Death Note

Author: Tsugumi Ohba

Artist: Takeshi Obata

Type: Fiction, comic (manga)

Published: 2001

I read it: November 2007

deathnote

This is one of two manga series I’ve read in entirety, the other being the brutal and entertaining Battle Royale. Death Note is equally entertaining (albeit far less violent) and was a great start for someone like me who was new to the medium. It’s an English translation from Japanese with the same artwork and proper backwards pages. Although I just finished it this month, I started it over a year and a half ago. Having to wait on each volume to be released was worth it to be able to finally finish the series.

The story is of genius Japanese student Light Yagami finding a Death Note dropped by a Shinigami, a god of death (or reaper). With this book Light has the power to kill individuals at will. After discovering this power he tries to create a type of utopia, causing a mastermind his same age to be hired to uncover and halt his plans. The series is heavy on two key concepts: logic and morality. On one hand, the story is an elaborate who-dunnit where the reader witnesses two competing sides duking it out cerebral-style to try to best the other. On the other, it is a tale of what-would-you-do possibility in a world where one person gaining godlike power can attempt to become that god himself.

Although the story is centered on supernatural events, everything else that unfolds is realistic in a hyper-intense police chase/spy movie kind of way. Gunfights, bugged mics, special task forces, car chases, dark suits and shades, double-crossings, timely switch-outs, and cell phones abound. Every volume is expertly written and packed with twists.

Because of the amount of dialogue, there is a lot more reading involved than (I assume) in most mangas. The artwork is nothing to shout about at first, but it is impeccably realistic and entirely fitting for the story. Another note: most fans would split Death Note into two parts, one from the beginning through book 7, the other from 8 to 12. I can’t say why without spoiling a lot of the plot, but there is a significant change that occurs that might cause some readers to lose interest about halfway through. However, I do repeat that it is a satisfying story to the finish.

Alright. If you’ve considered reading a manga but haven’t yet, start with Death Note and see where it takes you. It’s a great example of what the medium can offer, and it explains why apples might sometimes float in midair.

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2 thoughts on “Death Note

  1. SPOILERS BELOW

    I haven’t read the comic, I only watched the show a while ago but I understand the comic is probably more in-depth. Meanwhile, I really liked the blend of supernatural with realism. It really puts you on the spot too as a reader – Light was a charistmatic, sociable, handsome genius who really had everything going for him. He got top honors during high school and he was considered for a top university, all of which go down the drain when he develops his God-complex when he receives the notebook. If this kind of guy could be corrupted so easily (or maybe it reinforces the idea that attractiveness and charisma doesn’t equal “good”), who’s to say I wouldn’t do the same thing if I got a Deathnote? I’d probably just keep it for the company of the awesome death metal looking god of death that has to follow you around. Light kind of succumbed to it pretty easily, so maybe he wasn’t this really moral, outstanding person we’d think. But he’s very realistic and early on lays down the law of human nature and our grasp of morality. The only problem is his egomanical tendencies. He’s a pretty outstanding actor too.

    L was probably my favorite character – eccentric and creative (and his voice actor is Alessandro Giuliani) – and a pretty good foil to Light’s calculative, straight-edge style. The story kind of takes a plunge after his death. He is replaced by his two chosen heirs Near and Mello, both of whom are interesting in their own rights (a 19 year old adult playing with toys is fairly interesting to say the least), but to me felt like cheap imitations of the real thing. What really suffers during the second half is probably the side characters – so much development went into creating Light, L, Near, and Mello that we forget that Light has a mom or a sister until she becomes a convenient plot point. Misa becomes the irritable clingy girlfriend archtype. Light’s SPK team FINALLY grows suspicious of his actions after almost five years of secretly reigning as L and as their captain. So many new characters appear from Near’s side that you don’t get much time to truly care about them, although they are pivotal in Kira’s capture.

    I think the focus of the second half turns to the question of how long Light can truly keep evading N. The secondary characters are in fact his downfall – his trust in Mikami ultimately causes his death. I have to say that L’s death was an interesting choice in part of the creators. L was the symbol of morality and justice so the audience most likely assumes that justice eventually triumphs over evil, but in this case, L is killed and so are our notions of good always triumphing over evil, even though Light does end up dying fifteen or so episodes later. I think what falters is Light’s choice to carry on as the captain of the SPK unit. Start ruling the world dude instead of letting these little punks set you up five years later.

    Oh and Light’s facial expressions throughout the show were comedy gold, as was his embarassment at being captured at the end.

    • Thanks for the summary, it’s been a while and there’s a ton I don’t remember about this story. The Light vs. L dynamics were a blast. The book does ask some great questions about morality and opens up the “what would you do?” angle.

      I seem to remember some of the funny expressions. Wasn’t there something in particular in the episode that L died? Some big dramatic moment that gets entirely ruined by the way it’s drawn or staged?

      The shinigami need their own spin-off series. The brief glimpses of them and their world were super cool.

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