Manga Review: D. Gray-Man Volumes 9-10 by Katsura Hoshino
In an alternate late 19th Century, European and Asian civilization is under attack by beings called “akuma.” These monsters (made by tricking/bargaining humans into wearing mechanical bodies that then wear the skin of the original human) are under the loose control of the Millennium Earl. He and his “Noah Family” bear a grudge against humanity and God for deeds in the distant past.
Standing against the Earl is the Black Order of exorcists, who work for the Catholic church (but very independently.) They wield weapons called “Innocence”, parts of an initial whole now split into 109 fragments. Innocence comes in “Parasite” (becomes part of the user’s body) and “Equipment” (can be worn or carried) types and grants different powers to the wielder it chooses.
Our protagonist is Allen Walker whose left arm has been replaced by an Innocence that has superhuman strength and powerful claws. Due to a childhood encounter with the Earl, Allen also has a scarred left eye that can detect akuma even in human disguise. He’s a recent recruit to the Black Order, just in time for the Earl and his Noah Family to step up their activities.
At the beginning of Volume 9, Allen was severely beaten and believed killed by Tyki Mykk, one of the most powerful Noah. In reality, he is healing up in the Order’s Asian headquarters somewhere in China, while the rest of the team heads for Japan. There, they discover that 90% of the population has been transformed into akuma. This is unsustainable as the akuma have begun feeding on each other due to the shortage of humans.
Friendly akuma Chomesuke (having been restored to free will by Allen’s mentor, General Cross) reveals that the Earl is in Japan, and mentally summoning all the akuma to the capital city of Edo. As well, five of the Noah are here, though four arrived mostly by coincidence while chasing exorcists.
The Earl explains to his minions that he is activating the Ark, and briefly recaps the official story of Noah’s Ark. Left unsaid is how this differs from the backstory of the current Noahs. The presence of two Exorcist Generals in Japan could upset his plans, and Allen is a danger as well. So a high-level Akuma is teleported to China, while the others are sent out to find and destroy any exorcists that might be in the area.
The first part is easy, since the Black Order team (except the Generals) is right there ready to attack. Destroying them is another matter, but Tyki Mikk is willing to give it a try.
Most of the volume is Allen’s fight in China, as he reconnects with his Innocence and gains a power-up. Back in Japan, the Exorcists are having some difficulty as one of their best fighters, Lenalee, is still too wounded to battle effectively. And there are a lot of Akuma to fight, including a giant one assembled of many others.
The volume ends with Allen entering the Ark, which on the inside appears to be a city.
Volume Ten opens with the arrival of one of the exorcist generals, but more importantly, the sword-swinging exorcist Kanda, who was guiding him. He and his companions swing the battle more in favor of the exorcists, only to have the Earl lose his temper and destroy Edo.
The main characters survive this, at least partially due to Lenalee suddenly manifesting a giant crystal shield, something she’s never done before. Before the Earl can press his attack, Allen arrives and the Earl calls a retreat to think about the new possibilities.
Our heroes’ happy reunion is cut short when several of the exorcists are pulled into another dimension, back inside the Ark. It seems the Earl has been creating a new Ark that will respond only to his or his faithful followers’ control (the previous one having been compromised by a traitor.) He and the Noah known as Road are now transferring the functions of the old Ark to the new one, a process that will take about three hours. As the functions are transferred, the cityscape inside the Ark will crumble, until everything inside is destroyed, including the exorcists.
There should be no escape, but several of the Noah have decided they want final rematches. If the exorcists can get past all of them, there’s one exit still open. Of course, the Noah have no intention of making these fair fights!
Most of the volume is taken up with Kanda battling Skin Boric, a Noah with electrical powers. A flashback reveals that the Noah periodically reincarnate into/possess normal humans when their previous bodies are killed, giving them the appearance of immortality. How much this changes their personality seems to vary–Skin murdered everyone he knew in his pre-Awakening life, while Tyki is still friends with his old buddies when not required to do evil deeds for the Earl.
This shounen (boys’) series started in 2004, and spawned an animated adaptation as well as some tie-in light novels. It’s still running, but due to the author’s health issues it went from weekly to monthly and now quarterly chapters. You can see a bit of change in the art for these volumes as it became more painful to draw.
To be honest, jumping in on these volumes would be a mistake–we’re in the middle of a plotline and the author doesn’t make allowances for a reader who doesn’t already know who most of the characters are. (Why does that guy look like a vampire? You’ll just have to read the volume he was introduced in.)
Most of the characterization is only at the surface level as people react to battle situations. Only Skin Boric gets more depth this time.
The art is nifty, even if some of the battle sequences are confusing. There’s a bit of male gaze as Road and Lenalee both get symbolic sequences in skimpy nighties.
The “gothic” feel of the series is good, but the big battle sequences here tend to fight against that. Recommended for those that like their shounen battle manga on the depressing side.
And now a look at the anime!