Seth Hahne's Reviews > Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom

Death Note, Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba
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Nov 01, 07

bookshelves: comics
Recommended for: pretty much anyone
Read in October, 2007

Over the past three weeks I've been burning through one of the most exciting reads I've come across in a while. Death Note is a seat-edged battle of wits that left me exhausted by the end. Heck, I was exhausted by the halfway mark.

Let me start over. Death Note is a Japanese comic that tells it's story over the course of twelve volumes (on display now at your local Borders). If what I'm about to say sounds good but you don't feel like spending the eight dollars per volume, head to your local library - they almost certainly carry the books in the Young Adults section. In any case, it's worth your time. Here's why.

The story begins when Ryuk, a death god (known in the story's mythology as shinigami), drops a death note into the human world in order to alleviate the boredom that oppresses his everlasting life. A death note is a special notebook possessed by shinigami that allow them to take the lives of humans whose names they write into the notebook. Ryuk's dropped notebook "happens" to fall into the path of Japan's top high school student, son of the chief of police, and all around genius, Light Yagami.

After a couple tests of the book's authenticity and the boundaries of some of its rules (e.g., one must visualize the face of the person whose name he is writing for that person to die), Light decides that he will forge a new world, a utopia in which all criminals (those would would take advantage of the weakness of others) simply die. Rather quickly, the police around the world begin taking notice of the staggering number of criminals who have suddenly dropped dead of heart attacks. Suspecting foul play, they want to find the perpetrator because law-and-order and vigilantism have never been the best bed-fellows. And it doesn't help that Light has gained a popular following amongst the masses who dub him Kira (which sounds remarkably similar to the Japanese pronunciation of the English word, "killer"). So the authorities enlist the assistance of the world's greatest detective (an anonymous man known only as L) and he quickly narrows the range of suspects dramatically, instigating a pulse-pounding game of of cat-and-mouse between the figures - L vs. Kira.

Initially, as exciting as the first couple volumes were, I had a hard time seeing how the story could sustain itself across twelve volumes. The key to Death Note's happy success is the absence of anything really resembling a status quo. The story and its elements are continually in flux. If things remained simple, I could see the book resolving in four or five volumes but everything is constantly moving, constantly changing. It was a fantastic read.

And smart. The fact that you're reading about these very intelligent characters who think things through to incredible lengths only adds to the excitement. There were moments of revelation and counter-revelation that simply blew my mind. And then there are moments when you think the jig is up for one or more of the characters and then a flashback will reveal the would-be victims plan from the start and you get to see tables turn and over turn as these characters fight for their lives.

And even after that, the moral question that is explored by the book's author and artist really goes to lengths to get the reader thinking about means and ends and it's not at all clear who one should root for. It helps that Light, despite having an ego that won't quit, is entirely unselfish in his motivation. Death Note is almost a distillation of an important moral question.

In short, I highly recommend this series to just about anyone.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Filip (new)

Filip "it's not at all clear who one should root for..." I think the reason for that is simply the fact that the Japanese religion, or mysticism, or culture for that matter does not have a clear border... There is no right and wrong. I came across this issue in almost every Japanese art piece. I say issue because "our Christian community" and the Bible teach us otherwise. In the and I must say that I may be misinterpreting the whole thing, and since I am no expert on Japanese culture, nor on the western for that matter consider my comment a shot in the blue. BTW I love Japanese art. :-)


Charles kuizon i recommend everybody who's reading deathnote to wathc the anime version...man, it's superb animation!


message 3: by Lya (new)

Lya god, i got COMPLETELY obsessed with deathnote! i think its insane how complex Light's mind is, and all the elaborate plans he makes up, and how well he can keep up the whole thing as L and Kira at the same time and AH! love it. i know some people would go "oh. its a comic. im not reading that." but really, its a REALLY good story. i finished the 12th one yesterday :D


Adele McVay Thanks for a great review, I've never read Manga and have decided to open my mind and see what it's all about, I always thought it was for kids, I think I'll make this my first taste of Manga based on your review.


Seth Hahne Happy to be of service Adele!


Adele McVay Loved it, Loved it, Loved it... just finished volume 3!


Seth Hahne Hoorah!


LadyDisdain Great review. Agree with practically everything you said (I don't think Light's being selfless - there's a point where he goes he'll rid the world of evil and become 'god' or something). I've only read vol. 1 but am already impressed with Light's thought process and actions.


'kris Pung I really enjoyed book 1 and 2 but I feel no compassions for the main character Light. I get that he’s a bored genius but some of the things he does are beyond comprehension to me. I’ll probably finish out the series but I’m going to be cheering for L to take out the spoiled brat every step of the way.


message 10: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill Green you know what the saying is- absolute power corrupts absolutely.


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