In Which I Read Some Manga

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Not only did I read some manga, I got it from my mom. If I wasn’t a nerd before I think that seals the deal.

I had always avoided manga till now. I would see the books lying around, but they’re kind of off-putting. They’ve got all these symbols and icons on them, all that kanji, and the paper quality is so awful, and they have words like Shonen Jump on them. And they all look alike. Plus they’re, you know, backwards. (It took me a few pages to figure out that you read the panels from right to left. Oops.) And I don’t really know how to pronounce manga.

But then everybody in my family was suddenly tearing through these Death Note books, and as a matter of basic survival I had to take a look. The basic idea is as follows: bored super-genius high school student finds mysterious notebook. Notebook has been accidentally dropped by other-dimensional death god. If you write somebody’s name in the notebook, that person automatically dies, at the exact time and in whatever manner you specify.

The high school student, whose name is Light, decides to help humanity by killing off evil criminals. Light is haunted by Ryuk, the death-god who dropped the notebook, who is mightily entertained by Light’s project and hangs around to watch. The police figure out that somebody is killing off criminals by the hundreds and put a mysterious super-sleuth code-named L on the case, who quickly figures out that Light can kill from a distance. A cat-and-mouse game ensues. (My mom now wears an L pendant around her neck. Dork.)

It’s pretty slender, as premises go, but it’s unbelievably compelling. Light is super-smart and totally amoral, to the point where you have no real idea what he’s going to do from panel to panel, and Ryuk, the death-god, makes an entertaining jester — he’s curious about what Light is doing, but you never forget that he doesn’t really give a damn about humans. The writer, Tsugumi Ohba, has clearly put a lot of practical thought into what owning a death-notebook would actually be like — how you’d test the limits of the book’s powers, how you’d cover your tracks, how you’d inevitably slip up. Light is always experimenting by killing criminals in fancy new ways. The whole project is just morally ambiguous enough that you both do and don’t want Light to keep going.

Plus it’s all extremely plot-driven. If this were an American comic you’d have to sit through all these scenes of Light clutching his forehead and agonizing about how he’s committing mass murder, and do the ends justify the means, sob? But nah. Light just keeps on killing. Doesn’t bother him much.

At least so far. Keep goin’ buddy, I have 11 more volumes to get through. And then what? Recommendations?