Summary for the un-caught up. A handful of commentators recommended the Manga series Death Note. Since this was before we had a Manga reviewer-type (Hey Kethylia) who knows what she’s doing, I figured I’d read this and report back, even though Manga ain’t usually my beat.
And I liked it a heck of a lot. It was a
Nah, scratch that last article. THE best example of effective plotting I’ve ever read in comics. The story kept moving, reinventing itself, knocking the feet out from under the characters and laughing, laughing, laughing….
And, yeah, I freaked out like a crazy person at the slightest HINT of spoilers, because I really wanted to see what was next for myself. But now I’ve polished off the rest of the series and….
Yeah, the commentators were right.
This series got worse in a hurry.
Volumes 7 through 11
See, here’s the problem: The first six issues were about the two main characters coming together. They start out not knowing each other, than only knowing each others names, then the plot rushes forward like a freight train and BAM! they meet and they become friends sorta and it all, predictably, ends in handcuffs.
And then came volume seven.
This status quo that had been building and building? Gone. Buh-bye. But that’s the sort of thing you expect from Death Note.
Which means that the remaining issues are spent building a new status quo, which could have been fine. Except that the new status quo is really kinda close to the old status quo, but the closeness between the characters that anchored the plot since the beginning was gone, and the charactersare further apart, physically, mentally, spiritually. It feels like a regression. Let’s call this BIG PROBLEM A.
We’ve also got BIG PROBLEM B, which results from BIG PROBLEM A. When you have main characters not really interacting because click for spoilers.
Keep in mind that Death Note is reallly plot dense. Which means that we need a lot of explanation to keep track fo what’s going on.
Which means the finished result is a plentitude* of pages of people sitting and talking. We’ll call this BIG PROBLEM B. Talking heads work well in comics very, very rarely.
Talking heads in film have the advantage of the actor’s body language, rhythm, and inflection. It your screen star is good enough, they can sit there and make it cool. Hell, the right actor can SLEEP cool.
Talking Heads in prose can play around with the language offering more rhythmic options, and it’s relatively easy for the prose writer to create narrative asides and scene changes without losing track of the main story. So even if they’re not James Joyce the prose writer can keep the reader interested by shifting the scene around.
In comics you got pictures of people talking.
Which gets old after forty-odd pages.
I’m looking at you, beginning of volume 11.
For comics to remain exciting, characters have to be DOING stuff. All. The. Time.
And there was an awful lot of stuff not being done between volumes eight and eleven. The plot doesn’t completely fall down but you can feel it teetering under it’s own weight. Creeeeeaaaaaaaaaaak.
Which ain’t to say that these books are ALL bad. Even “significantly worse,” in this context, is still pretty good. Stuff I liked:
Themes: While it’s always been fairly clear what the major themes of the series are, Volume 8 moves them from subtext to text as the characters reveal their individual positions on “what’s good” and “what’s evil” for the first time, and it’s interesting stuff. Light argues that his ends justify the means, and that history will judge him favorably. The Click for Spoilers, sensibly don’t give a crap about history. There’s legal and illegal, right and wrong. It made the world more alive, more real to see that these super genius characters are as aware of the big picture thematic stuff at work in their conflict as us doofus readers.
Misa… Misa Misa Misa. I really did not like Misa. And I posted about it at length last time.** The commentators were split about fifty/fifty with me against Misa and against me with Misa.
But to tell you the truth, I’m starting to warm up to her a little bit.
Let’s look at the one scene in the whole damn 12 volume thang I believe I can spoil without ruining major plot-points relating to the rise of Light. That’s because this is Misa’s scene, start ‘ta finish. Misa and Kiyomi Takada – the sorta spokesman for Light’s sorta organization are having dinner. They’re also both head over heels in love/lust with Light, there’s some snappy back and forth and the scene ends with Misa, bottle of wine in hand, leaning back and smiling contentedly.
I get it now. While the nature-of-morality stuff is the main attraction, the second big theme is that each character – and please, forgive me for this – reflects Light back at himself. Light and “L” are obviously two sides of the same coin, but Light sees himself through his father’s morality, his sister’s innocence, Teru’s absolute devotion to the cause….
An’ so on.
And although I didn’t completely grok this the first time, Misa’s a reflection too.
Her existence isn’t defined by loving Light, exactly. it’s playing a role, and more than that playing a game. So her life parallells the Light vs. “L” war, except she sees it as Misa vs. the World (or at least the vaginated parts of the world) to hold on to Light, who doesn’t really love her. Which, sure, makes her a narrow-minded, immoral bitch. But in Death Notes world of ever-so-slippery morality that’s almost like validation.
So I see what Tsugumi Ohba (if that is “her” real name) is doing here. I still say the story could’ve benefited greatly from less of her.. But them’s the breaks.
Was a really solid ending, much better than the last four volumes. But it also got weirdly American.
Well, more similar to American comics artwise. Lemme explain: Like I said in the last go-round, the art from Takeshi Obata was designed to (A) serve the narrative and (B) not to call attention to itself.
Or it WAS.
Until volume 12.
All of a sudden we’ve got repeated half-page shots of Light wrapped in shadows all hair standing-on-end and cackling evil. All of a sudden ‘an for the first time the art is screaming “Pay Attention To MEEEEEEEEEE!” There’s nearly full-page shots, panels that aren’t aligned at ninety degree angles on the page… All of a sudden we’ve taken a turn towards Neal Adams.
And it works, mostly. I had problems with the ending, where Click For Spoilers. And, yeah, their were a lot of talking head panels. But those are quibbles in the face of the masterful use of mood and (once again) continually escalating tension as we watch Light…
Nah. That would be telling.
Last Death Note time time I made some predictions. Let’s see how I did before I wrap up.
I give myself full marks on (A) and (B). 2 out of ten for (C) and (D), for being technically correct in the meat of both but not really capturing the spirit of what actually happened. (E) I’m giving myself a charitable 4 out of 10 for asking the right question that related back to a major plot development. And, yeah, a big fat goose egg for letter (F).
So 28 out of a possible 60. Pretty freakin’ terrible, really. But Death Note is not an easy series to figure out – and I mean that in the best possible way.
Alla this leaves me wondering what I’m going to do between now and when volume 13 comes out, though.
* Ha! Had to go to the Thesaurus for that one, but it’s a real word and You Don’t Know It. Eat it, Windows SpellCheck.
As an upside, Spellcheck doesn’t recognize “Spellcheck.” So I count this as a victory.
** P.S. Wasn’t that feminist criticism? I THINK that was feminist criticism! And if so, who do I have to blow to get linked to by When Fangirls Attack? 🙂