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The Eyes of Kira Are upon You - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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June 20th, 2008


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09:33 pm - The Eyes of Kira Are upon You
During my tour of anime, I came across this awesome-sounding anime called Death Note. Doesn't it sound awesome already? Right? Anyway, I was told by multiple sources that the manga was superior, so I decided to give it a shot. I'd never read manga before. sistakaren showed me that I could read it all online, but, to my surprise, the Oakland Public Library carried the books!

As you might know, manga are all backwards and shit. You start at the "end" and turn the pages the other way. You read from right to left. Thing is, not only are the panels structured right-to-left on the page, the panels themselves are to be read right to left! It's crazy! But, actually, that makes it easier because you just, well, change the way your eyes move. It only takes ten seconds to get used to, and then you're doing it. It baffled me because I wondered if the Japanese see the entire world that way, if even their film is framed to be viewed right-to-left. Having just read Understanding Comics, I looked for the differences in manga as opposed to regular comics. Sure enough, like McCloud said, there was a different sort of focus, with many more panels of "nothingness," just scenery. And a lot more close-ups of faces and eyes. I only noticed these things occasionally, though; it's not like it would be a completely foreign experience for a comics reader.

Death Note is about...the Death Note. It's a notebook like any other, except for the fact that if you write someone's name in it, they die. There are tons more rules, but for pimping purposes, let's keep it simple, especially since that's all I knew. That's all I needed to know to be interested in the series because, come on, that's a fucking brilliant idea, and there's so much you could do with it.

What Tsugumi Ohba does with it is this: an extremely bright high school student named Light Yagami finds the Death Note. The very first thing we hear him say is "The world is rotten," and this informs the rest of the series. Because what Light Yagami decides to do is rid the world of evil people, eliminating the criminals and putting fear into everyone else such that they won't commit bad deeds. So he's just like Dexter, right? Well...not quite. Because while Light's motives are partially pure, they're also tainted with extreme selfishness: he plans to rule over this ideal world as its god. This makes Light somewhat hard to like, but he's so awesome you root for him anyway.

On the other side, we have L, the world's most brilliant detective (yeah, eat it, Batman). L is pretty much everyone's favorite character, and that is because he is awesome. Also, completely bizarre. He constantly sits as if perched, the bags under his eyes giving him a constant look of crazy. He's always eating sweets or putting his finger in his mouth. He even holds cell phones in a weird way. Also, he's smarter than you. No, really, he totally is. You know it, he knows it, don't even argue.

Problem is, the only person in the world who can match L's intelligence is...Light Yagami. And thus, the game of psychological cat-and-mouse begins, with each one trying to best each other in, as sophiap puts it, the highest-stakes chess match of all time. You know that scene in The Princess Bride where Vizzini tries to guess which cup is poisoned, and he walks us through his reasoning, continually changing his decision based on the fact that he assumed Westley would anticipate what he was thinking and how he would act? That is the entire series. No, seriously. The whole book is one mindgame after another.

And it's amazingly fast-paced and exciting for a book with very little real action. The handful of action scenes with gunfights and explosions feel almost out of place. Takeshi Obata's art is very simple and straightforward, keeping the focus solely on the dialogue and inner monologues and enhancing them with the proper facial expressions. So it's simultaneously a fast read because you don't have to pay as much attention to the art and a slow read because you have to pay a lot of attention to the words since Light and L both have dizzying intellects.

Also, the series is FUCKING NUTS. Because the plot unfolds at an abnormally and atypically fast pace. Things you would not expect to happen until near the end of the series happen in the first couple volumes. I was always aghast, wondering where in the hell the story was going to go with X volumes left. As latropita puts it, they pull every trigger they have. If it's going to make life hard for Light, IT HAPPENS. The fun is in watching him get out of every sticky situation. Like Benjamin Linus, he's always got a plan.

Death Note is mostly concerned with being a whip-smart suspense tale full of plot twist after plot twist. It's one long narrative from start to finish, which I love. The characterization is pretty thin, although the minor characters do distinguish themselves. Light and L were a couple of my favorite characters, obviously, as was Ryuk, the shinigami (god of death) whose Death Note Light finds. I loved Ryuk's character design, and his personality is a source of great entertainment. Interestingly, he's not on Light's side, per se. He's just here for the lulz; he finds human behavior very fun. And then there's Matsuda, who's the butt of every joke and mostly provides comic relief, although he comes through for the team occasionally. You can't help but love the guy, though. Ohba said he tried to stay away from human drama because that's not what he cared about. Oddly enough, he also said that the ideology of the Death Note wasn't really important to him either. So don't expect a lot of meaty philosophical debates on whether it's a good idea to kill all the bad guys; the topic comes up occasionally, obviously, but the series is not really about taking a side. It does open up the avenue for discussion, however.

