D.Gray-man (3-in-1 Edition, vol. 10-11-12), Vol. 4 – Katsura Hoshino

2 out of 5

Ah, yes, D.Gray-man, the steam-punky, vaguely 17th century-set tale of “exorcist” Allen Walker, whose eye can see demons, and his badass fellow exorcists who fight at his side. High-kicking, tough, Lenalee; the enigmatic “bookman” Lavi. And then, besides the “akuma” with their great demon designs, we had the noah, humans who were helping them. Allen struggled with seeing a mixture of good and bad in people; with this notion of mankind wanting to perpetuate evil… Light psychological fare, but a good component to writer / artist Katsura Hoshino’s ever creative characters and concepts, and the increasingly improving clarity of her artwork.

With volumes 10, 11, and 12 – collected together in the 4th 3-in-1 edition – Hoshino’s art continues to shine: I’d say every panel ripples with clarity and impact, and although we’re only dealing with noah and exorcists at this point, all their crucifix-bedecked bangles and stockings and dyed hair are fantastic in that over-the-top, shonen way, with the “arc” setting – some kind of mystical transportative roadway on which Allen and crew are trapped – gives Hoshino license to go wild with the settings as well.

Unfortunately, all that other light-but-interesting plotting stuff? It’s gone. It might as well not exist.

Volumes 10, 11, and 12 pit Lavi and Yu and Krory against some noah. The battles are manga nonsense, of whipping out ultimate powers and get defeated… only now I’m really angry and here’s my ULTIMATE power… But now here’s my ULTIMATE ULTIMATE power…! And so on. And I wish I was joking, but the joke here is in how disappointing it is to see Hoshino all-too-clearly own up to how her various story additions previously never had any substance, and were just top-of-her-head flourish. I recognize that this is fine if it’s what you expect, and / or if you are just in it for non-stop throwdowns and fantastic art, but I do want something more.

…And so when the final chapters of volume 12 begin to offer that more, hinting that Lenalee might get some agency again and not just be a vague love interest, and with Allen’s power evolutions actually progressing in a possibly meaningful way, do I get my hopes up? Slightly, yes. The improved artwork makes the book easy to read, and so let’s see where this is going, if anywhere.