Manga Series Review: Death Note

Right…where should I start with this series? It’s a manga, released from 2003 to 2006. It took the world by storm. By the world, I am being serious. It has prompted many tv and movie adaptations, both in Japan and America. If you ask any anime/manga fan which series is probably the most popular, this one would be at the top of their list.

But despite seeing memes, trailers, and clips of this series circulating around the web for years, I never actually bothered to read the original manga series. For reference, I have not watched any of the adaptations, so I went into the series with a mostly empty slate. While I knew the main idea and a couple of the characters, I had little other knowledge.

Since this is a twelve-volume series, I decided to review the books as one big story, instead of divide up and review each volume. So, let’s get into this madness!

Release: 2003-2006

Synopsis: Light Yagami is merely an intelligent teen, until he stumbles upon the Death Note, a journal in which whoever’s name is written dies. This Death Note belongs to Shinigami Ryuku, a demon god who only those who touch the note can see. Light sets out on a mission with his newfound power to kill criminals and bring about a new world, under the secret identity of “Kira.” On the other side, a special crime taskforce is put together to catch him, led by the brilliant, eccentric L.

Non-Spoiler Review

I loved the first book of this manga series. It brings up such an interesting question: what is evil? Light develops a god complex in order to turn the world into a better place. But to do so, he is killing hundreds of people. There is this constant question of whether we are rooting for Light or L (I was L all the way, because Light was a serious psychopath, but we’ll get into that more later). Most of the series, especially the early episodes are a cat and mouse chase between Light and L as L tries to catch Light and Light tries to figure out L’s name to kill him (lots of ‘l’s in there).

However, for me, the series gets repetitive and worse as the plot continues. I gave Volumes 1-3 4 stars, Volumes 4-7 3 stars, Volumes 8-10 2 stars, and Volumes 11-12 only 1 star. As you can see, my feelings for the series went down pretty quickly. Before I will get into all the issues I have with this series later on, let me talk about the things I really enjoyed.

The art is beautiful. It is drawn in typical manga style, of course, and the clothes and pov angles are well done. Even as the story devolved, I never disliked the art. While a few of the characters looked similar, most of them were drawn well to show clear differences, making it easier to remember who was who.

In the beginning, I enjoyed most of the characters, whether I agreed with them or not. Light is a great protagonist, though I never felt any sympathy for him. He is psychotic, cruel, and lacks sympathy.There was never a question in my mind of whether the reader could praise him for getting rid of criminals. To me, he was always the villain. L makes a brilliant foil for Light, a figure of morality and purity to Light’s immorality and cruelty. L is also the only character able to figure out Light, whereas most everyone else is rather useless and easily manipulated by him.

There are an array of other characters (some spoiler characters which I’ll get into momentarily) and most of them are interesting (like Misa, Light’s father, L’s team, etc.) but they still felt second to Light and L. I have heard that Ryuku is a fan favorite, but I never liked him. He literally admits he dropped the Death Note because he was bored and wanted to see a human kill some people. What a twisted, evil individual. While Ryuku may have a few good lines, he makes Light look like a saint and trust me, that’s saying a lot. Even by the end, Ryuku shows he does not care about humanity, instead using their pain to bring him enjoyment. At least Light is doing what he believes to be right!

But, besides the characters and the art, this story devolves quickly into a massive mess. In order to get into the details, though, I have to give away some spoilers.

Spoiler’s Ahead!

I could get stuck on little plot contradictions, but instead I’m going to try to focus on the big things I noticed.

First, in the beginning we have given a list of how the Death Note works. If you write just a name, the person dies of a heart attack. If you write the cause of death, they die in that way. There are a few other rules, but they are all basic to remember. That is, until the story starts adding new rules, almost in a way which seems convenient to the plot. You need to know a person’s name to kill them, but wait, you can trade half your life with Shinigami to see their real name. You can relinquish the note if you want, but then you lose your memory (which Light somehow gets around). My point is that there are way too many rules that keep being added to keep track of. It would be like if an author gave us the rules of magic in a fantasy world, and then decided to break the rules because it was convenient to the plot. It just gets annoying after a while!