You may notice that I've written a lot but haven't really said much about what happens in the series, and that's very intentional. Like I said, I knew very little when I started, so every surprise was just that: a surprise. I wouldn't want to deprive you of that enjoyment! Death Note is a huge phenomenon, so you'd be way cool if you checked it out. I am curious about the anime, but it looks like the reason it's not as good as the manga is that it covers the first 7 volumes in 26 episodes...and then compresses the last 5 volumes into 11 episodes. Good job, guys. As I said earlier, you can read it all online, but check your local library to see if they carry it, just for the experience of flipping through the book backwards. It also makes it a little easier to get into that mindset.

Oh, Death Note. You hurt my brain, but I love you anyway.
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: Easy listening in the Sheraton Boston lobby

(29 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:bookie85
Date:June 21st, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
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I am starting Death Note this weekend. Maybe I will have it done by the time I see you on Sunday.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
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You should! It reads fast, like I said. You really need to read the first volume so we can talk about it tomorrow!
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From:bookie85
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
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Tomorrow? Do you mean Sunday? I am busy tomorrow.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
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Tomorrow, Sunday, whatever! You can read it by the time we see each other, for sure.
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From:pandarus
Date:June 21st, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
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Smack my hand now! [/Anya]

SO chuffed that you got sucked in! Yay!

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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
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Ha, what a great icon! Ryuk, Light, and L, all together!
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From:bookie85
Date:June 21st, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
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The first volume, I mean. I won't have the entire series done by Sunday. :)
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From:chrismarlowe
Date:June 21st, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
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I've got the dvd queued up on Netflix, but probably won't do the manga. My library probably woudln't carry it anyways. I heard quite a bit about, but not that Light wasn't totally pure about his motives. That kicks it up a notch.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
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Yeah, it makes it so that essentially, he's the villain of the series despite being the protagonist. Like you, I only had an inkling about the fact that he was using the notebook to kill evil people, so I wasn't expecting the whole "I will be GOD!" declaration. As you read, you have the conflicting urges of wanting him to be caught because he seriously needs to go down before shit gets out of hand and not wanting him to be caught because then the story would be over. It does have that in common with Dexter, although Dexter is much more likable. Light is kind of an ass (and Ryuk knows it and makes comments about it, which is amusing).
(Deleted comment)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:23 am (UTC)
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I hope you enjoy it!

ALso, I hope your icon is not a giant space penis.
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From:catatonia00
Date:June 21st, 2008 02:22 am (UTC)
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It baffled me because I wondered if the Japanese see the entire world that way, if even their film is framed to be viewed right-to-left.

We're a dyslexic bunch. Come to think of it, that may explain why I tend to skip words and not follow the order when switching from Japanese to English. Or that I plainly rush through words too much.

On film, subtitles are read from left-to-right. But I think the storyboards are structured to read like manga. Horizontal reading and writing are actually more contemporary (and probably Westernized) forms. Whereas, the standard form used to be and still mostly is in vertical because of the Chinese characters.

Stop me from sounding so lecture-y and know-it-all everytime you bring up something Japanese. Heck, what do I know?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:25 am (UTC)
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But I think the storyboards are structured to read like manga.
Right, this is what I was wondering! I mean, I've seen some Japanese film (Kurosawa and Ozu), but I never noticed anything backwards about the framing, like whether there's a predominance of right-to-left motion or something.
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From:allsunday
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:47 am (UTC)
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You described the series so perfectly, I want to quote you on it. You even used the same references I do, like Dexter and Batman. xD; Death Note and One Piece are hands down my favorite manga ever, so now I just need to convince you to pick up One Piece, the neverending series you never want to end.

Oh, and you brought up an interesting point about how the Japanese see the world from right to left instead of from left to right like we do. I actually attended a lecture at the Asian Art Museum once that used the famous Japanese painting The Great Wave as a prime example of how we see the world differently from the Japanese because of the direction we read. When we look at The Great Wave, our eyes naturally enter the painting from left to right, invoking an almost peaceful feeling as we flow with the wave. The Japanese on the other hand, enter the painting from the right to the left, giving the impression that the wave is coming to crash down on them, making the painting a fearful image. To see what the Japanese see, just open a copy of the painting in Photoshop and flip it horizontally. :)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 21st, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
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Ha, your icon!! When I got to that panel, I totally recognized it.

You described the series so perfectly, I want to quote you on it.
Aw! Thanks. Feel free to quote me on it.

You even used the same references I do, like Dexter and Batman.
Don't forget The Princess Bride! I was proud of that one, as it just came to me while writing and I think it's kind of perfect. Vizzini is L, and Westley is Light. Think about it!

And it's funny; I didn't even think about Dexter myself until miniglik mentioned him to me when I described the series. The Batman reference struck me when I typed the words "world's most brilliant detective." (Although he's the World's Greatest Detective, so maybe he's safe from L.)

Death Note and One Piece are hands down my favorite manga ever, so now I just need to convince you to pick up One Piece, the neverending series you never want to end.
NEVER ENDS. Hey, Death Note is my favorite manga ever by default!

