Death Note is a supernatural thriller set in modern day Tokyo. Written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, serialisation started in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 2003. Spawning an anime, several novels, games and even a Netflix live adaptation the IP has become a worldwide success. Death Note Volume 1 contains chapters 1 to 7 of the series. Although I read the Black edition which contains Volume 1 & 2 of the series, I will review them separately.[mfn]I was unable to get the whole series as the Black Edition, some of the books I’ll be reading are the tankōbon[/mfn]Let’s find out: is Death Note worth Reading?
Bournemouth to Tokyo… via the Library
Death Note has been on my to read list for quite a while, 8 years in fact! I first heard of this IP while living in a shared house post Uni in Bournemouth. For such a small city, Bournemouth had a surprisingly vibrant punk and hardcore scene around this time, at one of the many shows[mfn]At a venue called iBar which was originally set up by the creator of the video game Worms![/mfn]. Getting a little carried away, I broke my forearm. As you can expect, this left me with quite a bit of free time on my hand [mfn]Yes, singular, my left hand was mostly in a cast for quite a while[/mfn].
At this time, I was devouring a lot of TV show recommendations from friends, I distinctly remember watching a lot of Luther. One of these[mfn]Funny enough, from the singer of the band I was watching while destroying my left arm[/mfn] was Death Note. Well, I know what you’re thinking, this would be the perfect time to have watched a 37 episode Anime… well there’s one thing stopping me, I’m a big old scaredy cat.
Yup, I’m the kind of person that won’t watch a horror film, get curious and read the Wikipedia page for it and then have disturbing dreams from what my imagination creates from the synopsis[mfn]Seriously, I had to stop reading Goblin Slayer before bed as I was getting some pretty violent dreams about stabbing goblins[/mfn]. At the tender age of 36 and after happening on Volume 1 in a local library, it’s time to put on my big boy pants…
The series starts with star pupil Light finding a note book dropped by Ryuk, a Shinigami.[mfn]A Japanese spirit or Demi-god, much like the Grim Reaper in the West[/mfn] The book turns out to be a Death Note, by writing a name in the book you can bring about a persons death and with a little more detail some very gruesome specifics if desire. Using the Death Note, Light intends to create a utopia by killing all criminals. Soon the police and media across the world take notice of the bizarre pattern and Interpol begin investigating. A cat and mouse game begins with L, Interpol’s unidentified superstar detective and Kira, the medias name for Light. A deadly game of Guess Who soon ensues.
If Light tested out the Death Note a little more, this would have given time for a detailed examination of his humanity. In my eyes he seems all too eager to start offing people.
So far only Light really gets any meaningful development, although at this point it still is early in the series. I think we have the chance to see some really interesting characters develop, especially Light’s family as his father high up in the NPA.[mfn]Japan’s version of the FBI[/mfn] I’m hoping we get a closer look at the motivations of L, heck, we might even see his face?
I was expecting the pacing to be a slow burn much more like that of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster. Death Note’s story however, develops at breakneck speed. I was also surprised how few horror elements are in the Manga. I thought that Ryuk would be more chilling and creepy, however he’s mostly just an observer. What was I thinking waiting this long for?
If Light tested out the Death Note a little more, this would have given time for a detailed examination of his humanity. In my eyes he seems all too eager to start offing people. The theme absolute power corrupts absolutely is quite strong at this point, I’m interested to see how this develops.
The artwork of Takeshi Obata is very efficient. Detailed panels are common when establishing scenes. Trivial indoor and outdoor locations look great, I rather enjoyed the look of very common things like buses and streets. However once dialogue becomes heavy, we are mostly treated to talking heads devoid of background details.[mfn]But I get that Manga needs to be produced in a limited time[/mfn]
Death Note Volume 1 starts out with a beautiful coloured section, clearly showing the differences between the Shimigami and human worlds. The former rendered in earthy desert tones and the former with a vivid light blue sky. You can easily see why Ryuk preference is for the human world compared to his own. I’m dearly hope that future volumes contain more coloured sections.
Obata’s human facial expressions really capture the character’s full range of emotions. However Ryuk does not really show any emotions. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of eyebrows or even if he has eye lids, but our Shinigami always looks in a state of shock and disbelief. I know a Demi-god should be mysterious but it really is difficult to know what he’s thinking. Maybe Ryuk is a reflection of the reader? Being expressionless, s/he allows us to apply our own feelings to Ryuk?
Is Death Note worth reading?
Death Note Volume 1 is a thrill ride from start to finish. You may think the story will go one way yet it chooses another path. Although not as addictive as Monster, it’s still a page turner and I’m excited to continue reading the series. Although I’ve been a little picky with art, the overall quality is excellent. I’d recommend that this is on everyones to read list.