4 out of 5
This was all be a bit backhanded, but deep into D.Gray-man, after having slogged through never-ending akuma battles I really didn’t enjoy, creator Katsura Hoshino finally – with the previous collection – started to return to some Black Order plotting elements which were of more interest, and she remains focused on that in these volumes. It reads rather like back-filled story – everyone’s gotta have some super deep background, y’know – and she never met an idea she didn’t immediately want to one-up with ten other similar ideas, making the book as character- and concept-cluttered as always, but at least it’s forward momentum, and at least it’s not just mindless knockabouts with people shouting out super move names. (Although that still happens.) I’m realizing this is very akin to mainstream Marvel / DC comics, in which nothing much really changes, but writers will move in these mini surges of dramaturgy in which something is “revealed” as though its been built up the whole time, but really, whatever said reveal is might as well have been dropped in from the aether. So we get: more fourth-generation akuma, even though we never really did all that much with the second- and thirds, and then – bright idea! – second and third exorcists as well, with the thirds being built up as these ultimate magic users until Hoshina gleans on rewinding and getting obsessed with the seconds.
This kinda-sort-kinda does tie back in to the exorcist experiments Lenalee recalled, as well as further exploration of the random, vague memories Alan has had / has been having that’ve been bastardized into the poorly explained “fourteenth noah” concept, so… it’s what I’ve been asking for, ultimately: story progression. And as Hoshino began taking longer breaks between books, her artwork has become even clearer and more readable; there is no point when I have to flip between pages to understand what’s going on, even if a lot of the boy exorcists start to have the same damaged, tattooed pretty-boy look – you get the gist of who / what / when / where by image alone.
So why is this all backhanded? Because I don’t like mainstream Marvel and DC books, and I don’t like seat-of-the-pants plotting that masquerades as complexity, and while I appreciate that Hoshino is expanding the D.Gray world, I don’t like the way in which it’s expanding – in left and right Exclamation!!! punctuations instead of what initially felt like more of a fish-out-of-water tale with Alan as our POV character.
However, I think, at this point, this is a very good D.Gray-man book. That is: if you’ve read this far, and you’re not just reading it to get through it, like me, I have to assume you’re enjoying the amped up nature of it, and to that extent – that it’s a well-arted shonen manga, with a fun core cast and a slew of (if clunkily presented) intriguing additions to its lore – I’d say this is where the series is peaking.