Death Note review

Apr 16, 2021
As a modern classic that also helped me get into the medium of manga and anime, I hold Death Note in warm regard. This naturally led to me deciding to reread the entire manga when I got back into said mediums two or so years ago by purchasing the Black Editions. While I still enjoyed myself, I found myself developing new opinions and feelings regarding this title.

[Story - 7]

In case if you don't know what this manga is about, here's the elevator pitch: A high-school kid finds a notebook that can kill people, and decides to become a god with it. From there, he is drawn into a world of psychological games and plans upon plans.

Now, if that doesn't quite hook you in......that's okay, actually! I now understand why it might not appeal to some people: whether it reeks of pretention (to a point), seems to prioritize plot over character (which can be argued both for and against), or any other reason. However, I feel that its core being the 'games' that Light, our protagonist, both initiates and participates in is a huge strength for the title. Even if it does come at the cost of some characterization, it's still riveting to read along and try to anticipate (or foresee, if it's a reread) how these events will play out.

Because of this focus on thriller elements, Death Note has pretty good pacing; For Part I (L), it's all tightly woven together to build towards that shockingly divisive climax we all know. Even the 'breather' scenes serve to build, as they are either ruminations on the themes or developing the relationships between everyone involved. Part II (Near/Mello) is a bit weaker than I would have liked to remember; It has a tendency to get wrapped up in the inner workings of character's minds, along with the plans these characters develop and partake in, but it still succeeds in developing the tension towards that epic finale in SPITE of said deviations.

Thematically, Death Note is.......actually holding up pretty good. As somebody who is going through a coming-of-age, it was interesting to see an extremely-warped version of this appear in the title through Light, Near, and Mello. I don't mean that in a literal sense (though a corruption of one can be seen), but in a sense of one's moral compass and definitions of what 'justice' & 'crimes' are. While it's a bit ham-fisted at times, the discussions of how morality is perceived by society, both at large and by certain factions within it such as the media and law enforcement, held in these 108 chapters is worth reading. Outside of the core theme of 'moral relativity', I believe there isn't a lot to be said in Death Note. Any other themes people may find, such as mob mentalities or the ethics about the death penalty, ultimately tie back into this one.

[Art - 10]

I'm gonna be honest, I still love Obata as a mangaka. I just can't bring myself to nitpick on his work, which is OH so beautifully rendered in a 'gothic urban fantasy' art style. His choice in wardrobe for every human (Light's honor student apparel, L's slob savant look), the gorgeous otherworldly designs of the Shinigami, the tantalizing realism of the settings, the simplicity & clarity in the action, and even the very faces + bodies of the characters all tie together to perfectly portray just what is going on. It gets even better when Ohba crosses over into the mental ruminations and monologues of certain characters, with brilliant symbolism and an even more distant feeling in how it's rendered.

TL;DR If you're gonna read it for one reason, read it for the art.

[Character - 7]

This is probably the one aspect of the manga that I have the most different emotions about compared to my first foray. It's still pretty solid, but I can see some of the cracks start to show.

I'll try to keep the positives short since everybody and their mother has sung praises about it: Light Yagami's transformation from a diligent, yet bored, student to the maniacal, yet arrogant, Kira is so fascinating to see no matter how many times you go through it. It's especially helpful that you're shown every step he takes towards reaching this persona, and the steps he takes following this apex. L is the perfect foil for Light: While he's quite the match for him, and possibly the only person who could be, he's outright ambiguous about what he has in store. This moral ambiguity in our designated antagonist greatly helps depict the core theme of Grey vs. Gray Morality. While a lot of people might not like them, Near, Mello, Misa, and Mikami serve as both great foils for L/Light AND as people who genuinely contribute to the themes and plot occurring. Near, in particular, is somebody I adore; In my honest opinion, he's not just an 'L expy', as some may decry, but a deconstruction of what L WAS when it came to certain traits such as his ambivalence towards people and general moral ambiguity (shared with Mello). Couple this with sprinklings of originality such as an absurd fixation with toys reflecting a state of boredom (and innate youth) and a similarly dishevelled appearance, and you have one of my favourite characters in the whole medium.

However, with these positives, I've found that I have certain issues with how people are written here. For starters: While I don't quite demand that EVERYBODY be reasonably fleshed out, I would have liked to see more development for supporting characters that AREN'T Soichiro or Matsuda. I do recall a few minor characters receiving some, such as Aizawa and certain Yotsuba members, but they usually don't get a lot. I attribute this to the focus on our core cast and the games they play, but I would have liked to see some peripheral development to see how the plot and themes might impact people outside of this inner circle of sorts.

Another issue I have is rather spoilery, so I'll have to be rather vague: Light's actions in the endgame. It just seems odd that he wouldn't have accounted for such twists to have occurred, even if he was enveloped in the hubris he would have inevitably developed. Speaking with the perspective of Matsuda's theory in the final chapter to be at least partially true, it's especially baffling when you consider that he was able to still contact Mikami preceding the series of events that kickstart the endgame. I'm still okay with how the finale turned out in terms of dramatic appeal, but it gets frustrating to dwell on when you start to think about the logic behind how it arrived to that point.

More issues that I have, but are more nitpicky, are: Misa's apparent lack of growth even taking her comedic value into account + her actions in the endgame, Mello somehow not predicting how /THAT/ would have happened, and a lack of insight save for one great chapter into Mikami's POV.

[Enjoyment/Overall - 8]

To restate the opening lines, it was still enjoyable to go through this modern manga classic again after so many years of not engaging with it and having matured a bit more. I would recommend this to absolutely anyone, whether they be a newbie to animanga, an experienced consumer who hasn't touched it somehow, or even a veteran who has gone through it once or twice. I guarantee you'll find something new to think about because of it, whether or not you like it all that much.


Death Note
Death Note
Autor Obata, Takeshi