Review: Death Note (manga) by Tsugumi Ohba. Illustrated by Takeshi Obata.
My rating of the series: Five out of five stars.
“Finally a chance to
Find a little justice.
There’s nowhere to run to once the name is penned.
Take what fortune grants you,
Use it while you’ve got it.
Once you have begun, you write it to the end.”
-“Hurricane” from the Death Note musical concept album.
About two or three years ago, one of my favorite YouTubers decided to review the story Death Note and Netflix’s 2017 adaptation of said story.
I felt that the review was entertaining, but I didn’t feel enticed to pick up the manga, so I just watched the review and moved on.
Fast-forward to a week ago, I was attending a virtual Jeremy Jordan concert and he decided to perform the song “Hurricane” from the Death Note musical for the listening audience, having portrayed the main character Light on the American concept album back in 2015.
Anyway, Jordan’s performance of the song finally pushed me to pick up the original Death Note manga and see what the story was actually like.
Oh, man – I have been missing out big time!
The main story gets rather complicated, so I’m just going to try to summarize what I can without spoiling too much.
The story opens and we are introduced to the shinigami (death god) Ryuk. Ryuk admits to being bored in his realm and remembers he dropped his Death Note in the human world. Ryuk quickly decides to go down there and get it back, knowing that the book gives the user the ability to kill someone simply by writing their name.
When Ryuk’s Death Note is picked up by student Light Yagami, Light decides to use it to kill off the world’s criminals with a string of heart attacks. This catches the attention of the reclusive detective, L., who vows to bring him to justice.
Will Light prevail? Or will L. expose and capture him?
Initial Thoughts upon Completion
This series was very hard to put down. I often found myself spending hours upon hours going through the volumes and trying to piece together how it all connected.
Both Light and L. are incredibly intelligent characters and often their mental capacities made it difficult for me to decide whom exactly I was rooting for because I was so impressed by the both of them.
The battle of wits between L. and Light is easily one of the biggest draws of this series. Seeing the two of them go at it, constantly trying to outwit one another, is absolutely fascinating!
That being said, those battles wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating if it weren’t for the characters themselves.
Light is a fascinating main character to follow. While the beginning of his story moves kind of quickly, I eventually found myself captivated (but also horrified) by his actions. His descent into the role of Kira (the name he is given by the public after killing waves of criminals) is absolutely amazing to see!
Light’s ingenuity when trying to evade capture by Interpol was really awesome as well. Even though I was aware that his idea of justice was dangerously perverted, I caught myself often feeling worried for him because the stakes were so high.
This kid proved to be nothing but a manipulative psychopath, yet I was still rooting for him, at least in the beginning. The constant twists and turns the story took because of his actions were fascinating to watch!
At the same time, though, I was anxious to see what would happen to him if he got caught. I love how the author makes it clearer as time goes on that L. is closing in. This makes it very hard to put the series down.
What? Ohba and Obata kept L.’s face hidden at first. I’m not spoiling the surprise!
Joking aside, I really like L. His suspicion of Light was captivating to me! Like I said earlier, seeing these two constantly try to outwit one another was amazing, and L.’s suspicion of Light kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire story!
I also love that L. had heirs set up, forcing Light to continue facing him even if it wasn’t the L. he knew. Seeing how deep the lineage went was amazing, because it showed just how far gone Light was in this situation.
Admittedly, there is something of a shift in the series once the reader is introduced to Near and Mello.
The story slows down a bit, but I actually think that was intentional on Ohba’s part, in order to keep certain things from the reader that could spoil the end of the series.
Near’s plan to expose Light – once revealed – is nothing short of brilliant and makes the slower pace of the last few volumes more than worth it! Near proves to be every bit as smart as Light, and I love seeing the two of them go head-to-head.
I also found myself feeling kind of bad for Near when he mentioned how he’s doing all of this for L.’s sake. His sense of justice for L. went immediately up against Kira’s idea of justice and I loved seeing that contrast.
