Monday, November 16, 2015

Reading of a series of comic books - Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba

“People love to see death. It reminds them that however mean, however low, however horrible their lives become… at least they have one.” --Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged  ♦  
Death Note is a comic book series that was originally published in 2003 by Tsugumi Ohba and adapted to film in 2006. When I was a teenager, this movie version was quite popular among those my age. Even though I didn’t know the story well, I knew that the protagonist could kill anyone whose face he knew by writing that person’s name. It was a common expression among my friends to say, “I will write your name on Death Note” just for fun. This was the reason that I rented Death Note from the book rental shop. I first opened the book with a simple curiosity about the story, but as I delved deeper into the text, I found Death Note to be more thought-provoking and meaningful than I’d expected.
     The story begins as Light Yagami is disappointed with the corrupted social justice system. As day Light further observes the depraved society, he gets a notebook called Death Note from a shinigami (Grim Reaper in Japanese) named Ryuk. No normal notebook, Death Note gives its user the power to kill someone by writing that person’s name in the notebook. After testing the rules of the book, Light decides to clean the corrupted world as a god named Kira. This alter ego allows Light to remain anonymous. The government regards Kira as a criminal who destroys the social order by murdering people. To capture Kira, a genius detective named L cooperates with the International Police Organization. Soon, with his outstanding instinct, L suspects that Light is Kira. However, to hide his secret identity, Light helps L to track down Kira. From this point, the story progresses with fights between Kira and the police, as well as hidden fights between Light and those who might expose Kira’s identity.
     Light is an impressive character because he is such a contradictory character. He has a perfect god-like aspect with his control over death, yet, in some ways, he is a typical human. As Kira, Light has great power in deciding whether criminals live or die. However, Light can do little without Death Note because he is only a smart human who borrows supernatural power from the note. Light is again contradictory in that he always acts dispassionately when dealing with other people’s lives, but later, shows very human behavior in his personal life.
     One reason that I still remember this series of comic books is that, within the narrative, it is hard to define who is a hero and who is a villain. Generally, a hero tries to save the world and wants to uphold justice. On the contrary, a villain is someone likely to kill innocent people and attempt to destroy the existing world. Based on these descriptions, Light could be classified as a hero in that he is a passionate person who wants to save the corrupted world by ensuring that social justice is done. However, Light, in the role of Kira, originally says he only kills wicked people, but later expands his meaning of wicked people to people against him. In this aspect, he could be seen as a villain. Supernatural power doesn’t give one the authority to freely take lives away. In doing this he also destroys the existing social order. Like his name: Light (月means light), Yagami (夜神 means a god of night), he has both aspects. With this, one might consider whether those trying to capture Kira should be considered heroes or not. This is a difficult consideration because the world these people want to save is already corrupted. However, it is important to say that they are not definite villains either because they try to stop Kira from taking lives away unnecessarily. Overall the ambiguity of justice and evil in Death Note makes me rethink the beliefs that I consider to be right.
     Because Death Note is a comic book, it can be enjoyable to read for entertainment without deep thought about death and justice. The story includes fantastical elements such as shinigami and supernatural powers that are able to catch a reader’s attention. There are also many different characters to entertain readers. For example, the shinigamis are extremely grotesque in appearance, recalling skeletons or corpses. This depiction makes these figures very believable in the grim reaper-like role they play. Also, L and Near, who are geniuses chasing Kira, have their own unique habits--L eats awfully sweet things, and Near always plays with toys. The characters’ unique appearances and characteristics add to the enjoyment of reading this series.
     As a reader, I usually pick up comic books for entertainment. However, Death Note allows me not only to enjoy the comic books and be entertained, but also to rethink death and the meaning of true justice. Death, the main subject of the storyline, is a sensitive subject in the real world. From the characters’ reactions as they deal with death, I have found that there is no right or wrong definition of justice. Justice always carries ambiguity because there is more than one side to see it from. Even today, I like to re-read Death Note not only for fun, but also for thinking about the meaning of true justice.
  • About the Author
    Boyoung Choi is currently a Creative Writing major and a Chinese minor at Miami University. She likes animals, coffee, fun stories and sleeping all day.

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