Light Yagami is a 17-year-old who has the highest test scores in Japan and could get into any college he chooses. He’s also a mass murderer wanted by police the world over.
It all starts because a shinigami is bored. Ryuk, a god of death (known more accurately in Japanese as a shinigami), lets his Death Note be found by a human. The Death Note is a notebook that can kill people, so long as the person writing in it knows the person’s name and what their face looks like. Unless the manner of death is specified, the person whose name is written down will die of a heart attack.
The Death Note ends up in the hands of Light Yagami. Now endowed with godlike powers, Light decides he will make the world a better place by killing off criminals. In the anime based on the manga, Light has more time to come to grips with his powers and his decision. He spends more time grappling with ideas of right and wrong and one can see the change come over him at the beginning and gradually get worse. That’s not so in the manga. Here, he plunges right into his righteous killing spree, seeming reprehensible pretty much from the start.
Well, he considers his killing spree to be righteous. He believes he’s ridding the world of bad people, and he ought to be entitled to judge who is good and who is bad. No one knows Light is doing this, because it’s hard to prove anything when all a murderer has to do is jot down names and never get close to anyone he kills. Some people agree with his method of the death penalty, saying the ends justify the means. They dub the unknown killer of killers with the name “Kira.” Other people are horrified and say that Kira is no better than the people he’s killing.
And it doesn’t take Light very long to get off his “noble” quest. He begins to also kill people in the Kira investigation. Since Light’s own father is leading the task force, it will test how much family loyalty Light is capable of feeling. An eccentric but brilliant individual called L has also been brought onboard to capture Kira…and because Light doesn’t know what L looks like, he can’t kill his pursuer.
Death Note is a dark and brutal series, but it’s also a rewarding read on the more frightening side of human existence. It’s one of the most famous and popular manga series out there, and with good reason.
Reviewed by Danica Davidson on October 10, 2005
Death Note, Volumes 1-4