The shonen manga Death Note, by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, remains popular long after its conclusion not just because of any infamy or controversy the series has gained, but also because of the generally thoughtful approach to the storytelling and the series’ philosophical matters.
Death Note, Vol. 1 introduces the primary players and central concepts. Light Yagami is a high school student with great prospects for the future, but in spite of his academic achievements, he is bored. Ryuk is a shinigami – a death god, and he is bored out of his mind with the sorry state of affairs in the Realm of the Shinigami. To have some fun, Ryuk drops his Death Note into the human world. The Death Note is a notebook, and any human whose name is written on a page within the notebook will die.
Light finds the Death Note and learns of its use via instructions included inside, so he decides to use it to rid the world of evil – especially of the vilest criminals. After criminals start dropping dead in large numbers, Interpol assigns the legendary detective, L, to track down the killer of these criminals, a killer they name “Kira.” With L seemingly getting closer to discovering his activities, Light engages in a game of cat and mouse with the detective, while trying to stay true to his noble goal.
The seven chapters that comprise this first volume of Death Note serve to introduce the story, settings, and characters to readers, which they do with some detail and quite a bit of efficiency. Ohba not only moves quickly to establish the hook – how Light Yagami uses the Death Note – but the author also begins to dig into the why of Light’s activities. Ohba presents Light as a very intelligent, thoughtful, and well-meaning young man, but a young man who is also conniving, manipulative, and dangerous. In these early chapters, Ohba does make one wonder to what extent the Death Note has affected Light’s personality. Has this supernatural notebook changed Light or merely brought out his true nature?
The graphic storytelling and art by Takeshi Obata is excellent. Obata establishes Death Note’s suspenseful mood, and balances the narrative’s supernatural and real world aspects. With his drawings, Obata peers into Light’s soul, allowing the reader to investigate the character. Obata also creates an impenetrable aura of mystery around the detective L that makes this excellent series all the better.