D.Gray-man (3-in-1 Edition, vol. 13-14-15), Vol. 5 – Katsura Hoshino

2 out of 5

The upfront note here is that I’ve checked out of D.Gray-man. I was intrigued by what I thought was world building in Katsura Hoshino’s initial entries – as well as her great character and creature designs, and continually improving craftsmanship – and so I went all-in and bought the available manga volumes, because I hate waiting when I get in to a groove reading a story. But the experience started to go downhill thereafter, as “world building” turned out to be randomness, and any sense of stakes were abandoned for purely shonen fight comics antics. Hoshino continued to improve as an artist, with better clarity in her panels and smoother comic timing, while the scripts countered this by – by my tastes – going down in quality, reducing characters to generic damsel tropes, and diluting the good-heartedness of lead Alan by making, like, every main character similarly good-hearted. There are no longer any personalities, just never dying bad guys who continue to have power 1-ups, and similar continual last minute saves from the good guys, always before some tearful resolution about saving everyone. Does it matter that Alan has an akuma-detecting eye? No. Does his new “clown” ability differ in any real way from his previous abilities? No. And as Hoshino introduces new characters – new Noah, new exorcist branches – the lack of storytelling diversity is just doubled-down: the “new” just means new costumes over existing templates. Even the setting has lost any personality, as the Victorian-era steampunkiness has disappeared: we now travel between imaginary locations via “ark” teleportation, and everyone wears spiky bracelets and striped stockings.

I own the manga now, and so I’m reading through them, but yeah – I’m essentially hate-reading them. Even given that, I can appreciate Hoshino’s art; I might not enjoy the randomness of the various attacks, or connect in any way with the characters, but the designs are always visually interesting, at least. And some good ideas definitely perk up here and there, which is what I guess I gleaned on to way back when – for example, an akuma evolution in this volume would probably have been a pretty cool story beat, had D.Gray-man maintained any sense of buildup and/or logical storytelling preceding it.