If there is one genre of anime that grates more than any other for its lack of originality, it’s the shounen genre. Shounen is an action focused genre aimed at boys and young male adults – for those who don’t know. Some famous examples of shounen anime are Dragonball, Naruto, and Yu Yu Hakusho.
It is typefied by ambitious young main characters with special powers fighting an endless line-up of similarly gifted enemies who, more often than not, start out with the upper hand. The genre is in serious need of a dose of fresh perspective, or a kick in the pants, but unfortunately D.Gray-Man provides neither. It sticks pretty closely to the established formula, providing few surprises or action scenes that make the viewer sit up and take notice. Even the character designs deviate little from what we’ve come to expect.
Often it’s down to the story to make a particular anime in the shounen genre stand out, and D.Gray-Man’s plot is actually fairly interesting. It’s set in an alternate 19th Century England, and centres around a 15-year-old boy, Allen Walker, who was disowned by his family because he had a deformed arm. He is adopted by a clown who later dies. After this, a shady man named the Earl of the Millennium offers to resurrect Allen’s recently deceased adoptive father, but in doing so turns him into an Akuma – a monster. Allen’s latent special abilities spring to life, transforming his deformed arm into a weapon which he uses to defeat the monster. As the monster dies, it curses Allen’s left eye, which actually turns out to be a good thing, since Allen can now see the souls of the Akuma – even ones which are disguised as normal people.
Determined to prevent others from sharing his pain, Allen joins the Black Order and becomes an exorcist, hunting down and slaying the Akuma in his quest to put an end to the Earl of the Millennium’s insidious plans. Along the way, he’ll meet up with many enemies and allies, all of who have their own background stories and motivations – very typical shounen stuff.
The story is fairly interesting; unfortunately, as with all shounen anime, it’s drawn out too long, with Allen coming ever closer to his goal, but never quite making it. He and his allies find themselves in one sticky situation after another, having to find new ways to use their abilities to combat the endless stream of enemies who find all kinds of creative ways to attack them. This suggests that they’re going to draw this one out for as long as viewers are willing to continue paying for it.
The animation is the standard quality for TV anime, and the art direction is unmistakably shounen. Weird uniforms, exaggerated features to distinguish the main cast from one another, and monstrous enemies are just some of the typical anime flash you can expect to find here. Both the Japanese and English voice casts are good, although the English voice cast does seem to fit the European setting a bit better.
If you haven’t already had your fill of the shounen genre, then you might actually like this a lot more than I did. But if you’re approaching the full-up mark, then I can’t think of any reason to recommend this any more than any other unending, young male-oriented action anime.