Friday, January 11, 2008

A moral dilemma

The first volume of this manga series opens in the realm of the Shinigami, a kind of Japanese death god (or, more aptly, demon). The landscape is harsh and barren, and the Shinigami are gruesome, nightmarish creatures. One of the Shinigami mentions to some others that he dropped his "death note" in the human world. This appears to be a serious faux pas.

Cut to modern-day Japan, where a notebook falls out of the sky. Teenage straight-A student Light happens to see it fall, and he picks it up. Inside the book are written some instructions: "The human whose name is written in this note shall die."

Further rules (time of death, means of death, etc.) follow, and at first Light thinks it's a stupid, sick joke. But just to see what happens, he decides to write someone's name. He's a smart kid, though, and figures it's best not to take any chances. On the news he hears of a man who's killed several people and is holding others hostage in (where else?) a preschool. It seems a safe bet to experiment on the man, and when he drops dead of a heart attack right on cue, Light begins his crusade.

He writes name after name of convicted criminals in the book, and they die, one after the other. The next thing he knows, Ryuk, the Shinigami who dropped the book in the first place, appears in Light's bedroom. Ryuk is a ghoulish figure who's a sort of cross between the Joker in Batman and some of the darker characters from Sandman. It turns out that Ryuk was bored out of his skull in the Shinigami realm and wanted to stir up some trouble, so he dropped his book on purpose. Light is more intelligent and resourceful than Ryuk had dared to hope, and Ryuk gleefully sits back to watch events unfold. Light learns more about the cost of using the death note (he won't go to heaven or hell when he dies, for example, and he's the only one who can see Ryuk). Even so, Light moves forward with his plan to kill all the bad guys and make the world a better place. A better place over which, of course, he will rule.

But not if L, a mysterious crime investigator who is determined to stop Light's killing spree, has his way. It appears that L is resourceful and intelligent as well, and he will prove a tough adversary for Light. With L hot on his trail, Light makes plans to protect himself and continue his crusade.

This first volume in the Death Note series is gripping, at times humorous, and thought provoking. My library shelves the series in the adult section (for obvious reasons), and I would recommend it to older teens and adults. There has been some controversy in China regarding this and other similar series, and I can see why it would cause a stir. At the same time, what a great way to discuss ethics, especially among teens. Is Light right to do what he's doing? After all, he's killing only convicted criminals. Why do some people think he is wrong? Some think he's on the same level as the people he's killing - is that true? What would you do if you found a death note? These are all questions that can generate some interesting discussion. I'm enjoying the interplay among the characters and am very curious to see the direction the next volume will take.

Death Note, Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (Shonen Jump Advanced, 2005)

Other blog reviews:
Reading Interests of Young Adults
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Way of the Geek

17 comments:

  1. I have yet to read a graphic novel of any kind. But this is the year!!

    On a side note, I'm so glad you liked Stardust!! It was such fun, wasn't it??

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  2. I've never tried out a graphic novel before but my library seems to have a few (just not these).

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  3. Stephanie and Ladytink - I have really been enjoying reading graphic novels. I think I started a couple years ago, when I realized how popular they had become, and when kids at the library that I'd recommended stuff to started recommending them to me. It seemed only fair to give them a shot. At first I found myself getting a little confused, because I am so text oriented. But once I slowed down and started to enjoy the interplay between the illustrations and the dialog, the graphic novels really came to life. It feels a bit like a cross between watching TV and reading!

    My favorite one is called XXXholic - it's kind of a strange fantasy/humor mix.

    And Stephanie - yes, we really did enjoy Stardust! This morning my 7-year-old said, "I really liked that movie last night!" And no one had nightmares about evil witches, which is always a good thing.

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  4. I have this on my list to read this year. My husband beat me to it and finished the whole series really enjoying it. It was only last year I started reading Manga and this was recommended to me by a couple of people so I hope I anjoy it. I also want to read the Tarot Cafe series this year as well. I hope you enjoy volume 2!

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  5. That's great that your husband enjoyed them. I'm trying to get mine to read Interworld, which I just finished and loved, and he's so busy that he hasn't had a chance to start it. Once he does, though, he won't be able to put it down! Heh heh.

    I haven't even heard of Tarot Cafe - I will look for them. I have #2 of Death Note but haven't started it yet.

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  6. well hello,
    well I would have to say my favorite character has to be L
    hes such a unike character though I have yet to see his history except for the fact that he is one
    of the most prestiegege detactive.
    though now get the piont that he only ever seems to eat sweets.

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  7. L is definitely very intriguing! I have a lot of unanswered questions about him - I'm wondering how he started working with the police, especially as someone anonymous but that they trust. He's certainly a bit strange, but also very smart. I think Light will have to think fast to stay ahead of him!

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  8. hello,
    yes it is indeed I.
    I still find it parculeiar Iam the only anonymous on any of the sites iv,e posted to.
    well Who is wrong and whos wright and why?
    well light is ideed justified in what he is doing ,but defeated the whole piont of his venture.
    ,him becoming stll more crooked with each murder.
    At this piont simply killing whoevers in his way and using everyne with munipulive ways.
    example playing all those women to keep his cover.
    this however is for the fact that he seems to think in the way were the justifies the means.
    L however from what iv,e seen even though iv,e seen less then 20 episodes seems to think in the state of mind were the maens justifie the end.
    Him also simlply doing his duty to serve and protect like many of the other detectives those of which L
    killed,and now even if Light does suceed in his journey it will still be piontless for he seems to become the very thing he set out to destroy.

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  9. so in a way there both write but light has seemed to go way over board and defeated the whole purpose of it.

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  10. It's true - I've only had a few anonymous posts here on my blog. I think if you start your own blog (unless maybe you have one already) it is fun to pick a username so people can go to your blog when you leave a comment and see what your other thoughts are.

    It's also funny that Light's father is in the police himself, but Light seems unmoved by what the police are going through in order to catch him. Especially since he's such a model student and so smart. Maybe it's because of this that he's got the arrogance to sacrifice innocent people to his plan. You are absolutely right - he has definitely defeated the whole purpose of his plan.

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  11. Its really is indeed unfortainite though in the end that L dies I like him.light is
    in my opinion a rather dole character.

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  12. Oh, I wish you hadn't told me that - I'm not that far into the series! I'm sad to hear it, though.

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  13. oh Iam teribly sorry to anyone who has,nt read yet ,I hav,nt auctully either I watched the adult swim series every Saturday night.

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  14. my god, my freinds are right I need to get a life that or get a myspace account "honestly"!

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  15. No problem, anonymous - I still want to continue with the series! Maybe with the forewarning I won't be too upset when it happens. :-)

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  16. AnonymousJuly 23, 2009

    A bit late, but I'm assuming that by now you've probably read more of the series? I have to say that while it was fairly obvious L was going to die (since the spoiler has already been said), I was more annoyed with its occurrence in the anime than in the film. I can't recall exactly how it played out in the manga (it's been awhile), but I believe it was similar to the movie (I think) which gives L's death much more meaning.

    Sure it was interesting to see evil triumph over good for once in the anime version, but the whole Near schtick was just a nuisance thereafter. I'd rather have good beat evil with a sound ending than evil beat good followed by a weak ending.

    And yes, the movie was a bit cheesy and weak in places, but overall the story was far tighter and more cohesive than at least one of its counterparts.

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  17. Hi, Anonymous - thanks for your comments! I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven't yet continued with the series, but I do plan to. I got sidetracked and somehow never went back (also the spoiler comment kind of took the wind from my sails, I guess). I'm glad you brought the series to my attention!

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