Death Note, Vol. 1 (Collector’s Edition) – Manga Review

Review by: Edward Zacharias

Publisher: VIZ Media (SJ Advanced Collector’s Edition)
Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Artist: Takeshi Obata
Genre: Graphic Novel (Hardcover)
MSRP: $19.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Righteous judgment or mass murder … it’s Kira versus L.

What if you were suddenly given a chance to change the world for the better but the only way of doing it isn’t exactly morally correct or legal? This is a question that comes up in the first volume of Death Note and thus sparking a smart and original cat-and-mouse game between a bored genius, an equally bored Death God and a mysterious figure known throughout law enforcement officials around the world as a brilliant detective.

The collaboration between manga author Tsugumi Ohba and talented artist Takeshi Obata was like pairing Lennon with McCartney and the result was a 12-volume series that captivated readers in a global scale. It also inspired a great anime and two live-action feature films. In short, it’s worthy of VIZ Media’s hardcover Collector’s Edition treatment of the first volume. Featuring a sturdy hardcover of the first edition cover with a dust jacket featuring the image of the Shinigami (or Death God) named Ryuk. Even if you already own a copy of the first edition (like me), this Collector’s Edition is definitely what you’ll want to have displayed in your bookcase.

The series’ strength has always been the battle of wits between the main protagonist and the genius that is L and in the first volume the battle between the two unfolds rather quickly. We meet 17-year old High school student Light Yagami who is the picture of scholastic excellence. He’s a straight-A student who breezes through class without much effort and is thusly bored out of his mind because of it. Deep in the depths of the Shinigami realm is Ryuk who finds his existence rather boring as well. To quell his boredom, he drops his most deadly possession – a simple notebook he dubs the Death Note – in the realm of the humans. As fate would have it, though, Light sees it fall from the sky and land on his school’s quad.

Out of mere curiosity, Light picks it up only to discover that the notebook contains blank pages and a page filled with guidelines on how to use it. What catches his eye is the fact that the Death Note claims that the name of the person you write in the blank pages of said notebook would ultimately die within 40 seconds. Dismissing it, at first, Light decides to write the name of a criminal who, at that moment, was holding eight hostages in a nursery school. It’s a shock to Light that the criminal actually DOES drop dead of a heart attack just like the Death Note promised it would.

Light begins testing the Death Note to make sure it wasn’t some kind of weird fluke or coincidence and surely enough the people whose names he wrote in the pages of the notebook suddenly die of heart attacks. Just as he’s convinced that the Death Note works, Ryuk pays Light a visit and discovers that Light was the right person to possess the deadly supernatural notebook. Both Ryuk and Light are no longer bored and so begins the strange relationship between Death God and human who sees this as an opportunity to change the world for the better. As executioner of the wicked, Light feels like he can turn the world into a crime-free utopia. The evildoer will die by the hand of Light who passes judgment on them from an unknown location and without revealing his identity.

Of course, the local Japanese authorities as well as law enforcement officials all over the world don’t see the sudden and mysterious deaths of criminals as a blessing. Murder is murder no matter what but how do you catch a culprit who kills quickly, efficiently and without even making an appearance? As Light continues he quest to rid the world of criminals, the media quickly picks up on his deeds and calls him Kira. The Japanese NPA as well as the American CIA and Interpol gather together to try to figure out who or what is behind this but can only come to the conclusion that this hard-to-solve case can benefit from the talented mind of a detective simply known as L. As it turns out, L already has a few ideas on Kira’s location as well as his method of killing.

In the first volume’s biggest highlight, L and Light do face off … well, sort of. L lays a trap via a television broadcast that gets Light angry enough to write the name of a man claiming to be the famous detective himself. I won’t reveal what happens (in case this is your first time picking up Death Note) but let’s just say that what transpires during the broadcast shows Light that his opponent is a formidable one indeed. Of course, Light feels he has a slight advantage being the son of the Inspector in charge of the Kira case in Japan!

Of course, Light soon finds out that he has a shadow that’s been following him. He sets up a trap aboard a bus to reveal the identity of the man following him only to be surprised that the man in question is an FBI agent named Raye Penber. In the end, Light tests another perk of owning the Death Note and that is owner of the Death Note can also write a cause and time of death.

Death Note has always been a very chatty series as you’ll know from the first volume and thankfully it rich with Ohba’s solid writing. It’s also one of the most eye-catching series as well thanks to the great art from Obata who has an incredible eye for detail. The Collector’s Edition includes a number of color pages that make the first few pages even more gorgeous and also includes the four-panel comics in the end of the volume much like the original.

If you have some extra money in your pocket, I highly suggest you pick up the Collector’s Edition of Death Note. If you’re new to the series, I recommend picking this edition over the first printing edition because you will most definitely be picking it up again and again. It’s one of those works that is ripe with all the things a good book should have and that’s definitely a rare thing.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
Tsugumi Ohba weaves an intricate and supernaturally charged tale that is not only intelligent but downright entertaining enough that you can only look forward to the next volume and the next one after that. Yes, Death Note was that brilliant and this first volume proves this point.

ART: A+
Anyone who has ever picked up a volume of Hikaru no Go will go on about what a brilliant artist Takeshi Obata is and – you know something? – they’re one hundred percent right. Obata’s work in Death Note is not only eye-catching put also one of the many things I looked forward to throughout the course of the series. The Collector’s Edition sports some great color pages and the black and white Ryuk cover is downright awesome.

OVERALL: A+
Befitting of a hardcover Collector’s Edition, Death Note’s first volume is one of those rare gems that require more than one reading. It not only sets up a lengthy and smartly original cat-and-mouse game but it also proves that gripping work like this can be just as compelling – if not more so – than your average mystery novel. Buying this one is a must even if you already own it.

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