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
Way of the Geek