||[May. 12th, 2008|06:05 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#81 DEATH NOTE – Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
“I’ll make this a world inhabited only by people I decide are good!”
Death Note is a series that defies your expectations at every turn. It’s a story about a high-school boy who finds a book that kills people when he writes their names in it, but instead of killing off the teacher he hates or the kid who picks on him or something similarly obvious, he calmly and rationally realises the death note is a weapon capable of changing the world and sets out to do just that. High-achieving model teenager Light Yagami fixes a corrupt and criminal world screwed up by adults using his bullets made of ink with barely an emotion beyond an occasional grin or drop of sweat ever betrayed by his face. Light is essentially a sociopath, though sometimes a sympathetic one. Another writer probably would have made the detective tracking him down – an eccentric and secretive genius known only by his code-name of ‘L’ and therefore safe from the death note – into the protagonist, but things are much more interesting seen through Light’s cold eyes.
Much of the action, such as it is, is based on Light and L’s attempts to outwit each other, like an epic game of cat-and-mouse or chess. Essentially, they think about each other really hard for pages at time. It’s difficult to explain just how gripping it can be reading two people narrating about their plots, trying to anticipate every move their opponent is about to make as well as anticipating the rival’s anticipating, but the suspense works despite some moments of clumsiness in the translation.
Standing in for the reader in this showdown is Ryuk, an easily bored god of death responsible for leaving the death note where Light would find it. Obata draws him as a lanky, bug-eyed punk brute. Invisible to most of the characters, he leers over their shoulders and flies above them peering down with interest, as much a voyeur as we are.
While Ryuk chuckles at what fools these mortals be and the rest of the cast drowns in buckets of their own anxious sweat drops, Light remains eerily calm at the centre of the storm he has created. At every step along the way he has a justification and a rationalisation for his actions, for literally playing God. Resisting the obvious route again, there are no real answers provided to the moral quandaries raised by Death Note’s themes, however. It’s shamelessly entertaining instead of moralising and because of that the questions it asks about corruption and responsibility linger for longer.