I actually attended a lecture at the Asian Art Museum once that used the famous Japanese painting The Great Wave as a prime example of how we see the world differently from the Japanese because of the direction we read. When we look at The Great Wave, our eyes naturally enter the painting from left to right, invoking an almost peaceful feeling as we flow with the wave. The Japanese on the other hand, enter the painting from the right to the left, giving the impression that the wave is coming to crash down on them, making the painting a fearful image.
Wow! That's really fucking interesting. Is that the painting I'm thinking about? With the...big wave?
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From:allsunday
Date:June 21st, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
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LOL, I love my Death Note icons! I can never have enough. :')

Ohh yes, Princess Bride...HA! That makes so much sense.

I will get you into One Piece eventually. I will wear down your will. The sooner you give in, the sooner you can catch up.

And yes, the painting you are thinking of is undoubtedly the painting I'm referring to.
(Deleted comment)
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From:rachelmanija
Date:June 21st, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Glad you enjoyed it! I stalled out in the excruciatingly dull "corrupt businessmen" arc, but the first arc was great.

For your next manga, I recommend Monster by Naoki Urasawa. Spoilers for the premise (the first third of book one) below:

A young but highly skilled Japanese surgeon, Dr. Tenma, is working in a hospital in Germany when two patients arrive in quick succession: a young boy and an important politician. Tenma is already scrubbing up to operate on the boy when the politician arrives. The hospital admin demands that he switch patients, but he refuses. The politician is operated on by a less skilled surgeon and dies, Tenma's career is destroyed, and his fiancee dumps him. But the boy lives.

Years later, Tenma discovers that the boy whose life he saved at such great cost is... a psychopathic serial killer rampaging through Germany! And he's obsessed with Tenma! And great and complex mystery surrounds the boy's background!

Since Tenma saved his life, Tenma feels responsible for the consequences. And so a fascinating, twisty, action-packed thriller begins. But it's not all chases and reversals. There's a strong theme of how people change each others' lives, forever and for better or worse, sometimes without even realizing it.

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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 22nd, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
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I stalled out in the excruciatingly dull "corrupt businessmen" arc, but the first arc was great.
The first arc was supergreat. I could see why some people didn't like the second arc, but I still enjoyed it from start to finish.

I think you or someone may have recommended Monster to me before. There's an anime too, right? And isn't it really long? It did look really interesting.
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From:rachelmanija
Date:June 22nd, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
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Probably me. And yes, there's an anime and I think it's long, but I haven't seen it.
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From:jeeperstseepers
Date:June 22nd, 2008 02:47 am (UTC)
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You start at the "end" and turn the pages the other way. You read from right to left. Thing is, not only are the panels structured right-to-left on the page, the panels themselves are to be read right to left! It's crazy! But, actually, that makes it easier because you just, well, change the way your eyes move. It only takes ten seconds to get used to, and then you're doing it.

Like Hebrew! Yeah, pretty quickly you get programmed to read the correct way for whichever language the book you're holding is. It's not something I've ever even thought about. I only ever become conscious of it if it's one of those books where each page contains both the Hebrew and the English translation. It's weird finishing an English sentence at the end of the page on the right and continuing it on the page on the left.

Edited at 2008-06-22 02:48 am (UTC)
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From:lynevere
Date:June 23rd, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
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Huh, that was your first exposure to manga? You've seen enough anime that that surprises me. My library stocks manga, but not anime, so it's been my major source of Japanese entertainment recently. Manga's also great for series that continue beyond the anime. (Which is how I read my first manga, Kare Kano.)

I'm glad you enjoyed Death Note, as I did too. Given that much of the action takes place in the mind (logic puzzles, etc) it's a little weird that it became a manga at all (I'd think a novel would be the obvious choice), but it works.
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From:eponis
Date:June 24th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
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Oy. I'd been wanting to read Death Note for years (seriously, it's been on my Amazon wishlist for that long), and you had to go and link to it available online. I just lost a day and a half.

But it was a pretty awesome loss, I admit. Thanks?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
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You're welcome!
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From:kissyboots13
Date:June 25th, 2008 02:09 pm (UTC)
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I actually try to avoid almost any manga that ISN'T printed 'backwards'. If you liked the books, you NEED to watch the anime. It is not only very good, it is also...completely hilarious. And I can't really explain why until you watch it. Just...you've never seen anyone do things the way Light does. Trust me.

Also, another anime that is pretty fucking amazing is Samurai Champlu. I thought it was going to suck, but it is so cooooooooool.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
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I love Samurai Champloo!

I imagine seeing Light in action would be incredibly amusing.
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From:kissyboots13
Date:June 26th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)
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IT IS. Because it is an anime, they can add all this ominous chanting and heavy music to the name-writing scenes...you've never seen anyone write in a notebook like that. Yes, he is KILLING someone each time he does...

And it begins to...spill over. Into other, every-day activities. Just watch it, hilarity will definitely ensue.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 27th, 2008 07:40 am (UTC)
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Because it is an anime, they can add all this ominous chanting and heavy music to the name-writing scenes...you've never seen anyone write in a notebook like that.
Heh, that must be why my brother said it was overdramatic.

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