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Review: Death Note

A little change of pace today with a series overview review of the popular, Death Note. Beware, it’s wordy and plot vague for new readers’ convenience.

Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Volumes: 12

Synopsis: “Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects but he’s bored out of his mind. All that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal…or his life?”

At this point who hasn’t heard of the popular sensation, Death Note? With surging popularity around the world even before it’s English release, it was no surprise that Viz’s release of the manga, and eventual follow up with the animated series, caused the number of fans to rise without measure. But with just cause?

Death Note follows the story of Light Yagami, a high school student of great intelligence who happens to come across the Death Note. A seemingly ordinary notebook, the Death Note gives its owner the power to control the time, place and location of a person’s death just by writing their name on its pages. Confronted by Ryuk, the Death Note’s Shinigami (“God of Death”), Light has the power of the Death Note explained to him, realizing the extent of this ‘gift’ he’s been given.

What helps to make Death Note such an intriguing story is the good guy/bad guy line that the main character constantly teeters on. With the power to control people’s death, Light takes it upon himself to rid the world of the criminals and wrongdoers who taint the lives of everyone else. Unfortunately this involves the proverbial ‘breaking of a few eggs’ and soon police and FBI agents, seeking to catch the mysterious murderer of criminals (nicknamed Kira), become some of his targets. Light’s pride and righteous beliefs soon elevate him to self-proclaimed God status, one out to better mankind, and he justifies the death of innocent people as necessary to get one step closer to achieving his goal of a perfect world. What began as noble intentions that readers can at least understand, if not relate to, turns into a sadistic game of cat and mouse as Light thrives on the intellectual challenge of continuing his work and keeping himself anonymous.

Throughout the story, readers are given direct views into the thoughts and motivations of the characters. While sometimes the end results are kept a mystery to readers until they come about, almost all of the planning and the reasoning is laid out on page after page of overstuffed text bubbles. It’s a powerful aspect of the story, having the intelligence of the characters broken down into linear thought so readers aren’t forced by the author to just accept their brilliance. Hands down, the most time and plot extensive mind dwelling falls to Light and L, Kira’s rival and man of equal IQ, as they battle it out in a game of wits, one that seems more about pride and victory than the saving of lives. It’s peeking into minds of the supporting cast, such as the police who help L on his quest to find Kira, that keeps the story feeling grounded. They generally remain more interested in the capture of a criminal and justice than the egotistical win over an opponent, which gives a clearer view of Light and L’s struggle from different angles.

Kira and L’s game of chase and be chased continues for the bulk of this twelve book series. Unfortunately, about half way through it finds itself getting a little old. Where once readers would pick through each detail and plan, they’re now finding it easier and easier to skim over pages of information and still know what’s going on. After so much of the same, it becomes more about the destination than the journey, unlike the riveting first couple of volumes. On the upside, when the story feels like it’s slowing down, the author often tosses in the unexpected, throwing a curve ball out to cast and readers alike. Sometimes it’s a surprise reaction, other times a new character or two; either way, everything is spread out to keep readers hooked. By the time volumes 10 and 11 come around and the end is in sight, it’s the weakest part of the story but also a fairly smooth downward slide to the ending.

With a strong beginning, one can only hope the series will manage an equally strong ending. There seems to be strong debate over whether Death Note delivers or not but it can’t be denied that it’s an intense and dramatic ending, even if the flair seems a tad overdone. In contrast to the most often stoic faces and pressed suits, it at least makes for a memorable finish and one not worth ruining for the sake of a review.

As manga is a visual medium it would impossible to look at one without taking the art into strong consideration. Already a well-known manga artist (known best for their series, Hikaru no Go), Takeshi Obata brought a style to the story that was not only strong but also suiting. It’s hard to imagine another style that could’ve given this series the mood it ended up with; a sharp combination of character designs rooted in realism, detailed backgrounds and telling expressions. The moment readers catch the devil’s grin on Light’s face, one graced with a kind smile only moments before, they’re told so much about the character without even needing to read the corresponding text. The art matures as the volumes go with designs becoming more refined as the artist really settles into the story and manages to keep things as eye-catching as possible while still adhering to the tone of the scenes and the numerous explanatory text bubbles. It’s also interesting to take a look into the Death Note art books for a glance at the original character designs for Light and Ryuk, a peek at what this series could’ve been in contrast to the final result.

Like many things that reach this level of popularity, some people find it high time to dismiss it as another cheap series with shallow values, not wanting to be associated with the squealing fan-girls and worshippers who seem to be the prevalent force behind the series’ fame. A series’ quality is ignored in the face of its expanding fan-base, in the view of many, losing the charm of being a hidden gem that only a few had the pleasure of enjoying. With a surprising chunk of the fan-base following Death Note consisting of people who have not even read the series, merely leaping on the bandwagon of interest fostered by the fan-art and fan-fiction, its little wonder why some wish to escape the association. The use of ignorance is no way to treat any series however and Death Note, like any other series popular or not, deserves a chance to be read and have readers gauge it on their own terms.

