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Death Note: You Guys Were Right, this Comics is Good.

by  in Comic News Comment

Short one. Not much to say, I guess, but I am full of enthusiasm.

Honestly, I did have some trepidation when I picked these up. This series was recommended in the comments to Burgas’ Fun Comics post, and it sounded interesting enough to overcome my anti-Manga bias. Which is pretty strong. (Except for Astro Boy.) Maybe it’s that I’m too attached too rhythms and storytelling structures of America comics, maybe its’ the fact that Japanese culture scares the crap outta me* – Either way, my distaste is probaly based more in personal prejudices than the quality of the work. But it’s still going to influence my reading, even if it’s not based in logic.


But, geez. Y’all were smack dab on the money this time.** This series is (A) friggin’ spectacular, and (B) more addictive than sugar coated crack. Which is a PROBLEM, honestly. Some of us have work and jobs and need to sleep and don’t have time to be up ’till five in the morning. Thanks A LOT, commentators! Remind me to borrow a tuba and hang out under your window sometime when YOU need to sleep!

Anyway, for the uninitiated:
Synopsis time: The brainchild of Tsugumi Ohba (W) and Takeshi Obata (A), Death Note is a twelve volume manga series that was originally serialized weekly in the Shonen Jump Anthology. It starts with a fairly far out premise – Japanese High School Kid (Light Tagimi)_ finds a Macguffin… er… magic notebook that allows him to kill people by writing their names inside. Sensibly, he decides to kill all the evil people, take down the government and set up a Light-ocracy. The authorities glom onto the fact that SOMEONE has magic killy powers with a quickness, but they don’t figure out who’s doin’ it. And, oh yeah, Light’s father is on the task force to catch – well, his own kid, but he doesn’t know this. In charge of the task force is a dude just named “L,” who (at first) refuses to show his face and only communicates via computers or proxies. There’s a lot of plot in the first six volumes that I read, but the major conflict is Light vs. L.

And after this basic set-up… Geez, everything just gets more complicated and more complicated. Obata gives us two or three major plot twists a volume competeey rejiggering and reinterpreting the status quo every hundred pages or so. The coolest thing about Death Note is that I have NO IDEA what’s going to happen next at any given time, but all the developments stem logically from the already-established rules of the story.

This does means my discussion here is going to be a little sparse. Firstly : I jes’ don’t know enough about Manga to do the critic thing and provide useful comparative context, and lastly: I really don’t want to spoil anything.

Which is tough.

‘Cause basically anything I tell you is going to ruin some kind of surprise somewhere. And in a plot-based work like this, spoilers can imapct your enjoyment of the book. So just TRUST kindly’ol uncle MarkAndrew on this one. Or see if you can libraryize the first volume, ’cause it’s damn near impossible not to get swept up. It’s like these books were designed for compulsive readability – Hell, they probably were. The story what every stupid little Hollywood thriller wants to be when it grows up, and Obata’s artwork is pure storytelling with minimal flash, designed to make the story as immersive*** as possible.

Which means I’m up to five in the morning last night, starting volume six.

Um… recommended. Obviously.

But, I did have one complaint. ONLY one complaint, but it did serve to draw me out of the story in a big way.

While the two main characters are fully rounded and well constructed the female leaad – probably the third most important character in the series – is infantily simplistic in terms of characterization. She’s a model, she’s in love with one of the male leads and… that’s it, really. She’s (at least as of the end of volume six) essentially cipher who exists to react to the principle characters. Well, that’s not true – she’s also nails-on-the-chalkboard perky. And by “perky,” I mean “unbelievably annoying.”


The character feels not just not-true-to-real-human-experience, but almost exploitative. She’s this hot little model who’s totally in love with a male character, up to the point she’s willing to die for him. I’m not sure if this is a common stereotype in Manga, but it feels like the readers are supposed to accept this, well stereotype, as part of a world full of well defined characters – basically, having such an empty character deflates the reality, and hence the intensity, of the story. (It’s POSSIBLE, I suppose, that it’s a parody of a common stereotype and is meant to be awful, but that would be surprising – The rest of the book plays it’s premise pretty straight.)

Honestly, I can’t see such a terrible designed character existing in American mainstream comics, where we can generally expect our female characters to have more than two character traits. And not to be completely dominated by the men. And, oh yeah, not act like retarded fucking cheerleader smile robot all the goddamn time. OK, Yeah, different cultures and gender roles and blah, blah, blah, but I gotta say that the lack of this kind of shitty characterization is a solid point in favor of American comics.

But that’s really my only problem. If most manga is like this, it’s no wonder the kids aren’t buying Spider-man or Outsiders. This is simply a much better piece of art overall.

OK, I’m done reviewing. But, just for fun, I’m going to make some predictions.

FOR THE LOVE OF JESUS DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS AFTER VOLUME SIX.

But let’s see how close I can get. *POSSIBLE SPOILERS HERE* and I can’t figure out how to do that tag thing. So if you haven’t read this, stop…. now.

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OK. Everybody past this point has read the book, right?

(A) That girl Shinigami hasn’t done much for the plot so far, and I’d bet my left nut that there are no red herrings in this series. She’s going to be REAL important, real soon. She’ll die, and she’ll (either directly or in) take someone with her, either the male Shingami or one of the main characters.

(B) Light’s dad is going to die. But probably not ’cause of Light. I know, it feels like it’s been leading up to Light having to kill his old man, but Death Note is all about keeping the audience guessing, not inevitable tragedy. But the book isn’t going to turn down the intensity either, which means that poor pop’s toast.

(C) OK… The relationship between “L” and Light is going to change. Neither of ’em will die at least ’till volume 11, but I have a feeling L is going to end up subordinate to Light.

(D) OH GEEZ! L is going to end up with the notebook, isn’t he! That I’d almost bet on. Maybe Light’s sister, too. Again, no red herrings and she hasn’t had much to do with the plot.


(E) We haven’t seen much of L’s parentage. Which is weird because the whole story is playing compare and contrast with L and Light, and Light’s family are well-defined and important. There’s a big reveal there – Maybe he’s someone’s long lost brother or son or somethin’?

(F) The Cop who left to be a cop. (It makes sense if you read it. ) Filthy, filthy traitor.

Don’t Tell Me If I’m Right!

(But maybe you can give teeny little hints.)

* Not individual Japanese people. Just the culture, and that’s mostly ’cause my main political bias is anti-authoritarian.

** Although I’m not seeing the Grant Morrison comparisons, T. Like, at all.

*** Huh. Windows Spell-check doesn’t recognize “immersive.” I always feel proud when I know a word that spell-check doesn’t. But “immersive” is common enough that’s kind of a hollow victory. C’mon Spell Check! Shape up!