Last week it was announced that Warner Brothers had chosen Shane Black to film an adaptation of one of my all time favorite manga’s, Death Note. Japan has already released their own half-way decent, live action film versions of the graphic novel, which gives me great hope for the American version. The first, simply titled: Death Note is worthy of a peek, but not my favorite in the series. No, that honor goes to Death Note: The Last Name which is one of those truly rare and elusive breeds of sequel that is actually better than its predecessor.
Unfortunately, after the success of the first and second films, the producers decided to milk the fucking cow dry and made a craptastic trilogy that not only abandoned all logic but also the original story line of the manga. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and holding my breath that Hollywood doesn’t do the same because the story in the manga is pretty fucking awesome!
It begins simply and innocently enough when Light Yagame (some translations call him Raito), a 17 year old genius, discovers a notebook on the street, with the inscription “Death Note” on the cover. Inside is a list of rules, 1. Any human’s name written in the notebook will die, 2. When writing the person’s name you must also picture that same person’s face in order for that person to die, 3. If the cause of death is not written within 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, they will die of a heat attack. It doesn’t take long for Light to figure out that this is not a sick joke. Not only is the notebook real, but having possession of it comes with the added bonus of being able to see and speak to the Death Note’s original owner, a reaper or “shinigami” named Ryuk whom left the notebook in the human world specifically to watch how it’s power would corrupt a mortal. And holy shit does his plan work. Light decides to use the Death Note to rid the world of all evil, but rather than coming up with random ways for each criminal to die thereby hiding the fact that someone is behind the deaths, Light kills each victim with a heart attack. Ballsy, very ballsy. He wants the entire world to know that there is a supernatural force behind all of this, and he wants them to fear it just as they would any Spiderman or Batman. But unlike Batman or Spiderman, Light doesn’t see himself as a superhero, he sees himself as a god.
With the death toll rising, the international community is forced to take action by creating an interpol task force to try and catch the serial murderer nicknamed Kira by the Japanese media. Heading up the Japanese investigation is Soichiro Yagami, Light’s father. Oh snap! Someone has Daddy issues. However, unsatisfied with the slow progress of the case, Interpol “sends in the wolf” in the form of a mysterious detective known only as “L”. L is by far my favorite character. I’m in love with him. If he were a real person I’d marry him! When we’re first introduced to his character all we know is that he is a mega-genius who solves “unsolvable” crimes. It’s not until around chapter 11 or so that we finally see him and discover that he is pale, shaggy, barefoot and constantly eating candy. Truly a man after my own heart. Did I mention how much I am obsessively in love with this character?
From L’s introduction on, the story is basically a psychological cat and mouse game between him and Kira as each man tries to find and destroy the other first.
I think what I like most about this manga is the moral question that it poses. Kira and L are virtually the same character: both savants, both young and both want to bring criminals to justice. The only real difference between the two seems to be the lengths they will go to achieve their ends. I won’t ruin the ending for all of you out there who haven’t read it, because that would be cruel and unusual. But allow me to say, it doesn’t disappoint. The entire series manages to be funny, poignant, sad and dark mixed together and served up with some spectacular art. If you haven’t checked it out you definitely should before the movie comes out, because god only knows whether or not they’ll bastardize it. Oh, pretty please let them cast L well!