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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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03/25/2007 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Death Note, Vol. 10"

Death Note, Vol. 10
Story by Tsugumi Ohba
Art by Takeshi Obata
Translation and Adaptation by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
Published by VIZ

Review by Tom Good

Death Note fans have had a lot to smile about lately. The series was one of 5 finalists for Best Manga in the American Anime Awards. VIZ announced plans to release a Death Note DVD in Fall of 2007. Notebooks and other accessories are available online. And finally, someone created a very funny gallery of cat lookalikes for the Death Note characters.

I have been reading Death Note since I reviewed the first two volumes, and it quickly became my favorite current manga series. Its fantastic, complex, and surprising plot reminds me of the cleverness of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, but with a very modern style and supernatural elements. I will not mention much of the plot here because it should not be spoiled, but it revolves around a magic notebook that can kill people whose names are written in it.

When I read the first chapter of Volume 1, I initially doubted that the premise could be sustained for very long without running out of ideas and variations, but the story remains strong here in its tenth volume. It does occasionally overplay the type of situation where a character thinks, "But does he know that I know that he knows . . . ?" This always reminds me of the scene in The Princess Bride where Vizzini tried to use this spiraling logic to determine which wine glass was poisoned, only to discover (too late) that they both were. But this is a minor shortcoming in an otherwise wonderful series.

Takeshi Obata's art really shines in Death Note. In his other series Hikaru no Go, his drawing seemed very technically accomplished but a bit unadventurous. Here he gets to experiment with outlandish character designs such as the wild-looking Shinigami (gods of death), and on the whole the art just feels more cutting-edge and cool.

Each volume introduces new characters and reveals new rules that govern how the notebook can be used. By now there are quite a lot of these rules, and they help keep things interesting. The story pits one brilliant mind against another as the characters struggle to either use the death note without being caught, or to find the note and apprehend its owner. Death Note has few fight scenes but a lot of clever intellectual maneuvering. It shares with Hikaru no Go the theme of out-thinking one's opponent in a mental battle, though in this case a mistake can be deadly.

The main drawback to Death Note is that it makes a lot of other manga seem woefully simplistic by comparison. After savoring its mind-bending, complex plot, it is hard to go back to reading manga about mechs blowing things up, or guys trying to look up girls' skirts, without feeling uncomfortably shallow. I highly recommend Death Note, and it is worth reading it from the beginning. Volume 10 proves that the series is more than just a clever gimmick, it is a manga well on its way to becoming a classic.

See also:
Review of Death Note Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Tom Good

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