I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me to see me looking back at you

Death Note, Volume 10, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Viz, 2007. $7.99, 208 pages.

John likes cats. Susie knows that John likes cats. John suspects that Susie knows that he likes cats. Susie thinks that John suspects that she knows that he likes cats. John believes that Susie thinks that he suspects that she knows that he likes cats. Susie suspects that John believes that…

How much more of this nonsense can you take? In principle, I could invent ever more elaborate sentences tracking the relation between John’s and Susie’s mental states, and I could keep doing so ad infinitum. But in practice, most people’s comprehension starts to run out somewhere short of infinity–probably around the third or fourth iteration, in fact. After “Susie thinks that John suspects that she knows etc.”, you start to need a diagram.

By my count Death Note, in this tenth volume of its English translation, is up to approximately one hundred and twenty-seven iterations. That’s one complicated diagram.

The Death Note series tells of role model student Light Yagami, who finds an occult “Death Note” that gives him the power to kill anyone by writing their name in its pages. Being an upstanding and righteous young man, Light decides to use his new found powers for good.

Naturally, he does this by executing criminals he judges to have been treated too lightly by the justice system. Light adopts the secret identity of “Kira” and instigates a wave of vigilante terror that makes the Punisher look like an idealistic defence attorney. The Japanese police freak out and establish a special task force to find the true identity of Kira, and of course the head of this task force is Light’s own father.

Unable to catch Kira, the police soon turn to the mysterious L, a famed sleuth who quickly becomes Light’s nemesis for the rest of the series. Plot twists abound, and we are continually given new revelations about the Death Notes and the occult powers behind them. But the bulk of the series sees Light, as Kira, trying to outwit those, like his own father or L, who would try to keep him from his righteous task. And that’s about as much as I can say; as for the plot of this tenth volume, I can’t even begin to explain it without revealing important plot points from earlier volumes.

Takeshi Obata’s art is as reliable as ever in this volume. There’s no tricks or showing off, the art existing solely to serve the plot. That’s not to say Obata is untalented; on the contrary, his very unostentatious realism has helped keep the series believable. And Obata is well above average at many things, such as rendering the chilly, sterile environments of modern life. He evidently relishes drawing clothes, too, to judge by the loving attention he pays to folds and creases in fabric, even on the slightest background character in a crowd scene. These small bits of realism add up, along with his clean character design and well flowing transitions, to ground the story far better than more cartoony or super-kinetic art could.

And boy, oh, boy, does Obata like drawing pretty boys/young men. At least, I hope he does, because Tsugumi Ohba’s script means he has to draw an awful lot of them. Not only protagonist Light and his nemesis L but also, as the series progresses, Mello, Near and (in this volume) Mikami, each of them physical, moral and intellectual reflections of one another, pretty, skinny young men with moptops and stylish clothes. It’s not yaoi–there’s no overt sexual tension between any of these prettyboys–but it’s certainly the stuff that slashfic is made of.

Through all this, the biggest attraction has remained Light himself, the ruthless, sociopathic mastermind who out-machievels Machievelli. No matter how convoluted his plans become, it’s still a treat to see him coolly hoodwinking his antagonists with bluffs, double-bluffs, triple-bluffs…all the way up to one-hundred-and-twenty-seven-tuple bluffs.

Or maybe it’s more than 127. I lost count myself, somewhere around the middle of the series when its complexity started to grow exponentially like some cancerous Mandelbrot set. Ten volumes in, the series is still mighty entertaining, what with its addictive cliff-hangers and Light’s games of intellectual chess. But Death Note feels increasingly burdened by its own internal logic and continuity. Unlike some other long-running series, the past returns again and again, as Light wonders, for instance, what L can infer from an incident five volumes back. At least the end is now in sight, with only one or two more volumes to go.

And then all the Death Note addicts will have to find a new drug.

Recommended? Definitely, apart from diminishing returns as the series continues. If you start the series, you’ll probably feel compelled to finish it. And, for God’s sake, start with the first volume.

IYL: Brian K. Vaughn’s work, e.g. Runaways, Y the Last Man; serialized dramas like The Wire and Battlestar Galactica; thrillers or mysteries from the perspective of the villain e.g. American Psycho.

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8 Responses to “I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me to see me looking back at you”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Mar. 5, 2007: Shorter Journalista 7 Says:

    […] Jones reviews the tenth volume of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note. […]

  2. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Monday links Says:

    […] Julie enjoys vol. 3 of VS. Versus. One of the Jones Boys is lost in the hall of mirrors that is vol. 10 of Death Note. At Slightly Biased Manga, Connie continues her run through W Juliet with reviews of vols. 8, 9, 10, […]

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