Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Death Note - Manga Review (With Spoilers!!!)

Death Note notebook, originally uploaded by Sodium.

Thanks to the greatness that is my local Barnes & Noble, I have been able to get both Otaku USA, and now, the 12th Death Note a decent amount of time before their official release date. Thus I present to you in all it's glory, and just plain crazy length, my review of the manga series that is Death Note.

Death Note Review - Manga (w/ Spoilers!)

Light is a genius. True fact. Light is the number one student in all of Japan. On top of that, Light's brilliant mental capacities have allowed him to assist his dad, Chief Inspector Soichiro Yagami, in solving several cases, which without Light's help may have been left a mystery. Yet, Light's life seems to be too routine, almost boring, while the world arround him appears to have, our modern world presumably, has sunk further and further into deeper levels of banality, criminality, and just plain filthiness.

Ryuk is a death god. True fact. Ryuk however has no particular skills that we're made aware of. Instead, like all death gods in the shinigami realm, Ryuk only has a notebook known appropriately as a Death Note, which allows Ryuk to kill humans before their time, so as to extend his own life. Ryuk too is bored, and like Light has found disgust in the death god world, where other shinigami such as himself have forgotten their purpose and do naught but gamble all day.

So to entertain himself Ryuk drops his Death Note in the human world, where, as Ryuk later says, by mere coincidence Light happens upon the book. While at first a disbeliever, Light quickly takes use of the Death Note and uses his will on all those evil, much to the entertainment of Ryuk. Light want's to create a new world, with himself as the god; however, these deaths do not go unnoticed, as Light purposefully uses the Death Note to kill criminals only by heart attack.

Early on both Japanese and world officials,led by a mysterious genius crime solver named L team up to battle Kira, as Light has now become known, so as uncover the one beind the murders, and put an end to the mass deaths. Neither L nor Kira are willing to back down, and only time will tell who will remain victorious in this time of chaos.


Now, as this message states, all above for anyone who kept reading past my two previous spoiler alerts, that was my normal, spoiler-free introduction. However, seeing as how this has been my first ever complete series to read by manga alone, and frankly such a cool one at that, I figure I'll give the story a better going over, which will require some giveaways, both minor and major.

Still with me? Ok, then I'll start by discussing the part of the book before L dies. See for me, these chapters will always be my favorite, because the L and Kira duel pitted possibly the two greatest young minds of Japan up against each other in a way that almost sends shivers down the spine. Sure, L was just a sweets junkie, and Kira was merely a student; however, when the two twist and turn into the other's heads, the ride alone is worth the full price of the volume, let alone series. Even more so though, the conversations that the two have together, with L always suspecting Light but also keeping him as a friend, show how close L and Light had to get to each other, and really how messed up the world would become, as the 'friends' disputes, eventually leading to Light killing L, foreshadow the tough times ahead under Kira's semi-tyrannical rule. (That last point's up for debate.)

Before L died, I also felt that the manga creator, Tsugumi Ohba, probably used most of his best plot devices, keeping the story mixed-up yet entirely enjoyable all at the same time. In chronological order, we first have the entrance of the second Kira, whom we discover to be Misa. This sets up Lights first follower, since Misa is entirely devoted to Kira. More importantly though, from this point on Light always seem to rely on a least one other person, even more so than he did on Ryuk in the beginning.

My favorite part in Death Note was when Light's father Soichiro has to prove his son's innocence by following Light's false 13 day rule, where a user of the notebook presumably dies afterward. The ingeniousness of Light is shown to such perfection that the whole time you really have no concept how he doesn't either die or get caught right there, and yet Light is confident, from the beginning, that his plan will work and that he'll be free.

One other component I won't focus on too much is that part of the story where Light sends a notebook to a Yotsuba business man. I liked how the killing was chosen by committee, and the guess who aspect in trying to figure out which one was the temporary Kira was very cool. All in all, this almost sidetracked the eventual plot, but I didn't complain about that at all.

Of course, the climax of really the first half of the book is L's death, which completely came as a shock to me. Ok, well the timing was a shock, since I felt that at the end I thought L and Kira would be dead, by each other's hands. However, Light got his final smirk in as L lay in the midst of a heart attack, knowing he was right all along, and yet still physically unable to disclose that information, sharing the same fate as Raye Penbar's wife.

