Title: Death Note
Series: Death Note
Author: Tsugumi Oba
Artist: Takeshi Obata
Date Added: January 7, 2017
Date Started: September 11, 2017
Date Finished: March 29, 2018
Reading Duration: 199 days
Genre: Manga, Graphic Novel/Comic, Fantasy, Horror
Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects – and he’s bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note , a notebook dropped by a rogue 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?
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?
Pride goeth before the fall.
Note: This is the first manga/graphic novel series I’m reviewing in this way. I was previously reviewing each installment at a time, but since series like these are usually one overarching story, it makes sense to me to read them all and then review. Since I started and reviewed Saga book by book before I decided this, I chose to continue with that method for Saga, but going forward, all manga and graphic novels will be reviewed when I’ve completed the series.
Note: Minor spoilers.
I went into Death Note blissfully ignorant about it. I’ve still never seen the anime or the (heavily reviled) Netflix version. I did and do still know exactly whose names I would write in any death note I found; in fact I have even more to add today. Boredom, the title of the first manga, is the exact catalyst for everything that occurs, but we’re led to believe it’s Light Yagami’s boredom that drives everything when it’s really Ryuk’s, the Shinigami (death god), who is nothing but amused by humanity. Light, who’ll I’ll admit is a bored, Japanese honors student, is just a specimen to him, one of the most interesting one he’s seen in thousands of years, but a specimen nonetheless. It’s like if an entomologist found a really fascinating bug.
The Shinigami dwell in their own world and each one has their own death note where they can write down the names of humans. This is how they live so long as they take extra time from the people they write in their book. So if a person was supposed to die at 60, but the shinigami kills them when they’re 40, the death god garners 20 more years. They’re like the Weeping Angels of this world. Instead of sending humans back in time and stealing it from them that way, they just kill them and take the time they would’ve had going forward.
They steal years from humans, but then sit around as bored in their world as we are in ours, which is a pretty damning statement about how much we waste time we don’t have, though, to be honest, it’s our time to waste.
The simplest rule of the death note is any human whose name is written down will die of a heart attack within a certain amount of time (I think it’s ten minutes, but I can’t remember. Since I don’t have the books anymore, I can’t look it up, and the internet is being stingy with its information), but there are numerous provisions and other regulations that come into play. Not only the name but the face of the person you wish to die must be known as you’re writing it down, and you can manipulate the cause and time of death to some degree. However, if you write something like “X will die of cancer,” the person will probably just die of a heart attack since the development and demise of cancer elements take longer than the death note will allow. The most disturbing implication of the note, though, is you can manipulate people through it, because if you write “X will do this to Y” the first person will perform some action, which could be killing the second person, before dying themselves. So an intelligent and remorseless individual could do a great many things with a Shinigami’s black notebook. Light is that individual who claims not only the book, but the grand idea that he’s meant to reshape the world under the murderous alias of Kira and become the god of this new world.
Light, whose father is the top investigator in the killings, is immediately corrupted by the power of life and death. He thinks he’s going to reshape the world into a better place and become the god of that new world. It’s the age old “power breeds corruption” narrative with new twists and dimensions. When L, the famous and elusive detective, is tapped by the police to investigate the strange killings, the story becomes a game of cat and mouse reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarity, but we, the readers, are following the nefarious professor. It’s less about rooting for one particular character and rather about watching it all play out, which puts us in the position of the Shinigami observing the bugs at war.
Light and L are literally kids playing games with death, and one of my biggest questions about L was “Is he wearing eyeliner or is he just really tired?”
L manages to befriend Light (who’s L’s first friend ever) as he becomes involved in the very investigation to track his alter ego down. Both of them have flawless logic in this game of spy vs. spy. There are scenes where Light is doing homework with his right hand and killing people with his left, which is sinister indeed. This fact, though, is nothing to Light’s complete lack of care that he might have to kill his own family in order to continue his “work.” Whether the death note corrupted him or only brought out what was there is one of the main questions of Oba’s work. With it he has zero problems manipulating people and their emotions, but without it, he’d never even consider doing something so heinous. There’s a deep discussion to be had about whether things put the worst into us or merely bring it out.
Shinigami frequently visit the human world with their murder notebooks in tow. We see quite a few in their world, so it’s not unsurprising that there’s more than one death god involved than Ryuk. So when news of another potential “Kira” hits, Light obviously wants to find this person as does L, treating us to one of the most mind-bending ironies ever. L wants Light to play the part of Kira (when he really is Kira) in order to draw out the other potential Kira, but of course we (the readers) know Light is Kira; we just don’t know whether or not L thinks Light is Kira (yet), though we know Light is.
