The 2nd Dimension

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reading Journal: Death Note 13 - How to Read

Book Info

Overall= A


Here, in one authoritative volume, is everything you need to know about Death Note! Features include complete character biographies, detailed story-line summaries, production notes, and behind-the-scenes commentaries. Death Note 13: How to Read also includes exclusive interviews with creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata and a bonus manga chapter of never-before-translated material. (Source: AnimeNation)

I was in Borders one day browsing through the manga section when I found some book about Death Note that claimed to reveal mysteries and secrets about the manga. Intrigued, I leafed through it. But after a few minutes I realized that the book contained nothing that I didn't already know about the series. All it did was summarize info that you could find out by reading the books or watching the anime. Essentially -- much like some Harry Potter books I've seen floating around -- it was nothing more than a worthless attempt by some shmoe to milk money out of a popular franchise. Death Note 13: How to Read, however, is NOT that type of book.

The best way I can think of to describe DN 13 is that it is comparable a really good set of DVD extras. From character bios to creator's commentary to making-of info and even some humorous extras, this book is the definitive Death Note encyclopedia.

Having said that, there is a lot in this book that you may already know. The character bios and timeline of events are nothing new; but it goes the extra mile in both the way it organizes the information and in the level of extra behind-the-scenes info it gives you.

For instance, in the character bios there is a chart that gages certain personality traits of each character. So you can see how the intelligence level of Light compares to L, or how the death toll of Ryuk compares to Rem. Plus it give more insight into the background, motivations, and likes/dislikes and even the physical traits like height, weight, blood type that you wouldn't necessarily know by reading the manga alone. So now you know everything from the degree of Mellow's inferiority complex to Halle Linder's distaste for moths. In addition the creators tell you things like how Misa probably ended up after her final scene and what probably happened with Light's mom and sister.

The book also organizes the story and characters in every which way imaginable. You have the timeline of events including specific dates. You have all the organizations involved, including which characters belong to which organization, and the part each plays. You have all of the Death Note rules including the ones that directly affect the story and the specific scenes they apply to as well as the ones that are never even mentioned in the manga. Plus you have a list of all the tricks that the characters employ when using the Death Note. You have a list of what characters used which Death Note... the list goes on and on. And even though some of the info is redundant, each section provides some new or extra detail or insight to glean from the story.

Of course, the biggest value to the book are the multiple interviews with the creators: Tsugumi Ohba (the writer) and Takeshi Obata (the artist). They go into everything from how they went about creating the series, to the level of collaboration, to how they came up with the character designs, to aspects of the creators' everyday lives. For instance, Ohba reveals that the story was never intended to be as deep as people interpret it. He never meant for it to spark debate about right vs. wrong or whether Light was good or evil. He just wanted to create an entertaining suspense story. And Ryuk's apples -- which so many people interpreted as a reference to Adam and Eve and temptation -- was merely used because he thought the red color would look cool against Ryuk's black body. Although the one thing that I was confused about was the level to which Ohba planned ahead when writing the story. At one point he says that he knew what the ending was going to be all along. But later on he said that he was pretty much just making up the story as he went. I'm guessing the real answer is somewhere in between.

The final parts of the book include a hilarious "Ryuk's Journal" section where Ryuk uncovers everything from Mello's scoreboard of victories and defeats to Near's shopping list to just how much sugar and caffeine L actually inhales. Then there are some funny four-panel comic strips and everything wraps up with the original never-before-seen pilot chapter on which the serial Death Note manga was based.

So -- if you haven't figured it out by now -- this book is more than just a regurgitation of info you already know. It provides useful insight and new details that -- if you are a true Death Note fanatic -- you won't want to be without.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reading Journal: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= B
Story = B
Art = C-


Part 1: Set in 1955, a family from Hiroshima struggles to come to terms with their survival of the atomic bombing of their city. The protagonist is Minami Hirano, about 20 years of age. Part 2: Set some decades later, the niece of Minami Hirano is bewildered by her father's mysterious disappearances. She and a friend follow him to discover what he is doing. Parts of this story are told in flashback. (Source: ANN)

There are some subjects that you'd think it would be easy to build a dramatic story around. One is the Holocaust. The other is the bombing of Hiroshima. And although I've seen and/or heard of plenty of movies related to the former, I can't really think of many related to the later (Barefoot Gen being the only one that immediately comes to mind). Part of that is probably because the US is not likely want to explore the unpleasant details of something it's responsible for (or to import that kind of material from Japan). But if Town of Evening Calm is any indication, it is also likely because Japan itself just wants to move beyond those events as well.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms -- unlike Barefoot Gen -- doesn't deal directly with the events of the bombing, but instead deals with the emotional and physical after-effects that are felt years and decades later. The first part takes place ten years afterwards and focuses on a girl named Minami who is trying to happily move on with her life but realizes that as much as she tries she just never feels right about it. The second part takes place in 1987 and 2004, and deals with how even later generations -- for whom the bombing is little more of a history lesson -- still feel its effects.

From a purely entertainment standpoint, this manga is definitely worthwhile. It isn't as heavy or in-your-face as I expected given the weighty subject. It's also not as preachy or critical of the events themselves (except for a few lines at the end of the first chapter). It deals with the subject matter indirectly for the most part, making it easy to read, but also giving it dramatic undertones.

But it's more interesting in how it shows Japanese attitudes and reactions to the bombing. I mentioned earlier that I have not seen a lot of stories involving the bombing directly, but of course there are plenty that deal with it indirectly, through either symbolism, themes, or just through the countless anime that show Tokyo blowing up. So you know that it's still there somewhere in the back of people's minds, but it's not often that I get a chance to see a straightforward representation to how the Japanese think and feel about it. So -- if nothing else -- this manga is certainly worthwhile for that insight alone.

As far as the artwork is concerned, it is not particularly impressive. The characters are ill-proportioned so that it is sometimes hard to tell between an adult and a child; and overall it not clean or solid. But even so, it does exude a light tone that, again, gives the weighty subject a more relaxed feel.

So, I think that a lot of people will hesitate to buy this due to its subject matter, regardless of how effective it is as a drama. But for those who are interested in getting some insight into Japanese attitudes toward one of its most historically impactful events, it is definitely worthwhile.