Writer: Tsugumi Ohba
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata
English publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Shonen, psychological thriller, supernatural, detective fiction
Rating: T+ (older teens and adults)
Release date: November 1, 2005
Note: All manga illustrations come from fan-translated scans. The dialogue itself is not the same as the official version and differs slightly.
Originally introduced in the Weekly Shonen Jump, the Death Note manga eventually went on to become a commercial success—amassing over 26 million dollars from manga sales alone. The financial victory of the manga drove the franchise to spawn an anime adaptation, a series of live-action films, and more.
Among anime viewers and manga readers, the image of the black, supernatural notebook has become a symbol synonymous with the psychological thrill-ride that is Death Note. In this series of reviews, let’s take a look under that blackened cover and see what lies beneath.
With his pursuer’s name safely in-hand, Light Yagami puts his previous Death Note experiments in motion, leading all twelve FBI agents to their demise without any possibility that he could be found out…
…or will he?
When one deceased agent’s fiancé—a retired FBI agent named Naomi Misora—learns of her lover’s death, she’s quick to suspect Kira of the killing. Putting her investigative abilities back to work, Naomi uncovers a series of incriminating clues that could lead to Light’s downfall. As Naomi tries to take the Intel directly to L himself, Light determines to put a stop to her.
Meanwhile, the miracle-working detective, L, decides to step out of the shadows for the first time in his life. Privately meeting with Light’s father and a few remaining task force members, L reiterates his goal: catch Kira. With a plan in motion to force Kira out of hiding, L steels himself for his most difficult case yet… one that he knows will undoubtedly put his life, and the lives of his entire team, on the line.
In volume two, the “good” side of the battle is more clearly defined. While Light dominated the first volume almost exclusively with his dark thoughts and god-complex, this issue brings L and the other “good guys” into the… er… light.
Despite his weird tendencies, and sometimes questionable investigative methods, L is a rather clear-cut (arguably heroic) leading character. It’s clear that he holds himself accountable for the deaths of the FBI agents, considering them “twelve precious lives” and questioning whether he should have been watching them more closely than Kira’s usual targets—the criminals. It’s partially due to these deaths that L chooses to reveal himself to a handful of chosen task force members, and come out of the shadows, for the first time.
Elsewhere, Soichiro Yagami has a serious dinner-discussion with his family about his involvement in the Kira investigation. Despite his wife’s concerns for his safety—and his own concerns about possibly dying and leaving his family behind—Soichiro chooses to continue on the case with the rest of the investigative team. “I will not succumb to evil,” he intones. He and a few remaining task force members maintain that motto, even after the others have abandoned the case in fear for their lives.
It’s clear that Soichiro plans to faithfully pursue the path of justice, even if that means his own discomfort and self-offense. When Soichiro is told that his family is suspect in the investigation, he agrees to allow L to spy on his home via wiretaps and surveillance cameras. Acknowledging the fact that Soichiro has a wife and young daughter, L returns the father’s grace by limiting observation of the surveillance process to Mr. Yagami and himself.
L himself believes in the prevalence of justice and has little regard for what others might think of him. Even when he himself is accused of being Kira, and told by his own task force that neither they nor the public trusts him, L never retorts. “I have great faith in you,” he says, simply. He goes on to ensure the safety of those under his care by providing them with fake IDs and emergency communication methods. He begins to instill faith in the task force again.
That being said, those who have worked closely with L in the past tell of their complete trust in him. In Noami’s own words, “I worked with L myself two years ago. That was a case in the US, of course. He was just a voice that came through the computer. But I know from that experience that I can trust him a hundred percent… And that he really can solve any crime, including this one.”
Raye Penber and Naomi Misora seem to love each other very much. Raye insists that Naomi leave the FBI in order to ensure her safety. Some may see this as restrictive, or even controlling, but it’s clear that Penber is doing it out of love.