After this point in time, i won't deny I felt a little disappointment. Part of this was my fault, since I didn't get into Death Note when it first released, I was able to accumulate about 4 of the volumes, and read them succinctly. This was not the case with the rest, partly because I began borrowing them from a friend, and also because of the overall wait between volumes. This time gap allowed me to forget details that I felt were overall key, as often are in such a complex story as this. Therefore, every time I picked up a new volume by the time I got into the story, I was very well along in the book, and still piecing together what I thought I knew from the last book. Of course, this didn't kill my fun, as much as it just stunted it a bit.

My immediate interest in this post-L world, plus the three years of time gone by, was that not only did L become the new L, but that the original L had successors, named Near and Mello. Indeed, the presumption was that with the original L out of the way Light would basically have free reign since the investigative police force, led by his dad, were too compromised by their position to Light, and thus could be killed at any time.

This concept led to an ever more exciting idea, and that's the question which Light hinted at earlier, and that's would Light kill his family if need be. Well, in the last volume if you had any doubts the answer is a clear resounding yes!!!, but for this part of the series, Vol. 8 I believe, we as readers are still a little curious. Sayu, Light's sister, being kidnapped by Mello is therefore even more intense, and the death of Soichiro, while an eventuality as far as I believed, shows even more how serious the situation had become, and how much the world had turned.

Then again, when talking about the changing world, the whole ending of the book, after seemingly knocking out Mello, is really about this changing of the guards, from the police to Kira. Light kills significant world leaders on top of many more prisoners, thus sending more countries such as the U.S. and Japan to give in to Kira. In fact, the investigative team themselves become endangered because in the new world trying to capture Kira is now less important than protecting his ideals, and not only that, but is considered criminal.

At this point, we introduce two new characters, who stay more or less with us till the very end. One being Teru Mikami, who is hand chosen by Light as the new Kira, to kill while Light is under general surveillance by Near. The second character is Kiyomi Takada, an old ex who just happens to be chosen, due to her previous Kira support, by Mikami as Kira's newest spokesperson. As we see later, Mikami who is meticulous to a fault, is actually just that, as his loyal support for Kira ends up killing Light in the end. Takada, on the other hand, is indeed loyal, but also seemed to me to be the greatest risk at all, leading me to even believe that Misa might kill Light out of jealousy. Now I know that's stupid in retrospect; however, I definitely believe that Takada's death was impending, and therefore not surprising.

Last Warning for End of Book Spoilers!!!

With the latest volume, one might say little is actually done, and this is true, since Near's and Light's talking and thinking take up several pages. Really though Light almost convinces the reader that he might somehow live, although as the general consensus seemed to be saying, and correctly so, that Light would indeed die. Which he does, as Mello sacrifices herself to the cause, thus allowing Near to unravel the final trick, just days before Light really would have won.

What scared me about this part though, is 1) how depraved Light gets when he's about to die, and 2) how evil Ryuk seems about the whole scene, since he does kill Light himself. Sure, faced with my own death, I wouldn't be very happy either, but I guess since Light's a sore loser, he looks that much more beaten, and broken than most, especially when faced with his own death. As far as Ryuk's actions, true he had no loyalty to the start, but honestly, the entertainment was good, so just pay the admission and help a guy in need.

Ok, not that it'd happen, but there was always the thought, and that's really what the reader's left with really just a bunch of thoughts and what ifs. Matsuda himself ponders this aloud and presents a decently, although obviously wrong, convincing argument. In addition, the Kira followers at the end suggest perhaps that closure isn't meant to be complete, and that's understandable, since the world was ruled for a couple of years by a mysterious killer named Kira. Overall though, Light did seem to get what was coming to him, and while we followed him from the beginning, the parting was not of such sweet sorrow, as much as that of bitterness, and confusion.

Spoiler free conclusion!!!

So, to end then, I clearly enjoyed the story, as the verbose nature of my above statements I believe demonstrate. The story had twists and turns that I never saw coming and loved every time, along with characters that even with death seemed to leave behind some sadness, probably since most of the times they were crucial to the whole cooky tale in some way or another. All in all, I will say then the 2nd story arc may not be my favorite, or at least not so much as the L dominated first, but Death Note's a definite read for all otaku, who can appreciate some mystery, don’t mind violence, and like to use their mind!

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