Saturday, April 05, 2008

Methadone for the Death Note addict

Manga series Death Note might have gone on a little longer than it needed to, but, at the same time, at just 12 volumes long, it also could have gone on for a lot longer, too.

The nature of the story and the finality that awaits defeated characters (it’s right there in the title) dictated that our hero—er, protagonist Light Yagami would have to either die or become the ruler of the world at some point in the story, but it was certainly possible to keep going for a while. There were a good handful of characters who survived by the last few pages of that twelfth volume, the Shingami who appeared and survived are all more or less immortal, and another death note could have fallen into another human’s hands in the future and started up a whole new cycle of events.

Plus, super-detective L. and his agents seemed to have had some implied adventures before they ever encountered Light and the death note, so there are certainly fertile grounds for prequels, if a Death Note Z or Death Note: The Next Generation seems overly crass.

At any rate, Death Note is, at least for now, over, and yet I imagine there’s still some demand for more of it. I know I was a bit disappointed when it ended, simply because I had no more volumes to look forward to.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I prefer a story like this to have an ending, and for the creators to move on to other, fresher projects than to keep squeezing money out of the idea as if it were a Western superhero franchise or whatever, but, well, the strength of the series was in its ability to get readers straight up hooked on it, and, when you’ve reached the end of volume 12 and are forced to go cold turkey, withdrawal symptoms can set in.

I suppose the desire to meet fans’ demand for more Death Note/the money to be made by doing so and exploiting their addiction is what lead to Viz’s Death Note Vol. 13: How To Read, a weird, unofficial thirteenth volume which amounts to the comic book equivalent of DVD extras for the series.

It’s certainly why I sought it out at the library. And looked for the laboriously titled Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases prose novel by Ishin Nishio, which stars L. and appears to be a prequel to Death Note. I’ve only found one library and the state that carries it so far though, and I don’t think I’m interested enough to pay to read it.

So How To Read was all that was available to deal with my Death Note addiction.

It’s a strange book, a mixture of things I’m genuinely interested in and irritatingly over-detailed facts that I couldn’t imagine anyone being that interested in.

It reminded me a bit of a combination of an old Wizard magazine, one of those one-shot fan magazines you’d see for super-popular geek shows (X-Files, Buffy, whatever) in grocery stores, and an Official Guide to the Marvel Universe or Who’s Who in the DC Universe type of book. Only all pertaining to Death Note.

Among the “Who actually wants to read this?” stuff are the character profiles (I didn’t even know all those Shingami had names), a lists of all the “truths” in the storylines, the explanation for all of the chapter titles, a flow chart of the forces involved in the Kira investigation and how they relate, 89 individual tricks Light and other characters pull off and some silly stuff that is perhaps of the sort I’d appreciate more if I were closer to the target audience’s age (A shopping list breaking down the cost of Near’s various toys, for example, or a list of all the sweets L. consumes in the course of the series).

Of greater interest, to me anyway, were the long but not incredibly revelatory interviews with writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, some looks at Obata’s character designs, and the process by which Ohba’s breakdowns became the finished product and, the crown jewels of the collection, a few pages of four-panel, light-hearted Death Note gag strips and the “pilot” story which preceded the decision to go ahead with the final version of the story.

The gag strips aren’t necessarily that funny, but they are more Death Note comics, and it’s kinda fun to see all the characters still alive and engaged in more light-hearted pursuits than trying to murder their opponents or rule the world or whatever.

Here’s three-fourths of one featuring Ryuk:

The pilot is fascinating for how different it is from the finished product. It’s about 50 pages long, and it crams a whole story into those 50 pages, start to finish, although obviously it’s a very, very, very different story.

Ryuk looks almost the exact same, although his eyes look a little straighter and less scary. The protagonist isn’t cold-hearted super-genius maniac high school student Light Yagami, but young, bullied boy Taro Kagami.

Here’s the cover for it:

Taro tries the note out on a lark, killing some bullies, which prompts two police detectives to investigate. A second student finds a note, and Ryuk gives Kagami the “death eraser,” which brings people back to life when their names are erased from the note. This brings about some extremely silly plot twists (For example, when five boys who died mysteriously of heart attacks are just as mysteriously brought back from the dead two days later, they go right back to school, as if nothing happened).

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing How To Read, as there’s not much in it that you’re going to need to refer back to or anything, but it was well worth a library-borrow, if only to learn more about where the story came from and how it was put together. And, of course, to fight off any lingering withdrawal you may feel upon completing the series.


Anonymous said...

Expanding or continuing Death Note would be a terrible idea. Come on, Caleb, get out of that western comics franchise mentality.

Regault said...

Sounds like one of those fanbooks japanese comic creators tend to make for Comiket and such.

Anonymous said...

There's actually a special done in one story that occurs 3 years post the manga storyline. (It was a special meant to coincide with the release of the new "L, Change the World" movie). This one shot is about a new Kira which specifically targets Japan's old and invalid.