Review: Death Note Vol. 3

cvr9781421501703_9781421501703_hrWriter: Tsugumi Ohba
Illustrator: Takeshi Obata
English publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Shonen, psychological thriller, supernatural, detective fiction
Rating: T+ (older teens and adults)
Release date: January 3, 2006
Price: $8.00-$10.00

Note: All manga illustrations come from fan-translated scans. The dialogue itself is not the same as official version and differs slightly.

Originally introduced in the Weekly Shonen Jump, the Death Note manga eventually went on to become a commercial success—amassing over 26 million dollars from manga sales alone. The financial victory of the manga drove the franchise to spawn an anime adaptation, a series of live-action films, and more.

Among anime viewers and manga readers, the image of the black, supernatural notebook has become a symbol synonymous with the psychological thrill-ride that is Death Note. In this series of reviews, let’s take a look under that blackened cover and see what lies beneath.

Storyline

Under the pressure of sixty-four surveillance cameras and all-hearing wiretaps, Light Yagami manages to function as Kira without being uncovered, forcing his investigators to remove the equipment after a week without leads.

But L isn’t done with Light—or his suspicion of guilt—yet. When the enigmatic detective enrolls at Light’s school for the deliberate purpose of getting close to him, the would-be god finds himself treading on dangerous ground. Even worse, L reveals his identity to Light in secret, rendering Light’s potential to kill him off without instantaneous suspicion impossible.

Between his brutal battles of wits with L, and an unexpected family crisis, Light’s problems are only just beginning. When criminals and innocents begin to die without Light’s bidding, the truth becomes blatant: there’s another Kira out there—one that possesses a power greater than Light’s own… the shinigami eyes.

Content Guide

Positive Elements
In this volume, L makes good on his promise to put his life on the line in order to catch Kira. In getting close to Light and revealing potentially deadly information about his identity, it’s clear that he’s doing just that. Soichiro Yagami speaks up on L’s behalf when questioned about L’s legitimacy, “Yes, we can trust him. As we speak, he is out there risking his life to solve this case.”

17Of course, it’s not just L doing all the sacrificial work. The remaining task force members give everything they can to the case, and one even pays the ultimate price. Angered by the death of his friend, Aizawa seizes L, demanding that something be done. L offers some wise words about the value of risking one’s life VS doing something that will undoubtedly cost one his life. The detective expresses concern for his subordinate’s safety, and it’s only then that Aizawa realizes L is trembling in grief at the loss.

Despite hospitalization, Soichiro refuses to lie down when duty demands otherwise. He requests that nobody tell his daughter about his condition in order not to worry her, and considers himself responsible for the welfare of the task force, even while bedridden. When the situation calls, Soichiro goes to great lengths to shut down a dangerous broadcast that costs several men their lives. When he realizes that the television station aired the broadcast in order to boost their ratings, Soichiro is incensed. Told by the television director that the footage must air or else Kira will kill him, Soichiro refuses to back down and replies, “An innocent man is dead! I’d say you’re reaping what you sowed.”

A display of courage by L, the task force, and the police, gives others the strength to take a stand against Kira. “They’re doing the right thing!” says one network. “This is the right answer! This is how a country under the rule of law ought to respond!”

Of course, refusal to cooperate only serves to anger the second Kira. In compensation for the rebellion, they demand that the people choose either L or the director of the NPA to appear on live TV (for the unspoken reason that they be killed publicly); otherwise, Kira threatens to kill death-note-3innocent police officers at random. When world-leader opinion favors sacrificing L in place of the cowardly director, L calmly agrees with the decision. “If it’s between me and the NPA director-general, of course it should be me,” he responds. “I’m the one who challenged Kira and said I’d capture him.” When reminded that he will undoubtedly be killed, L answers that, although he doesn’t want to die, his bigger concern is convincing Kira that he is in fact L. If he can’t do that, Kira will likely kill off innocent police officers, and L nonchalantly admits that that would greatly upset him.

Despite his firm conviction that Light is Kira, L doesn’t want that to be the case. It’s clear that he’d rather work alongside, and befriend, Light than arrest him, but he understands that justice demands otherwise.