Twelve volumes summed up, Death Note is a unique and powerful manga that does earn most of its praises. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the first volume works to determine that and prepares readers for a roller-coaster ride of drama, surprise and intrigue. With a lot of information to take in, it’s a series that seems keen on not only showing off the intelligence of its own characters, but also making readers in turn feel intelligent by following it. Maybe that’s why it seems such a triumph to finish the series or one of the reasons it’s so popular with such a large range of readers. Either way, strong art and a compelling story earns Death Note it’s dues. It may not be the kind of series you’ll pick up and reread once the initial rush settles but it’s a solid collection that’s worth giving a go at least once. Prepare to go deep because once Death Note’s pulled you in, it knows how to keep you there

Written February 23, 2008 by Lissa Pattillo
Books purchased in-store from Chapters


Volume One


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: October 2005
Synopsis: “Light tests the boundaries of the Death Note’s powers as L and the police begin to close in. Luckily Light’s father is the head of the Japanese National Police Agency and leaves vital information about the case lying around the house. With access to his father’s files, Light can keep one step ahead of the authorities. But who is the strange man following him, and how can Light guard against enemies whose names he doesn’t know?”

Volume Two


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: November 2005
Synopsis: “Light thinks he’s put an end to his troubles with the FBI–by using the Death Note to kill off the FBI agents working the case in Japan! But one of the agents has a fiancée who used to work in the Bureau, and now she’s uncovered information that could lead to Light’s capture. To make matters worse, L has emerged from the shadows to work directly with the task force headed by Light’s father. With people pursuing him from every direction, will Light get caught in the conflux?”

Volume Three


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: January 2006
Synopsis: “Light is chafing under L’s extreme surveillance, but even 64 microphones and cameras hidden in his room aren’t enough to stop Light. He steps up the game, but before the battle of wits can really begin, a family emergency distracts him. But even though Light isn’t using the Death Note right now, someone else is! Who’s the new “Kira” in town?”

Volume Four


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: March 2006
Synopsis: “With two Kiras on the loose, L asks Light to join the taskforce and pose as the real Kira in order to catch the copycat. L still suspects Light, and figures that this is the perfect excuse to get closer to his quarry. Light agrees to the plan in order to have free access to the taskforce resources. But when Light manages to contact the new Kira, he discovers that his rival is anything but as expected. Will Light escape from love unscathed?”

Volume Five


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: May 2006
Synopsis: “After a week locked up with no one but Ryuk for company, Light is ready to give up his Death Note and all memories of it. Freed from his past actions, Light is convinced he’s innocent. But L is ready to keep Light under lock and key forever, especially since the killings stopped once Light was incarcerated. Then a new wave of Kira crimes hits Japan. Someone else has gotten their hands on a Death Note, and these new deaths aren’t focused on making the world a better place, they’re focused on making money. Big business can be murder, and Kira has gone corporate!”

Volume Six


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: July 2006Synopsis: “Although they’ve collected plenty of evidence tying the seven Yotsuba members to the newest Kira, Light, L and the rest of the taskforce are no closer to discovering which one actually possesses the Death Note. Desperate for some headway, L recruits Misa to infiltrate the group and feed them information calculated to bring Kira into the open. But the Shinigami Rem reveals to Misa who the Kiras really are, and, armed with this knowledge, Misa will do anything to help Light. But what will that mean for L…?”

Volume Seven


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: September 2006
Synopsis: “After a high-speed chase, Light and the taskforce apprehend the newest Kira. Light regains his Death Note and his memories, and the depths of his cunning are revealed as the plans he carefully put in place before going into confinement are slowly unveiled. His masterful manipulation of both humans and Shinigami lead him to the strongest position he’s yet enjoyed. But the glow of his victory is marred when a new threat appears. Can Light withstand a surprise attack on two fronts?”

Volume Eight


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: November 2006
Synopsis: “Light, working as Kira, the newest member of the NPA intelligence bureau, and L–has nearly succeeded in creating his ideal world. But the years of uncontested victory have made him complacent, and he is unprepared for a new attack. With his younger sister Sayu kidnapped and the NPA’s Death Note demanded as ransom, Light must travel across the world and confront two new adversaries, each with a very different agenda. Will Light’s quick wits be a match for this new challenge, or will he be forced to choose between Kira’s ambitions and his own family’s lives?”

Volume Nine


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: January 2007
Synopsis: “Light has always been confident in his ability to outthink everyone, but L’s protégés are proving to be more of a challenge than he anticipated. The more Light mentally maneuvers, the tighter the net around him becomes. And now Near and Mello are working to break the task force apart and expose Kira from within! Light has always held up under pressure in the past, but will the stress of this new line of attack and the strain of maintaining three different personalities be the beginning of his end?”

Volume Ten


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: March 2007
Synopsis: “With Near openly suspecting the new L of being Kira and sowing doubt in the hearts of the taskforce members, Light is once again forced to pass the Death Note on to another to take the heat off himself. But this time, Kira chooses a disciple from among his true believers. With no way to contact his successor directly, Light must rely on his faithful follower’s adherence to Kira’s goals. Will this newest move bring Light’s ideal world closer to reality? Or will losing control of the Death Note spell Light’s doom?”

Volume Eleven


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: May 2007
Synopsis: “Light’s latest machinations are putting a strain on even his formidable intellect as Near flies to Japan to beard Kira in his den. Near is sure that Light is Kira, but his sense of honor as L’s heir will allow no doubts. He doesn’t want to just stop the Kira murders, he wants to expose Light as the Death Note killer. Light thinks he’s up to the challenge, but will the pressures of his fiancée, his new flame, and his acolyte prove to be fatal distractions?”

Volume Twelve


Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz
Rating: Teen (16+)
Released: June 2007
Synopsis: “The battle ends here.”

About the Author:

Lissa Pattillo is the owner and editor of Kuriousity.ca. Residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia she takes great joy in collecting all manners of manga genres, regretting that there's never enough time in the day to review or share them all. Along with reviews, Lissa is responsible for all the news postings to the website and works full time as a web and graphic designer.



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