My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the Authors:
Tsugumi Ohba born in Tokyo, Japan is the pen name of a Japanese writer of manga, best known for authoring the ‘Death Note’ manga series with illustrator Takeshi Obata from 2003 to 2006, which has 30 million collected volumes in circulation. The duo’s second series Bakuman (2008–2012), was also successful with 15 million in circulation.
Ohba’s real identity is a closely guarded secret. As stated by the profile placed at the beginning of each Death Note manga, Ohba collects teacups and develops manga plots while holding knees on a chair, similar to a habit of L, one of the main characters of the series.
Takeshi Obata (born February 11, 1969) is a Japanese manga artist who usually works as an illustrator in collaboration with a writer. He first gained international attention for Hikaru no Go (1998–2003) with Yumi Hotta but is better known for Death Note (2003–2006) and Bakuman (2008–2012) with Tsugumi Ohba. Obata has mentored several well-known manga artists.
Publication Year: 2003
Let me preface this review by saying that ‘Death Note’ is one of my favorite mystery thriller series of all time, if not my favorite. I was introduced to it by my brother who basically forced me to watch the anime as he was a big fan of it; plus he wanted to get me into anime as he loved it and wanted me to share his hobby but I couldn’t get the appeal behind it. I remember we even had an argument about it.
I believed manga/anime is not really my thing if you know what I mean. Guess what? I was utterly and irrevocably mistaken! He told me not to be judgemental about something unless I’ve tried it or at least made an effort to know about it. So, I did and I know, it’s kind of ridiculous to associate a trivial thing to something profound but for real, this experience has taught me to be open minded about things in general.
‘Death Note’ revolves around Light Yagami, a high school student in Japan. He’s an extremely smart overachiever who excels at almost everything he does. Nothing is difficult for him and he’s bored out of his mind. On the other hand, we have Shinigami (God of Death) Ryuk who is also fed up in his Shinigami realm as there’s nothing much to do, so he decides to beat his boredom by dropping his ‘Death Note’ in the human realm.
Light’s life changes immensely when one fateful day, he discovers a ‘Death Note’ lying in his schoolyard. It’s a notebook that allows you to kill any person whose name is written in it provided you know what they look like. At first, he dismisses the notebook thinking that it’s just a prank. But, he soon discovers that it’s legit when he decides to verify it by writing a person’s name in the notebook and that person ends up dying. Now, it seems like Light knows exactly what he wants to do: use the power of ‘Death Note’ to get rid of the evil in the world. Due to this, chaos ensues as the criminals start dropping dead mysteriously around the world.
As the deaths of the criminals continue, people praise this mysterious entity and name him ‘Kira’ which means killer. A special task force is formed to find this peculiar killer who is able to kill people without leaving any clues behind. The task force is headed by an equally smart L, a widely famous detective whose name and identity are obscure. He openly challenges Light by claiming that he will find him and punish him. Therefore, begins the cat-and-mouse chase to see who can uncover other’s identity and bring justice in the world.
“This world is rotten and those who are making it rot deserve to die. Someone has to do it, so why not me? Even if it means sacrificing my own mind and soul, it’s worth it. Because the world… can’t go on like this. I wonder… what if someone else had picked up this notebook? Is there anyone out there other than me who’d be willing to eliminate the vermin from the world? If I don’t do it, then who will? That’s just it: there’s no one, but I can do it. In fact, I’m the only one who can. I’ll do it. Using the death note, I’ll change the world.”
It is one of the best-written mysteries incorporating a supernatural element. But, for me, the cherry on the cake was the conflict between the two main characters having different ideologies. On one side, we have Light who believes killing a person is justified as long as he deserves to die; a person who has committed a crime should be punished for it and death of that person means one less criminal and one more step towards creating a utopian society where only honest and hardworking people exist.
On the other side, we have L who believes that it’s not anybody’s place to play God and create a society by cherry picking good people and eliminating bad people as he has no right or qualification to do so. Both Light and L are convinced that they’re justice and they’ll do anything to uphold their idea of justice. Hence, begins a battle of wits to defeat each other and ensure that justice prevails.
Light and L are two of my absolute favorite characters of all times. Despite having contrasting beliefs, both are similar in many ways. Both of them are extremely smart, in fact, smarter than other people around them. That’s why they’re able to grasp each other’s perspective which causes a psychological war between them. It’s like playing house of cards; one wrong move and you’re caught. They may be rivals, but in each other, they find their equals which sort of creates a connection between them.
L is an eccentric character who has shadows beneath his eyes, he is addicted to sweet things and he has a peculiar way of talking and sitting. He was absolutely adorable and he added a little lightness to the story. Similarly, Ryuk was another comical character who loves apples and his favorite catchphrase is: Humans are so interesting! Who knew God of Death could be this cool! He hangs out with Light and guides him and often annoys him. But, throughout the book, he remains neutral and enjoys the fruits of his labor! He might look terrifying but I assure you, he’s a sweetheart. I also loved the characters in police investigation team assisting L.
The story takes place over the course of roughly ten years that begins with the appearance of Death Note in the human realm. A lot of characters get introduced as the story progresses and there are a lot of twists and turns that kept me hooked. I enjoyed it immensely. In the beginning, you find yourself rooting for Light but as the events unfold, you start leaning towards L and sometimes, find yourself shifting between two ideologies. I loved the ending as it shows that justice always prevails.
“What is right from wrong? What is good from evil? Nobody can truly distinguish between them. Even if there was a god. Now, supposing a god and his world existed, even then I’d stop and think for myself. I’d decide for myself whether his teachings are right or wrong. After all, I am just the same as you. I put faith in my own convictions as to what I believe is right, and consider them to be righteous.”
So, what is justice? This brilliantly written story raises this important question and it makes you seriously think about this question. Is it ok to kill someone if their death won’t affect anyone? I see this same question being raised in the classic ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky which is another book I loved which might’ve inspired Death Note. Also, what’s interesting about Death Note is that that creator’s identity is a closely guarded secret which is so interesting!
Another question the Death Note raises is: are people inherently evil or is it the power that makes them so? I’m sure you’ve heard: With great power comes great responsibility. But, is it true that great power also gives the power to justify evil? Light’s sole purpose is getting rid of bad people by killing them which does not make him any better than those whom he killed. If he didn’t have the power, he wouldn’t have gotten a chance to kill so freely. That’s something to think about.
If you’re interested in the story, read the manga. It’s only 13 volumes long and easy to read. I finished the whole series in like 2 days. But, I’d recommend the anime series as its also well done and the story stays true to the manga plus the amazing soundtracks! You don’t wanna miss out on that. The one thing I absolutely love about anime is their beautiful and emotional music. Don’t go for the Netflix movie as I’ve heard nothing but bad things about it.
All in all, Death Note will always be a favorite classic manga/anime series of mine and I highly recommend reading it!