Soichiro never stops spouting wisdom, even from the hospital bed. “The real evil is the power to kill people,” he tells Light during an ironic moment from his bedside. “Someone who finds himself with that power is cursed. No matter how you use it, anything obtained by killing people can never bring true happiness.”

Spiritual Content
The story revolves around the shimigami (or death gods) and their supernatural notebooks that have the power to kill humans by simply writing their names in the Death Notes.

4The Death Note has the power to kill in a variety of ways. Any human whose true name is written in the notebook will die of a heart attack within forty seconds (providing the writer has a picture of that individual in their mind at the time). However, the writer can also detail the manner of death within the next six-minutes-and-forty-seconds, causing victims to die of accidents, suicides, diseases, and other nasty things. Those who have traded half their life-spans for the “shinigami eyes” are able to see people’s names and life-spans above their heads, enabling them to kill others more easily.

The story briefly returns to the shinigami realm, revealing several more human-like death gods whittling away their time playing cards. Elsewhere, L ponders the possibility that the killings are the work of a “divine being,” ultimately concluding that Kira is nothing more than a human who believes himself to be a god.

In a moment of triumph, Light ponders the likelihood that, “…the gods are on my side!”

Violence
At least seven men are shown collapsed from fatal heart-attacks. One is a member of the task force, and he locks up in pain briefly before crumpling to the ground. Another character suffers a much-less-fatal heart attack and ends up hospitalized.

The second Kira contacts a television studio, threatening to kill everyone on the board of directors if they don’t air the tapes Kira sent in. Although this second Kira preaches a love for justice and a hatred for evil, even going so far as to say that they “don’t want to kill innocent people,” their actions clearly contradict these words. Several innocents are killed.

An officer whips out a gun to shoot through a glass window. Soichiro drives a vehicle through a glass door, infiltrates the studio, and holds the producer at gunpoint, threatening him to hand over the tapes immediately.

15Language/Crude Humor
Language is a bit more prevalent this time around. Eighteen uses of d***, six uses of h*** (used as swearing, not references to hell itself), one use each of bas****, a**, and pi****. Lesser words including three uses of “jeez,” and one use each of “gosh,” “idiot,” “bloody,” and “jerk.”

Sexual Content
After Light becomes aware of the surveillance cameras in his room, he purchases several sexualized magazines for the purpose of throwing L off his scent. The manga shows several, large-panel shots of images from the magazine, revealing curvy girls in sensual poses, wearing bikinis. No nudity is shown, but not much is left to the imagination either. It’s clear that Ryuk—regardless of being a shinigami—is rather captured by these images.

Drug/Alcohol Reference
A couple characters are briefly shown smoking or with cigars.

Other Negative Content
Light continues to lie and manipulate his way to his ultimate goal. Despite his father’s warning about those having the power of death being cursed, Light revels in the joy that the Death Note has offered him. He goes so far as to tell Ryuk that the Death Note has given him purpose and happiness, ironically forgetting the sleepless nights and mental and physical turmoil that the Death Note put him through initially.

L and Light play tennis on the school’s courts without proper permission.

Presentation

Volume three is the edgiest that the series has gotten thus far, and, given the story’s direction, things are only going to climb from here. Between L and Light’s intense intellectual battles, and the more physical action that occurs three-quarters of the way through, there’s a lot to white-knuckle over in this volume.

16The mind games that were merely hinted at in the first two issues have finally come to a head. Watching them unfold over the most intense tennis match ever penned to a manga page is quite invigorating, to say the least. As L and Light mentally retort to each other between racket strikes, a fierce battle of wits plays out, unobserved to the crowd of riveted onlookers. It’s moments like these that make volume three a real treat—lots of tension, both inside and out, with much going unseen to the naked eye.

As all these mind games play out, the story somehow manages to maintain focus. Even more rewarding is that these moments of deep intellect actually further the plot and aren’t in place simply to build intrigue or a “cool” factor.

