The Death Note Saga is about Light Yagami, an exceedingly intelligent senior in high school, who happens to find a ‘Death Note’ belonging to a Shinigami (a God of Death). If a person’s name is written in the Death Note then that person dies. Light vows to use the Death Note to rid the world of all crime and evil. To solve the un-explainable case of mass murder of known criminals, ‘L’, a legendary detective, decides to take on the case. This is the premise of the graphic novel series.
Death Note was the first manga/graphic novel I ever read. I am not counting the numerous Asterix and Obelix comics I have read and loved through the ages. And what an introduction to the world of graphic novels it was! As you can see, I went for the Black Editions. The Black Editions are absolutely divine, all black and shiny and ultra cool. The illustrations are fantastic and I have no doubt they’re a major reason for the popularity of the series. Reading from back to front took some getting used to but the transition was smoother than I expected.
I had a feeling that reading graphic novels would be a bit like watching cartoons; highly graphic (duh), intensely dramatic and very in-the-moment. I was not expecting much as far as the plot was concerned as I wrongly assumed that the primary appeal of graphic novels lay in the artwork. I could not have been more wrong. Not only is the premise super interesting but this saga does not pull its punches. It does not hang around, to make sure you’re keeping up with the two mega-minds, Light and L. The entire series is like a cat-and-mouse game. Tom and Jerry for adults, if you will. A dark and twisty Tom and Jerry show with people dropping dead like flies.
The series follows two very strong, intelligent characters. Each has a distinct voice and arc and yet there are times when they are similar too. Take your pick. You have a hero and an anti-hero and the funny part is, they keep switching positions on you. Sometimes you want one to win, sometimes the other. Or if you’re like me, you imprint on one and are mated for life. Seeing inside the minds of these characters also makes you see how subtly (at first) and then rapidly they devolve and descend into something else.
When I began the series I thought I would never find anything better than Death Note. I was sure I had found the Holy Grail of all manga and graphic novels and any manga/ graphic novel I read in the future will be inevitably compared to this one. And they would pale pathetically on comparison. That is how much I loved it.
Loved. See how I used the past tense there?
Book Four was, unfortunately, the turning point for me. I cannot – shall not – go into the specifics for the fear of spoiling anything for you. But after that, I trudged and trundled my way through the last two books. I was assured by friends and well wishers that I would not regret finishing the series. They were wrong. I regret finishing the series because the last two books were nowhere as great as the first four and I should have just ended my reading journey on that note.
A major thing that bothered me – even during the first four books – was the lack of sufficiently substantial female characters. There is only one ‘important’ female character, Misa Misa, and even then the ‘substance’ is highly debatable. She is a love obsessed young woman whose only purpose is to help and assist the object of her desires. Does this make her a formidable adversary? Undoubtedly. But just for once can we have a female character whose sole aim in life isn’t to win a boy?
Despite the above, I was fairly pleased with the series until Book Four and utterly disappointed with the last two.