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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vintage Manga Review: Death Note

This review is updated and revised from one that originally appeared May 12, 2006, in LA Alternative.

What would you do if you held the power of life and death over every person in the entire world?  What if you could knock someone off just by adding a name to a death list?  According to Japanese folklore, such power resides in a list held by a shinigami, a death spirit.  A human who holds such a list holds a death spirit's power, but must pay a price.

Such is the premise of Death Note, one of the most popular of 21st-century Japanese media franchises.  It began as a Shonen Jump series in 2003 and after jumping across novels, anime, movies, video games, collectables, and even yaoi knock-off's, remains a best-selling manga.  A too-smart-for-his-own-good student (Light Yagami--his first name is often pronounced "Raito") and a rebellious shinigami team up to rid the world of evil criminals.  Soon international law enforcement catches on that a telekinetic murderer is loose, so a boy-genius detective known only as "L" is put on the case.  (He guards his real name to keep from falling into the killer's clutches.)

While the media closely watches the "Kira" case ("kira" is a Japanese variant of "killer") the two boy geniuses engage in a fatal war of wits and wills over whose brand of justice will prevail.  Repeatedly over 12 volumes, human logic clashes with supernatural intrigue.  In the manga series, Yagami outwits L and his own father but not the shinigami.  In the movie he outwits none of them.  This is one heavy mind-blowing Goth-flavored manga series targeted to older teens and adults (making it something of a departure from the standard Shonen Jump fare aimed at young teens).

As manga, Death Note is a collaboration between Takeshi Obata, whose artwork takes on a darker and more Gothic look than his previous hit Hikaru No Go, and Tsugumi Ohba, who wrote the story as a suspense thriller.  Ohba includes a cryptic line in one biographical note about "holding knees in a chair," perhaps indicating the eccentric "L" character, who famously sits that way, is intended as a self-portrait. 

Nine years after the first publication, the Death Note franchise remains very much alive.  The English-language manga published by VIZ for the American market remains a steady seller, comparable to Yu-Gi-Oh.  With such an enormous and long-lasting international hit, it's possible some American producer or publisher may find a market for an orginal English-language production.  Even the Japanese movie's score indicates the extent of international appeal--the Red Hot Chili Peppers offered to do the music and got the job.


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