D.Gray-man (3-in-1 Edition, vol. 7-8-9), Vol. 3 – Katsura Hoshino

3 out of 5

Volcanic leaps forward in the consistency and readability and impact of Katsura Hoshino’s already visually stunning D.Gray-man occurs during the seventh, eighth and ninth volumes collected here, which is paired with an unfortunate imbalance in story: the leading half of the book is amazing; the latter half is kind of a mess.

Volume 7 and most of 8 covers the Lenalee, Krory, Lavi and etc. shipbound crew, as they travel to Edo and square off against a horrid level 3 akuma. While this features the usual continual one-upmanship of powers typical to anime / manga – here’s my ultimate power; now here’s my ultimate-ultimate power! – Katsura’s imaginative design and presentation of these powers, and the strong core cast, makes the ongoing battle damned exciting. Constant sacrifices; constant escalations; massive explosions and dazzling innocence effects; and then, somehow, all the offhand slapstick that Katsura loves to jam in there, the timing of which is now seamless in its insertion.

Unfortunately, when we flip over to Alan’s recovery, for the latter half-ish of the collection, the story starts to clutter up once more with just way too many new ideas. I can’t tell if this is purposeful to how Hoshino writes – plans to go back and fill in details – or that she just lets the visuals fly and then figures it out as she goes, but it’s thus far resulted in this herky-jerky pace for D.Gray-man, alternating stunning arcs with clunky ones. Smoothing this out a bit is how Hoshino’s art starts to evolve, becoming more streamlined but also more fanciful – like a less manic Chris Bachalo, from his blocky days – but there’s still too much going on for things to settle into a flow. Good and interesting ideas, for sure, but it’s overload, causing me, as a reader, to coast through the pages instead of absorbing them. This also causes what should be a huge showdown in Edo – Millenium Earl, all the main Noah, several exorcists – to come across as rather underwhelming.

The positive side to this ebb and flow pace is that I suspect that means I’ve got some good stuff to look forward to, especially with a lot of these interesting ideas (and a couple plot twists) in the rearview, due for more patient reexamination.