Building off of that intrigue is a lot of physical action—something that’s been a bit of a stranger to Death Note thus far. In volume three, characters are pushed, not to their limits, but certainly far outside their—and the reader’s—comfort zones. By three-quarters into the manga, things have heated up, and at least one central character has paid the ultimate price for pursuing Kira. It’s not just tension between life-and-death, but tension between characters that makes this issue truly memorable. L’s mettle is put to the test, as he finds himself openly challenged by one of the members of his task force. Elsewhere Soichiro makes a risky move to put an end to Kira’s latest brainchild, regardless of L’s orders.

Both main characters—Light and L—and the supporting cast begin to take more well-rounded forms in volume three. The continuous conflict and intensity serves to create bonds and bring out the best and worst in some of these characters, making them altogether human. It’s especially poignant to see L trembling in grief over the loss of one of his men, as well as opting to make some truly self-sacrificing decisions for the good of the case.

Much happens in this issue. In fact, compared to the pacing of the previous two volumes, this one seems to cover a lot of ground while somehow managing not to feel rushed. This, in practice, is very difficult to achieve, but Death Note pulls it off quite masterfully. The pacing is tight and the mental and physical action never really lets up.

In fact, the only real technicality with this volume is a single editing mistake early on. There’s a word missing, making this error glaringly obvious. Wording is still awkward in places and feels sub-par to the anime, which helped to smooth out the dialogue’s rough edges. The ending packs a real punch, but it feels just a tad abrupt, to the point where I was flipping back-and-forth on the last page expecting there to be just one more panel. I think that the volume-ending cliff-hanger could have held a bit more power if the final line had been divided into two unique panels instead of one, giving the last sentence more emphasis.

kisuki.net_artbooks_death-note-blanc-et-noir_10Final Word

With its third volume, Death Note continues to build upon the tension set in the first issue. Characters, relationships, and plots are beginning to intertwine, and Light’s long battle of face-to-face confrontations with L has at last begun. There’s an undeniable beauty in these psychological, mind-game panels. Reading the ebb and flow of dialogue between detective and killer is—at its simplest—an enjoyable experience.

The action, and the stakes, have been stepped up four-fold this time. Along with that increased intensity and grittiness comes a bit of a gruffer edge—more language than we’ve read previously and a bit more sexual content, too. That being said, L really shines through in this volume, what with his concern for his men and his willingness to die in order to catch Kira. And, of course, L isn’t the only honorable soul to be found. Soichiro is the undeniable moral compass of this series, and he offers some genuinely wise words to his wayward son; not to mention that he more than practices what he preaches when he drags himself out of the hospital and sends a vehicle crashing through the doors of a television station in order to stop Kira.

With tensions high and a new Kira on the scene, Death Note Vol. 3 certainly doesn’t end with a whimper. Rather, it goes out with a satisfying bang (or would have, if the last panel had had better pacing). Regardless, this is the best issue yet, and the ending promises that there’s plenty more where that came from.

Volume #4, and the start of Light’s relationship with the second Kira, are up next. Stick around for future manga reviews!

Positives

+ Building physical and intellectual action + Skilled art direction + Intriguing mental battles + Covers ground without feeling rushed + Tight pacing + Themes of defiant courage, corruption of power, responsibility, and sacrifice

Negatives

- Glaring editing mistake - Abrupt ending lacks pacing - Some translation awkwardness - Some sexual content - More frequent profanity

The Bottom Line

With tensions high and a new Kira on the scene, Death Note Vol. 3 certainly doesn’t end with a whimper. Rather, it goes out with a satisfying bang (or would have, if the last panel had had better pacing). Regardless, this is the best issue yet, and the ending promises that there’s plenty more where that came from.

 

Story/Plot 9.4

Writing 9.4

Editing 8

8.9

Casey Covel

Casey Lynn Covel (known online as “Cutsceneaddict”) is an award-winning, published writer, avid reader, and aspiring author. She runs a nerdy writing blog called Meek-Geek and founded PROJECT: Magic Kingdom Hearts in 2012. When she’s not writing for Geeks Under Grace, Florida Geek Scene, Beneath the Tangles, or FROM JAPAN, she enjoys cosplaying, and has won several awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram for her latest cosplay endeavors. #meekischic

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