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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,