic, as opposed to some of the akuma designs, and naturally, the main villain himself. The animation quality was overall good, yet as the fights were repetitive and basic, it never could shine. It must be said that some actions scenes were very well executed, alongside a matching choreography.
The soundtrack of D.Gray-man is certainly well done, befitting of the atmosphere, yet ultimately forgettable. The voice actors performed their role well, especially in the case of some of the secondary characters, which helped to the intrigue of said people. As for the openings and endings, these are of very high quality with praiseworthy music pieces that certainly helped to peak the interest in audiences.
D.Gray-man was overall a fine anime, yet never really shined due to the above mentioned issues: it failed in some crucial aspects of the genre itself, in addition to a weak cast of characters, although some were interesting, in addition to some of the antagonists. Despite all these flaws, I can't deny that I actually enjoyed the unknowing mysteries surrounding the world and the approach on its themes. A lot of things remain unknown in the anime, and thus I hope these are revealed in the sequel. So do I recommend this anime? Only to those who enjoy watching battle shounens really.
Thank you for reading.