Did you follow all of that? Good. There’s also panel of Light telling L that shinigami can’t possibly exist…while Ryuk stands right behind him. L can’t see the death god, because only those who touch their death note can. Yup. You have to touch that particular god’s notebook, which means Light can’t see other shinigami potentially attached to other humans unless he gets a hold of their notes.
So now…now we have to talk about Misa.
Misa is the most annoying fucking character I have ever had the bad fortune to read about. I hate her more than Aeris in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and I think I’ve been pretty vocal about how vacuous I found my favorite flower girl in the prequel. Misa is a thousand times more annoying and I wanted to drop her off of a tall building. Her entire existence is to be loved by Kira, which is the whole reason she became a Kira in order to draw him to her. Initially, I liked her reasoning for that, but then when it turned out all she wanted was to be loved by Kira and she’d be willing to do anything to “earn” that love, my respect for her took a nosedive. I think I’m more pissed off at the author for making her such a vapid ding-dong. I abhor female characters who live only to please a male one. She has absolutely no other arc besides that. Light literally uses her in the most blatant of ways, and she knows and doesn’t care. He constantly tells her if she does X he’ll “love her forever,” which is a clear sign their “love” is a farce (there’s another blatant proof of this near the end of the series, too). Misa is pretty much a Sexy Lamp, and I think I’m irked more by her because there was a much more capable and interesting female character who was killed off earlier in the series. Now Misa being insipid could be the author’s attempt to say that only someone like that could fall for and be used by Light whereas the others would quickly see through his false charm.
The series dipped in quality for me after Mello and Near came on the scene. They’re two characters in league with L, as is evidenced by their names Mello and Near. Mello is irritating. Not as irritating as Misa, but there was something about him that annoyed the hell out of me. I think it was his overly intense need to compete with Near who was much more L-like in his insights. I enjoyed the cat-and-mouse between L and Light, but the number of super geniuses and government agencies greatly increased in the middle to end of the series. Near is nearly always seen playing with toys whenever he’s working on the Kira case which implies he, like Light, sees this all as just a game. The series brings up interesting ideas about what’s casually called psychopathy/sociopathy and more clinically known as antisocial personality disorder, but most works of fiction have a fictionalized version of such. Kira/Light, L, Near, and Mello could all be considered different manifestations of this. Light turned into Kira out of boredom and L (along with Near and Mello) are only called in on the most difficult/intricate cases.
The ending of Death Note wasn’t unexpected but still well done. I knew it was going to come to fruition one of two ways, and I have to give the winner props. As fore mentioned the title of the first manga “Boredom” makes you think it’s about Light, but it’s really about Ryuk. The whole series is just a “day” in the life of a death god, satisfying their eternal boredom by playing with humans. What a nihilistic concept. Light was essentially the plaything of a god of death, thinking the world was his toy. It’s a haunting rehash of “Pride goeth before the fall.”
One of the major questions of the series is “Are good and evil relative or absolute?” To phrase it another way: are the concepts only dependent on who has the power to implement them or is there an absolute idea of each concept? Is there an absolute good and an absolute evil? Or have we as a society decided what is considered good/evil? The cliched example of killing is always used in this case or rather murder, but if we break down what murder is, it’s killing someone without just cause. Sometimes there is just cause to kill. Good and evil aren’t contingent on who has the power to implement them, as people in power usually have an agenda, but of course this gets complicated as they will often convince their follower that what they’re doing is good or *shudders* for the “greater good,” which is exactly why Kira became so popular, and herein lies the horror.
At one point numerous people have death notes and one of them talks about killing “lazy” people aka ones that don’t contribute to society. The Kira philosophy is a slippery slope that goes straight into the bowels of genocide. Once certain groups are considered to be “undesirables,” there’s only one way you can go. What constitutes lazy? Most would agree that the visibly disabled e.g. wheelchair users et al aren’t, but what about part-time wheel chair users? What about people with invisible disabilities? What about fat people? They’re constantly thrown under the bus especially since “fat and lazy” are consistently paired together. This will get more in depth than I want for this book review, but “lazy” is a dangerous and often ablelist term, but if you can convince people that certain groups don’t deserve to survive, then you’re turned society into a fascist horror landscape.
I think Oba was out to present this but not go to in depth with it in the mise en scene, rather leting readers plunge the philosophical depths themselves.
Which of course the internet is all too happy to do.
Even though I much preferred the beginning half of the book with Light and L, I still like how it concluded and even saw some character growth with Misa. Death Note opens up numerous avenues for discussion and theory, and I only wish I could find one (despite the cost) because I know exactly whose names I’d write 😉