Naomi herself, though shocked and grieved by her fiancé’s death, seems to be after Kira for justice rather than revenge. She is an emotionally and intellectually strong woman, as L himself acknowledges.
The Death Note has the power to kill in a variety of ways. Any human whose true name is written in the notebook will die of a heart attack within forty seconds (providing the writer has a picture of that individual in their mind at the time). However, the writer can also detail the manner of death within the next six-minutes-and-forty-seconds, causing victims to die of accidents, suicides, diseases, and other nasty things. Light takes great advantage of this rule in volume two, sending one character to their impending suicide and manipulating several others to commit certain actions before their deaths.
In a moment of triumph, Light ponders the likelihood that, “…another God is on my side.”
The volume opens with a shot of the accident at the end of the previous chapter. Fortunately, it isn’t graphic, showing an indistinct body on the road, surrounded by dark patches (presumably blood).
Light kills a man to demonstrate his powers. We see the victim fall to the ground, dying of a fatal heart attack. One FBI agent is later killed via the same method, but it’s a much more drawn-out, visual process, as he clutches his chest and crumples to the ground. It’s said that the remaining agents suffered the same fate, though nothing is shown.
Light experiments with different ways to kill using the Death Note. When writing “suicide” as a cause of death, the victims hang themselves. This panel is illustrated with the silhouette of one such criminal hanging from his neck by a rope. Later, Light writes a detailed suicide process for a victim. The suicide occurs off-screen and is briefly discussed later by L and the task force.
Discussions and mentions of murder, killing, and death are frequent (the plot revolves around this, so it’s a bit of a given fact). There are mentions of criminals being stabbed to death and dying in “accidents.” All of these are, of course, orchestrated by Light.
Six uses of d***, three uses of h***, and one p***ed. God’s name is directly taken in vain twice. Lesser crude language is limited to “crap” and “heck.”
Raye and his fiancé, Naomi, share a room in Japan and it’s implied from this that they’ve probably been living together. That being said, no sexual content—or even sexual implications—come from this relationship, and the two have decisive plans to get married soon.
Light kills a man who he claims “raped several women,” but went unpunished due to legal technicalities.
Naomi is briefly shown in a bikini, revealing some cleavage.
In stating his case as to why Light should buy him more apples, Ryuk explains that apples are to shinigami what cigarettes and alcohol are to humans. He goes on to explain a list of (rather funny) withdrawal symptoms.
Other Negative Content
Light is a manipulative liar, acting as a virtuous honor students while others are watching, and killing off criminals and Kira opposition when he’s alone. It’s unsettling, and rather disgusting, to see him living such a two-faced life, and lying straight to his parents’ faces. He deliberately toys with other’s feelings and seems to view women as tools that are easily manipulated.
L utilizes some questionable investigative methods of his own. By installing illegal wiretaps and surveillance cameras in two civilian homes, he’s guilty of breaking Japanese law.
With this second volume, Death Note seems to have finally found its feet after a semi-hasty, info-heavy start. Light feels like a much more stable character with a daunting, but achievable, goal, and the obstacles that he faces—and the methods he employs to overcome (read: eliminate) them—feel quite believable.
The mind-games at work between Light and L (and Naomi too) are precious moments of genuine suspense. The writer wisely pits Light and his wits against the clock during a crucial point in the plot, and it takes every ounce of your self-control not to flip ahead just for some peace-of-mind.
L, the other integral character in this tale of cat-and-mouse, is brought to life in this volume. Weird, twitchy, simple, and—in the artist’s own words—“unattractive,” L is quite a visual contrast to the well-groomed Light Yagami. The mere conceptualization of these characters puts an interesting twist on the physical stereotypes of good and evil, and analytical readers will find quite a bit of symbolism to chew on in this department.
