Story = A+
Art = A+
Shinigami own notebooks called “Death Notes” which are used as killing devices. Whoever’s name they write down in a death note will die within 40 seconds. Shinigami Ryuk dropped his Death Note in the human world where it’s found by honor high school student Light. With the death note actually having directions in it for its use, Light discovers he now has the power to discreetly kill people, and with this new power he plans to change the world in his ideal world by killing off criminals. Eventually the governments of the countries around the world notice the unusual amounts of deaths of their criminals, and figure out someone is behind them, but they have no way of discovering it themselves. That’s when they hire L, a master detective, to find out who is behind the murders. (Source: ANN)
I'm having a hell of a time trying to figure out what to write for this review, but that's not because I have ambivalent feelings about this manga. On the contrary, there are so many great qualities of this manga that I can't think of where to start... But I'll give it a try anyway.
First of all there is the original story line... Not only is the story's concept intriguing, but the entire follow-up throughout all 12-volumes constantly keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen next. Even just looking at the title "Death Note" may give the impression that this is going to be some kind of Gothic horror genre. And although there are some of those elements in here, that's not what keeps fans enthralled. What keeps them coming back are the two main characters -- Light and L -- who have to constantly try to outwit one another in order to gain the strategic upper-hand. This manga uses reasoning like other manga use action. It will go through a character's thought process as they try to consider every possible scenario before making a move. That makes for some dense dialogue, but also makes for some electrifying tension because you are always trying to think of what loopholes might have been missed or how L or Light (or Near and Mello later on) will counteract each others' strategy. It pulls you into the story because you not only see what the characters do but why.
The characters themselves make the story worth reading as well. Not only are their quirky and extraordinary personalities enthralling, but they are also complex characters that evolve throughout the series. Watching Light as the Death Note corrupts his initially well-meaning intentions; and watching L as he develops a camaraderie with Light adds even more depth to the story. And although the story involves themes of good vs. evil, there are no absolutes in either category. There are fans of the manga who root for Light and those who root for L, because neither is inherently the good guy or bad guy.
And those characters come all the more to life with the manga's superb artwork. It's clean and dispenses with the standard manga character design stereotypes (e.g., big eyes, outlandish body proportions). Not only does each character have a distinctive look, but each also has a distinctive posture. Nowhere before have I seen a manga artist have such a firm grasp of using body language to enhance personality and dialogue. Takeshi Obata's artwork undeniably makes reading even the most dialogue-heavy moments a joy.
I've heard both good and bad reviews about the stories final chapters, but in my mind it ended perfectly. Though probably individuals' reactions will depend on which character they want to win (since it could go either way...many times over). There is -- as is par for the manga -- a lot of dialogue to trudge through, but the reward at the end is well worth it. The best review of volume 12 I have read thus far describes the end of Death Note as "like observing an elaborate dominoes set-up and then seeing it collapse in twisted but elegant patterns. You marvel at the time and patience it took to set it all up, are amazed to watch the dominoes fall in rhythm and then feel a little disappointed that it's all over."
There is certainly a lot more to be said about this story because there are so many twists and turns -- some of which are extremely controversial among fans (sometimes justifiably so). But taken as a whole, this is an incredibly original and engrossing story for fans of manga and non-fans alike.