I’ve been meaning to read some manga for ages, so I decided to start out with Death Note (story by Tsugumi, art by Takeshi Obata, translation by Yuki Kowalsky). I really liked the sound of the concept and thought it opened itself up to a lot of the ‘questioning what’s right and wrong’ dilemmas that I love to see in fiction.
And I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Death Note tells the story of genius student Light Yagami who finds a dropped notebook that just so happens to be a Death Note – a Shinigami death god’s notebook. Anyone whose name is written in the notebook dies, and so Light decides to use it to rid the world of evil. However, in doing so Light himself becomes one of the most dangerous criminals the world has ever seen, and he soon finds himself being pursued by the world’s best detective, L…
I bought the Black Edition, which not only looks really pretty (I absolutely love the black pages!) but actually contains Volumes 1 and 2 of Death Note, so I would definitely recommend this edition! As there is obviously less text in a manga than in a novel I just seemed to zip through it, especially as it made for such an addictive read, so having more of it was definitely a plus!
One of the things I loved most about Death Note was the questions it raises about morality and its ‘shades of grey’ approach to character. Light Yagami is the hero, and does at first seem like your typical heroic figure…until he starts killing people.
Whilst his intentions are good – he only kills criminals and people he deems ‘evil’ at first – his actions seem morally dubious, and early on the death god Ryuk (who I absolutely loved as a character!) even points out the flaw in his plans: ‘You do something like that, the only one left with a bad personality will be you…’ However smart Light is, he doesn’t seem to recognise that he is becoming the bad guy, and sure enough his plans soon evolve from ridding the world of evil to reigning over the world, and he begins to kill innocent people who are simply trying to stop a person they see as a merciless serial killer (who becomes known as ‘Kira’).
Ryuk, as the original owner of the Death Note, is bound to follow Light around and observe how he uses it, and I really liked how despite staying neutral, he often inadvertently calls out the problems with what Light is doing. I also loved how despite him being a death god and looking pretty scary, he actually has a sense of fun, however twisted it is (he basically dropped the Death Note because he was bored), and can at times even be quite playful.
My favourite character though was L, a kind of Sherlock Holmes-esque, quirky super sleuth who leads the investigation into the Kira killings. The fact that you don’t actually see him for a good portion of the book builds up a sense of mystery around him, so when he is finally revealed as a very young looking man who never seems to wear shoes and sits all the time with his feet up like a child it’s quite a surprise. I felt like in many ways he was a foil for Light, with them even looking slightly similar, and I liked the cat-and-mouse aspect of their relationship, with L always just one step behind. There are several times when it looks like L will catch Light out, and it becomes really hard to know who to root for!
I’m definitely really intrigued to find out what happens next anyway, and I’ll definitely be picking up Volume 2 (either from the library or when I get paid!). There are so many things I want to find out…for example, how will Light’s father react when he finds out that the criminal he’s been chasing is his own son? Did the Death Note actually work on Naomi Misora (presumably it did?)? Will Light ever be tempted to make a deal with Ryuk for a Shinigami’s eyes?
I would definitely recommend this to anyone, whether they’ve ever read any manga before or not, as the story keeps you on the edge of your seat, not to mention the fact that the artwork is incredible!