D.Gray-man (3-in-1 Edition, vol. 16-17-18), Vol. 6 – Katsura Hoshino

3 out of 5

Last omnibus collection of D.Gray-man, I lamented how Katsura Hoshino had pretty much permanently left behind the storytelling conceits that had initially interested me; Alan Walker, steam-punky “exorcist,” teaming up with other Black Order members to hunt down and secure “innocence” from demons / akuma – and all of the hasty but intriguing world-building this entailed – was set aside for goth costumes and never-ending, stakes-less, shonen-pleasing battles in which people continually die, then come back with stronger powers, forevermore.

The omnibus concluded with the introduction of a new kind of akuma, which was exciting, but Hoshino had dribbled ideas like this along the way and then quashed them in the power one-upping cycle, so I tried not to get my hopes up.

…Except she ended up sticking to her guns: the upgraded akuma is a threat, and remains a consistent threat. Volume 16’s battle doesn’t magically fix everything, as Alan’s clown powers are still maybe less intriguing than his akuma-sensing eye and cursed hand, and Lenalee is still a shadow of what she seemed to be, but the fight at least feels important. The after-effects, similarly so. And then we get to the dumbest arc of D.Gray-man yet – zombies – which veers into slapstick silliness, and another power one-upping akuma…

But then we get to a great arc that harkens back to how it all began: tracking down innocence, and self-contained battles that purposefully aren’t the end of the world and fake-out deaths every page. The pacing is more akin to “classic” D.Gray-man, with Hoshino sprinkling in concepts that feel considered and not half-assed – like maybe they’ll be actual canon and not disappear after this sole reference! – and, combined with her massively improved artwork and timing in comparison to those early strips, the series starts to read like something I’d actually want to keep reading…

Keeping my hopes in check still, though.