Sunday, December 9, 2007

DEATH NOTE: Descent Into Madness

"Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." My world history teacher in high school used to say that all the time (especially on Renaissance France) and I always thought that to be true. But I never thought that same concept would be explored by an anime/manga.

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Death Note, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, is one such anime/manga that explores the concept of power and the corruptibility of man in a supernatural setting.

The series' MacGuffin is the death note, a seemingly insignificant and small black notebook which the main character, Yagami Light ("Raito" in Japanese), unexpectedly finds. When he opens it, he finds a message that says whosoever finds the notebook shall have the power to kill a man by writing the victim's name on its pages.

It turns out that the notebook once belonged to a shinigami (death god), whose sole purpose is to put humans to rest, not unlike the "grim ripper" of Western myths. Ryuk, the name of the shinigami who owned that death note, is bored with his job and so he decides to drop the notebook intentionally into the world of humans to see what's going to happen.

It is Light, a brilliant but bored high school student, who accidentally stumbles upon the notebook. At first, he is terrified by the death note's power and he justifies it by using it only for "good" -- that is, writing down the names of notorious criminals who managed to escape the authorities. However, as time passes and Light begins to understand just how much power he has through the notebook, his descent into moral corruption begins.

Less Fight Scenes, More Mental Action

Death Note is an unusual anime/manga because there is hardly any action here. Although it is under the shounen genre, meaning it is "for boys," it focuses less on fight scenes but more on the mental conflict within and among characters. In fact, in the first few episodes of the series, the most "action-packed" scene comprises of Light writing furiously on the death note. Not exactly the most stimulating image you can imagine but once you do see the show and understand what it is all about, the intensity will get to you.

Interesting Character Dynamics

Light's foil is in the person of a genius detective known only as "L." Extremely brilliant with excellent deduction skills, L's character flaw is that his methods are too meticulous, too logical, so that one can say that he does not take action immediately because he thinks too much. This proves to be fatal for him for as L has too many reservations, Kira (Light) has all but the slightest twinge of conscience left in him.

The characters of Light and L are never confrontational. They talk and appear for all intents and purposes as friends but the reader always knows that despite the outwardly harmless interaction between the two there is an entirely different conversation going on and everything is hinged on the question: Who will crack first?

Ultimately, Death Note is a battle, not of two people, but of wits and a conversation of minds.