Meeting Manga with a Death Note

Manga are book-length comics that became popular during the American post-war occupation of Japan.  They appear in all genres: science-fiction, mystery, comedy, and romance.  Typically manga are printed in black-and-white.

Manga have begun to enjoy increasing popularity in the United States.  An entire section of my local Barnes and Noble is devoted to them.  One reason for the popularity may be the exoticism of the medium. As an introduction, I selected a well-known manga  called Death Note that had been translated into English.   The first thing I noticed was that Death Note was published from right to left because Japanese is written from right to left. The individual panels also needed to be read from right to left, which was sometimes disconcerting.  My verdict: Death Note makes the shows on the CW look like masterpieces. It’s about a teenager, Light Yagami, who finds a notebook that’s been dropped by a death god named Ryuk.  The notebook gives Light the power to kill by writing the name of a victim while picturing the victim’s face. Light decides that he wants to rid the world of criminals.  When authorities get wise to multiple unexpected deaths in the criminal community, Light experiments with the notebook to avoid getting caught.  He learns he can manipulate the time and manner of death and even manipulate the victim to perform actions specified in the notebook. I was turned off by the perverse premise and the completely amoral protagonist. But maybe those qualities are part of the exoticism that attracts an audience. I may have read only one sample but manga don’t deserve a second chance.

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