Speaking of L, he’s also a very unique character, reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes in his eccentrics (and addictions—to sugar, in this case). That being said, L manages to hold his own as an original character. Readers will quickly learn to admire his intellectual prowess and love him for his childish antics, brute honesty, and responsible sensitivity. For example, comedy ensues shortly after the task force’s first introduction to L. They tell him their names, and he responds by forming his hand into a gun and mock-shooting them in the most childish way possible. Seeing the looks of shock and bafflement on their faces, L explains, “If I was Kira, you’d be dead… All Kira needs to murder someone is knowledge of their name and their face. You ought to know that by now. We’re the only ones left who are willing to risk our lives for this, so let’s be careful about telling people our names. Let’s value our lives.”
It’s this uncanny mixture of a child’s wit and a genius’s intellect that makes L such a compelling character. Volume two states one thing quite clearly: L is the perfect opponent for Light. Providing the next volume capitalizes on this, the battles of wits that are to follow will be absolute delights to read.
Artistically, this second volume makes use of detail—especially backgrounds—in order to capture the spirit of the scene. L’s hotel room, for example, makes great use of texture in order to convey realism. Shading is once again integral to casting dramatic shadows and darkening moments of deep mental consideration.
Comedy is more at the forefront of this volume, and it offers a much-welcomed breather to the often relentless, and dark, pace of this tale. Ryuk develops a much more “human” side in this volume, with very fallible weaknesses and quirks. While it is quite a contrast to his more god-like attitude in the first volume, these human-like traits actually serve to make Ryuk more likable as a character (not to mention a goldmine for comedy relief).
Volume two does suffer from some translation awkwardness. I personally preferred the anime’s English translation here, as it helped smooth out some of the wordy, unwieldy edges. Some of the story’s seemingly inexcusable plot holes are filled in (for example, why the media hasn’t stopped broadcasting criminals’ names and faces to curb Kira’s killings). That being said, some reasonable questions have yet to be answered, and L’s conclusions—under careful scrutinizing—occasionally suffer from a lack of substantial evidence. While L’s intuition is almost always right (hooray for omniscient point-of-view!), careful readers will pick up on the fact that these accurate assumptions are sometimes backed more by carefully-honed instinct than by concrete proof.
With the advent of the other side of the battle for justice, Death Note has at last begun to take a more well-rounded form. Light’s unchecked killing sprees are finally being challenged by a worthy opponent, and the makings of a truly memorable story are beginning to emerge.
This second volume improves upon the first in more ways than one. In filling some detrimental plot holes, and using time-limits and wit-wars to build on the tension, Death Note is out to prove just how serious it is about becoming a fully-fledged, adrenaline-laced, page-turner. With L finally revealing his face, and openly challenging Light, it’s a great time for readers to buckle up, hang on, and mentally psych themselves for the beginning of an intense battle of intellect.
Death Note still suffers from translation awkwardness, but I imagine that accuracy to the original is being held in highest regard here. And I’m sure a majority of fans will respect that. It’s one way to ensure that context is preserved, even if at the expense of realism.
In terms of its objectionable content, Death Note Vol. 2 is statistically about the same as the first volume, only with a profanity count a few words shy of its original, and less real-time, threatening violence. That being said, there’s also much more positive goodness to go around in volume two. L is finally unmasked, and he and the remaining task force members bring a feeling of hope, courage, honor, and virtue to this tale otherwise tainted by the nightmarish ideology of its protagonist.
I’ll say it again: don’t be fooled by its cartoony appearance. Death Note is not a series for children or—I will argue—young and immature pre-teens and teens. The manga is rated OT+ for a reason, and that reason is a lot of heavy, mature content and dark themes.
Providing you’re mature enough, and capable of spiritually discerning the content, you’ll find few manga franchises with the artistic proficiency, the engaging premise, and the intellectual challenge that Death Note provides. In addition, there are quite a few wholesome morals and moments of defiant courage in this series—characters standing for what is right when the rest of the world has all but turned its back. And that alone makes Death Note a read quite worth your while.
Next up, I’ll be covering volume #3 and the beginning of Light’s face-to-face confrontations with L. Stick around!
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