Second, L’s eccentricities. Let me just say, I love how he’s so weird. He squats on chairs instead of sitting on them. He bites his thumb. It’s all amusing, but there is no reason for any of it. We all have our weird quirks, but there is a reason why we have them. One person might sit leaning to the side because their hip hurts on the other side. One person might bite their fingernails because of nervous energy. But with L, he is eccentric because he’s eccentric. There is not reason behind it. And so is Near…

Actually, let me pause and get into the biggest spoiler of the series which made me change me enjoyment of this manga to dislike.

L dies!

Yes, you heard me right. The whole point of the first seven volumes is the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L. And then in the seventh volume, Light succeeds in killing L. I finished the book and I was like…”What just happened?”

And do you know what the author does after that? He brings in L #2, also know as Near or N. N is L’s successor, and is extremely similar but younger. The main problem I have with this is that it’s pointless. N is pretty much the same character as L. Up until now, we’ve been sitting with bated breath to see if L or Light will win. When L dies, we know the answer to that question. The rest of the series is obsolete. The good guys lost. At that point, I just stopped caring about the drama with Mello and N and all the other random characters brought in.

Even the ending felt predictable and drawn out way too much! N is finally able to expose Light and Ryuku writes Light’s name in the Death Note, killing him. That’s it. It’s a completely expected and silly ending.

Conclusion

I can definitely recommend the first two books of the manga, but after that it started getting a bit repetitive. And, after volume 7, I didn’t care in the least what happened. I have not watched any of the anime or live actions, but perhaps they are better.

Before I finish this post, here’s a great music video I found for one of the adaptations, as a parody of Blank Page by Taylor Swift.

I’m really curious if any of you have read/watched the Death Note series and if you are a fan. What are your thoughts on all my criticisms? I feel as if there is so much to understand about this world and fandom, and I only grazed the surface. What are your opinions on this series? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

11 thoughts on “Manga Series Review: Death Note

  1. Aww, sweet nostalgia! I watched the anime with my younger brother, uhh, way back when! We loved it, although we both thought it was super cheesey. 😀 Don’t remember much about it, except that yes, the ending was extremely weak. While killing L was great in terms of story, the writing totally failed to capitulate on it. Too bad. Great memories though! I remember really liking Light’s dad, for some reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this series is so classic. I still can’t believe it came out nearly twenty years ago (actually, more like sixteen years)! And I agree, if L’s death had been handled differently, it could have made the plot so much stronger. I really liked Light’s dad too, until he died…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve only seen the anime when it aired on Adult Swim back in the day (like high school days, so around 2004-5ish. God, I feel old now), and I remember it being quite enthralling. Though the criticisms you bring up about the series going downhill. The anime plays out much in the same way as the manga, so it all is dependent on if you want to see the plot acted out. The animation and music in it is fantastic though.

    I do love the concept but I think the concept itself lends to protagonists who either come off as idealized Mary Sues or, like Light, completely narcissistic sociopaths. So it might be why so many, including you, are turned off by Light. Personally, I think he made for an interesting protagonist because he was someone who was given immense power and wanted to use it for the betterment of the world. However, there’s an old saying: absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    If you wanted to change the world, would you be a god or a demon? Light chose to be a demon, and in the end, he paid the price for it. Even if the end was long, drawn out, and predictable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting thought. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The old saying fits Light perfectly. It’s sad, because his heart started in the right place. He really wanted to make the world better, but his pride led to his downfall. But if the anime follows the same plot as the manga, I’ll skip it. I will probably watch a few of the live actions, though. I hear they vary extremely when it comes to the plot.

      It is a fascinating world though, asking the question of what any of us would do if we were given the power to choose between life and death. I’m honestly happy we don’t live in such a world.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only watched the anime, but I also lost interest when they introduced Mello and Near. The whole story is about the Light-L relationship. I didn’t mind that L died (though I’m also team L) but then the story becomes something different.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s