The Death Note All-in-One Edition is upon us! Buckle under the weight of this ponderous tome! Never before has so much manga been compressed into one book. Like a massive star imploding upon itself, twelve volumes of manga have been shrunk down into one super dense black hole of a volume. This is one THICK BRICK! A brick of one of the best-selling manga of all time. An intricate psychological thriller where teenage geniuses play a deadly game of cat and mouse. Death, apples, sugary snacks and pop stars—this is the Death Note All-in-One Edition!
Death Note started serializing in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2003. While it only had a short run of twelve volumes, there’s more story packed in there than most manga series three times its length. This story is dense! I haven’t read it in a while, so plowing through this chunk of a book has been a lot of fun. And not because I’m waxing nostalgic because this is just one hell of a read, plain and simple.
If you’ve been living under a rock, the story of Death Note is about a bored, genius teenager named Light who finds a book that can kill people by writing their name in it. He decides to make the world a better place by killing off everyone he deems worthless. His counterpart, L, is an eccentric genius detective who tries to stop him, but then becomes his partner and later gets handcuffed to him. Well, it’s complicated, but I’ll get more into the story later.
The first thing that I’d like to praise about this manga is the incredible art. Obata Sensei is one of the greatest manga artists of all time and his art hasn’t aged one bit. His clean lines and limited use of textures give the manga a stark, cold look, which perfectly reflects the cold and calculating nature of its main character (and villain) Light Yagami. And talk about a master class in design—this is one slick manga. Everyone and everything looks ridiculously cool. The Shinigami especially stand out as an example of exceptional character design—they’re as beautiful as they are grotesque.
Half the fun of the series is learning about the numerous rules of the Death Note along with Light. To say it’s a complicated book is an understatement. But Light is a genius and is always finding new ways to exploit the rules for his gain, which amuses his “teacher” and sidekick Ryuk to no end. Ryuk is a tall, lanky perpetually smiling death god, or Shinigami, who is simply bored and gets a kick out of the cruelty and pettiness of humans. He’s especially fond of Light because of Light’s lack of empathy for his victims. Ryuk also respects Light's ability to outwit those around him with complicated scheme after scheme.
But Light’s not the only genius. L, is just as smart as Light and the back and forth between them is wonderful. Seeing them both lay and avoid devious traps for each other is thoroughly entertaining. But that’s only half the fun! L, eventually works with Light to solve the case, even though he openly suspects Light and Light knows that. Talk about turning the mystery genre on its ear. And that’s just the icing on the cake. When multiple Death Notes are introduced and characters begin losing their memories and not even knowing if they are the killer or not, the chase becomes quite dizzying. But never is the reader lost or even unclear what is happening. The writer, the mysterious Ohba Sensei (like L, his true identity is unknown), is a master storyteller and can make even the most complex plotlines crystal clear.
And yet, there’s a human element in all of this too. Light is not a good guy, but L can’t prove he’s the killer. You start to wonder about how these two could have been friends in different circumstances. Then there’s Light’s dad, the stoic police chief that will risk it all to catch the mass murderer who is his own son unbeknownst to him. It’s hard not to feel for him, knowing he's being played. Even some of the Shinigami become sympathetic characters you want to root for. That’s a bit of storytelling skill there, making the reader root for a monstrous being whose only purpose is to kill humans. Ha!
Interestingly enough, even though this is one of the best selling manga of all time in Japan and in America, it's only 12 volumes long! That's a real testament to its broad appeal. It's also a manga and anime that's often recommended to people that who "aren't into manga or anime." That's also due to its broad appeal and the fact that it's a little more grown up and a lot less cliche than other titles.
One thing I've failed to mention is it's also funny. Despite the heavy philosophical concepts and non-stop killing, there's plenty of laughs to be had throughout the series. Many of them come from Ryuk and his hilarious obsession with apples and people doing terrible things. This is one of the manga's strongest points because it keeps the story from getting bogged down and makes the dark nature of the series a little easier to digest.
As for this specific edition, it’s heavy but not unwieldy. Although I appreciate the quality of the VIZ BIGS, they were literally too big for me. And I'm six feet tall with hands big enough for Xbox controllers. This fits perfectly in one hand, although it does get heavy after awhile. The paper, although thinner, does not feel cheap in the slightest. And is super white! Which only makes the contrast, one of the best parts of the art, stronger. It’s actually kind of fun holding a book this size in my hands, a bit of a novel experience. Plus, there’s a special bonus chapter in the back that's never before released in English. It has to do with the discovery of...a new Death Note! Whooooo! Don't get your hopes up, though, it's definitely a one off.
This is a fine manga and a great way to re-read it. Even if you own the originals, if you have the dough (only $40 and cheaper some places), I recommend reading it again in this format. Fun!
The Death Note All-in-One Edition by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata is available here.
by Urian Brown
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