Ryuk the Shinigami
Of course, the story wouldn’t have gone the way it did if it weren’t for Ryuk the shinigami having dropped the Death Note.
Ryuk is a very interesting character. I like that, despite his evil-looking appearance, he’s actually neutral throughout the story, not interfering with Light’s actions or trying to influence him.
It’s a really great subversion of the reader’s expectations.
While the real focus of the story is Light and his use of the Death Note, it was fun to see Ryuk interact with the human world and people’s reactions to seeing him once they touched the Death Note.
I like how, even when Light’s father gets involved in the investigation, Ryuk doesn’t work to influence that, either, because it would ruin his role as a spectator to the “fun” (his words) he’s witnessing.
I also need to give quick mention to Ryuk’s final conversation with Light in the series. Without spoiling the circumstances, I will say that it is an incredibly satisfying moment and fits perfectly given that Ryuk was the one who dropped the Death Note in the first place.
Misa is a character I actually liked a lot. Although she’s not the smartest person in the story, I found myself sympathizing with her because of her circumstances and her adoration of Kira.
Her innocent and bubbly personality made me feel really bad for her when it came to how Light treated her.
I find it really sad that she never gave him a taste of his own medicine for the way she was treated, but – at the same time – I understand why that wasn’t the case.
Light’s manipulation of pretty much any woman he came into contact with really infuriated me, and it made the ending of the series just plain tragic for Misa in my eyes, even though we never get confirmation of her being upset by what happened.
I can imagine it, though, and that’s more than enough.
Light as L.
I need to mention this, because it becomes extremely significant once Near is introduced in the story.
Light taking on L.’s job as lead investigator in the Kira case was really interesting. I found myself amazed at how he was able to twist the situation to best benefit Kira, which – of course – heightened Near’s suspicion of him.
Seeing him repeatedly work to sabotage the investigation so he could continue on as Kira left my head spinning a bit, and I found myself extremely concerned for the other members of the task force at the time, because Light treated them as disposable.
Kira as the Judge of the World
I like that we see a bit of the world after Kira started to be accepted. It’s part of what gradually turned me away from Light’s side and made me want him to get caught.
This series often has its readers switching sides since Light and L. are both so brilliant, so I was genuinely surprised when I realized I actually wanted Light to be brought to justice.
Seeing the world slowly start to accept Kira was terrifying, because Light was stepping into the godlike role he dreamed for himself at the beginning of the series and it felt like absolutely no one was safe.
With this, we also get a further glimpse into just how corrupt Light is.
There are hints of it early on before Kira is in complete control – with Light beginning to kill off FBI agents and people trying to stop him – but the culmination of all his work into Kira’s “perfect world” is genuinely disturbing.
This disturbing atmosphere was another major thing that I liked about this series. I found it fascinating to see the world slowly mold into Kira’s image.
This series has a sort of continuous flow to it, with each volume covering just one part of the story. Ohba typically ends the volumes on cliffhangers, so each volume is just part of the entire story being told.
At first, I was a little annoyed that there were as many as twelve volumes, but given how much work must go into each volume with just the artwork alone, I understand why that was the case.
I really like that the usage of cliffhangers worked to keep me invested in the story. Personally, volume 7 is one of my favorites in the series because of all the amazing twists and turns in it!
I can’t forget to mention the artwork in the manga. Obata is a fantastic artist and his illustrations of the events of the story are really beautiful and worked wonders for keeping me invested.
It really feels like he and Ohba are completely in sync when it comes to telling this story and I love how the writing and the artwork come together so beautifully.
I wish I could show one of the panels, but I’m concerned about copyright, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The art in the manga is awesome!
I think I’ve covered pretty much everything there is to cover. If I haven’t made it clear enough already, I absolutely loved this series! It’s intense, engaging, dark, and left me with a lot to think about.
If you’re into mangas, this is definitely not one to miss out on! It more than deserves the attention it gets and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone willing to take a look at a darker story with some deep, insightful themes!