Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Deathnote, Volume 1

One of the most popular manga series in the US, Deathnote is the tale of what happens when a bored shinigami (a version of a Grim Reaper) drops two notebooks onto earth just to see what happens. The first rule about these notebooks is that whoever's name is written in them will die, and the first book of the series follows Light Yagami, an honors students who happens to find one of the notebooks. Light decides that he is going to use the notebook as an instrument of good and remake society by killing all of the criminals and unsavory elements who ruin things for innocent, hard-working people. A rash of unexplained deaths of convicted criminals alerts the authorities that there must be some unknown person or force behind these events, so they turn to a mysterious, unseen, crime-solving genius known only as L for help. And thus begins a game of intrigue as each of these two adversaries maneuver to expose the other.

The story was written by Tsugumi Ohba, which is a pen name. The author's actual name and gender are not definitively known, but some fans believe that Ohba is a pen name for Hiroshi Gamo, a writer of gag series for Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. The artist is Takeshi Obata, who won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 2000 and the 2003 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for his series Hikaru no Go.

First serialized in 108 chapters from December, 2003 to May, 2006 in Shonen Jump, Deathnote is published in English by VIZ Media as a 12 volume series. There is a 13th volume, titled How to Read Deathnote which contains more detailed character information, interviews with the creators, a trading card, and a short follow-up story. There are many rules that go along with the notebooks, and they are included in the volumes as interstitial pieces. Among the rules: the deathnote's owner must know the person's name and also what they look like. Also, he/she can write the cause of death as well.

Deathnote has been very well reviewed in general, as seen in reviews from the Anime News Network and IGN. The manga's popularity has spawned different media versions, including an anime series, video games, and thus far, three movies. The first two films detail the events of the manga series, while the third is a prequel about L and his early career. An English language film version is also currently being optioned in Hollywood. Along with its popularity, Deathnote has also spawned controversy, ranging from teenagers creating deathnotes about classmates (examples here and here) to at least one copy-cat murder. The book is currently banned in China to protect young readers' "physical and mental health."

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