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13 Feb, 2008
Death Note, Volume One
Posted by: Rachel In: Manga Reviews
I’m not a vengeful person. I don’t ever feel the need to smite my enemies. I’m of the opinion that the noxious individuals in my life will figuratively hang themselves given enough rope, and they have. I have a very hands off approach to people I dislike who aren’t actively doing me harm.
But what about the violent people who also actively do me no harm? What about the criminals who shoot an innocent for their wallet and leave them to die? What about the child abusers and the mass murderers, some of which are still walking the streets and living their lives? If given the opportunity to cleanse the world of such distasteful people, would I be willing to kill them? What if I didn’t need to get my hands dirty to rid the planet of them, but only had to put pen to paper, could I do so then? What would the cost to me be? Would I be able to stop my hand there, or would I start knocking off the “little” people, like the guy at the gym who never wipes down the equipment?
Thankfully, I don’t need to answer these questions, but Light, the anti-hero of Death Note does, and he has answers in spades:
Boredom can be deadly, at least that’s how it turns out when a shinigami decides he needs a little excitement in his life. The shinigami in question, Ryuk, casually drops his death note into the human world, with instructions on its use scrawled in English on the inside cover:
- The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
- This note will not take effect unless the writer has the subject’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
- If the cause of death is written within 40 seconds of writing the subject’s name, it will happen.
- If the cause of death is not specified, the subject will simply die of a heart attack.
- After writing the cause of death, the details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
The human who picks up Ryuk’s death note, Light, also happens to be bored. Light, a gifted student, is bored with the way the world is and bored with the never changing rottenness he’s surrounded by. He sees the death note as his opportunity to change the world and make it a better place- and to rule it.
Light first puts the death note to the test, and then begins to cut down the world’s most violent criminals. These mass executions don’t go unnoticed and are making the police concerned. Who’s killing so many criminals and how?
The police call on “L“, a mysterious detective who always solves his case, to catch the mass murderer responsible for the recent deaths. L and Light face off in a battle of wits and both vow to find and dispose of the other if it’s the last thing they do!
The story for Death Note progressed pretty quickly in this first volume. From the time Ryuk “lost” his death note, to the time Light decides upon and implements his program of “cleansing”, was only about forty pages. Volume One plows ahead from there, relentlessly developing an ever more convoluted plot and introducing L to readers in short order.
The pace is fast, but not overly so. Development in Volume One is speedy, yet is not too much to soak in at once. There are thoughtful breaks in the action, which makes for good flow, and let’s the reader soak in info before ramping the story back up to high gear.
The overall feel of Death Note has a heavy touch of realism. As in the realistic way Light scoffs at the scribbled words on the Death Note and believes it’s a joke. Realistic in the way the Japanese police are suspicious of L and realistic in how Light interacts with Ryuk. Given Light’s personality thus far, all his reactions to situations feel real to the world of Death Note.
The concept for Death Note is heavy with themes of right and wrong, good and evil; bored death god gives his power to twisted mortal and watches as twisted mortal commits mass murder to make the world a happy place. But there isn’t a tone of preachiness thus far. The mangaka, Tsugumi Ohba, doesn’t even let on what he thinks of Light’s rampage, he just tells the story.
It’s actually pretty creepy to have this squeaky clean teenager commit remote mass murder with a righteous smile on his face. But who can really be that squeaky clean when all it takes for them to go on a killing spree is a notebook and a pen?
An amazing amount of information is freely given in the volume, about Light’s motives, his connection with the police, and his twisted sense of righteousness. L is still a mystery, but there’s enough given to keep up his interest as a character. Light’s interactions with his family are a nice touch and add an even more sinister feel to his doings. It’s made clear Light will do whatever it takes to make the world a place he deems worthy, no matter the cost. So what does Light really want? A world free of crime and wrong doing or a world where he can rule supreme? Where are his priorities in regards to human interaction and how did this kid get this overblown god-complex?
Those questions aren’t addressed this volume, but the promise of more background and further insight into Light’s personality has been readily made in how much this manga has given so far. If every volume follows in Volume One’s path, I can only wonder what will be left to explore in the next eleven manga.
Ryuk is a really interesting critter. He looks like a rock star/biker demon with a perpetual clown grin inked on his bug-eyed face. Light is scary in his own right. Anyone who can grin as he talks to a death god, casually comment on killing people he’s never met, but still look like the man you’d take home to momma, is downright terrifying. The contrast of his true personality with his appearance is stark. Light’s facial expressions as he devises ways to stump L and execute criminals is disturbing to say the least. He’s dead inside the part which makes him human, and it shows in his design.
Everything else in the world of Death Note is designed with an eye to realism. The setting is in Japan and reflects that culture well, down to the policemen in business suits and the Japanese high schoolers’ uniforms.
The art, by Takeshi Obata, is superb and clean. It’s an absolute perfect match for the feel of the story, which is realistic with a touch of fantasy. There aren’t many heavy lines in the manga, and the shading was done with a light touch as well; except for Ryuk. That guy walks around like an incarnated black hole.
Aside from the shinigami, the manga is airy and clean, and easy to read. There are some highly detailed panels, and there are plenty of moderately detailed pages as well. The panel layout is fairly standard for manga, and not many pages are devoted to a single scene.
I’m a fan of well designed manga covers (they are the first page you see of a manga after all) and Death Note has a well designed cover. It’s all about the contrast of matte and glossy, dark and light and good use of color. Death Note, Volume One has a great balance of all three.
I was immediately drawn into the world of Death Note. The story is compelling and the characters elicit strong reactions, both positive and negative. I’m able to connect with a few already, and although I don’t agree with Light, I’m eager to see how far this kid gets in remaking the world.
Death Note, Volume One gets 4 outta 4 Hammies!
- Publisher: Viz Media LLC
- Release Date: October 10, 2005
- Retail Price: $7.99
- Paperback: 200 pages
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1421501686
- ISBN-13: 978-1421501680
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