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Title:
 Death Note vol 1

US Distributor: Viz Media

Author: Tsugumi Ohba Artist: Takeshi Obata

Suggested Retail Price (SRP): 5.50

Number of Pages: 204

ISBN: 9781421501680

Reviewed: 12th November 2006

Reviewer: Tom (Webmaster)

 

Shonen Jump manga have two types of protagonist - inept teen with huge ambition that needs the help of others (eg. Naruto) or smug teen with huge ambition that refuses the help of others (eg. Prince Of Tennis).  Light Yagami, the protagonist of Death Note, is best described by the latter example. 

The story starts when a Shinigami ('Death God') by the name of Ryuk drops his 'Death Note' in the human world.  The Death Note is a notebook which the Shinigami use to extend their lifeforce by writing the names of humans in it.  These humans then die within 40 seconds, either by the cause of death written within these 40 seconds, or, if no cause of death is written, a heart attack.  Inevitably Light Yagami finds the notebook soon after it drops and it is not long before Ryuk finds Light and tells him that the notebook must now stay in the human world and will be possessed by Light.  Light can use the book as he chooses but can go neither to heaven or hell once he has used the Death Note.  It is not long before Light tries out the Death Note whilst watching a live hostage situation on TV and finds out that it really works.  He then decides to rid the world of evil and writes down the names of the world's most notorious prisoners.  This is were Death Note gets interesting. 

Author Ohba then throws the fantasy element straight into the real world by having Interpol investigate the sudden deaths of several prisoners, an amount too many to be a coincidence.  A secret agent known only as 'L' throws down a challenge to Light live on TV that he will find him and it is astounding how far L has come and what he has deduced from the limited information he has had to work on.  From this point on Death Note rises above your average manga by becoming quite unpredictable. 

What made Death Note above average for me was the character Light.  As a straight A student he has a promising future and is not angst-ridden as you might expect.  Instead he is cool, calculating and selfish, believing that he is ridding the world of evil when it is quite clear he is the biggest evil of all.  When the character L is introduced Light starts to use the Death Note to suits his own needs, rather then ridding the world of evil.  Even more interesting is that he does this all without the influence of others.  Although the shinigami Ryuk is with Light throughout this volume (incidentally, only those who have touched the Death Note can see Ryuk), Ryuk never passes moral judgement on Light and prefers to observe how the Death Note is used.  This approach means that Ryuk is on no-one's side and he could be presenting Light with false information about the Death Note as some of the 'rules' are not necessarily proved in volume 1.  Also, right of the beginning of the volume, Ryuk informs his fellow Shinigami he is going to the human world as he has dropped two Death Notes.  By the end of the volume the second one has yet to appear. 

So with fascinating characters and twists galore (twists I will not unveil), Death Note is an exciting and terrifying manga to read.  Exciting as you never quite know which way the story will go as well as the fact anyone could die at any point and terrifying as you will find yourself backing Light despite his growing despotism. 

There is nothing bad to say about Death Note, even the artwork, which is nothing spectacular, is perfect for the tone and suitable for the story.  Anything more stylised would have been ridiculous.  So yes, nothing bad to say and it is easy to see why this is proving so incredibly popular with people.  Nothing short of brilliant. 

Extras:

A disturbing haiku introduction from the author and short profiles of both the author and artist are in the front and the usual adverts for other Viz titles in the back.  There is a couple of four-panel comedy strips in the back based on the characters of Death Note, which is fun to read after such a dark manga. 

At the end of each chapter the Death Note rules unveiled in the chapter just passed are recapped, which serves as a handy reminder as you go into the next chapter. 

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