D.Gray-man (3-in-1 Edition, vol. 4-5-6), Vol. 2 – Katsura Hoshino

4 out of 5

Katsura Hoshino has done right by her D.Gray-man creation: what started off as an interesting hodgepodge of tweaked religious mythology and wild visuals and fun action has earned its way to fascinatingly complex concepts, and burgeoning cast of characters that’s quite populous but not overwhelming, thanks to each and every character being made quite memorable, and visually distinct. Yes, the title is front-loaded with a lot of craziness – “exorcists” (the good guys) who seek “innocence” to make into weapons they can use against the demonic (aka akuma) forces of “the Earl” and his “clan of Noah” minions – but once you’re past all of that (which happens rather easily), Hoshino poked and prodded at comedy and drama in the first few volumes, as newbie exorcist Allen Walker learns to wield his innocence-powered weapon and grapples with his extra-sensory ability of being able to see akumas when they’ve possessed human beings…

Having wrapped up a big battle at the end of the former collection, volume 2’s set of books 4, 5, and 6 has some respite via a train ride, which is then rather humorously interrupted when Allen misses said train and ends up at, uh, a castle with a vampire in it. Thus kicks off the “Krory” arc – the name of the vamp – and the next big indication of Hoshino ramping up her imagination and adding further layers to her tale and world, as Krory proves to be much more than a simple villain. The latter half of the set continues this sense of things getting more and more detailed and heavy (and interestingly human, despite all of the wild lore), as a gigantic chunk of sentient innocence somehow seems to be corrupted, lashing out at not only akuma, but humans as well, with Allen sacrificing quite a bit in a bid to put it down.

Hoshino’s art is stunning. …But it can also be confusing. I’m reminded of early Tsutomu Nihei in this sense – not stylistically, but in the way where I sometimes cannot tell at all what Katsura is trying to convey, but I can sort of sense my way through a panel or page by the context of the story. To an extent, I think this is just a learning curve: as I got more used to Nihei, I got better at “reading” his stuff, and that happens here as well; but also, after scrutinizing some panels for a while and figuring them out, there’s also some odd choices in terms of not communicating sudden scene shifts to readers – like the smallest, not-obvious detail will be used to connect one panel to the next. This might seem daunting, but I cannot express how amazing the art is regardless – like you’re so fascinating by the images that you want to look for these details. …Hopefully, though, I do either get better at reading this or Hoshino cleans it up a bit, because there were a couple of immersion breaking moments when I misunderstood a bit, and had to go back and re-analyze to understand. And this affects the writing in a particular scene as well, where I’m not clear as to the reason Hoshino drifted from one subject to another (when introducing a forced “accommodator” and a “fallen one”), but I’m hoping that’ll get cleared up down the road.

Regardless, everything is ante’d up, here: the comedy timing is better; the action is more fluid (despite what I’m saying above – when it flows, it flows); the characters are becoming more and more fascinating; and damn does it end on a killer of a cliffhanger.