Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: Death Note: L, Change the WorLd

Death Note was one of the most popular manga and anime titles to come along in recent memory. The story about a young man who stumbles upon a book that bestows him with the power to kill a person simply by knowing their face and name was fascinating, gripping, and filled with tension. Through that tale, one character in particular stood out and made his mark on the anime world. L was the antagonist detective to the villainous protagonist of the show and was arguably one of the more prominent figures from the series.

Now, over the time since Death Note was released there have been a few attempts at extending the franchise. Live action versions of the show have been released theatrically and to date three have seen the light of day. The latest of which, L, Change the WorLd was released in Japan in 2008 and hit America earlier this year. The film has been critiqued harshly and it was not received entirely too well by the masses, but does the novelization of the story fair any better?

Just in time for the holidays VIZ has released a book version of Death Note: L, Change the WorLd. Those who were fans of the show, or those who simply enjoyed the movie, will definitely want to check this one out. It's a look at the life of L and truly fleshes out his character in ways that neither medium was able to. Readers will learn many aspects about his life before he became the world's foremost detective and they'll get to see how he spends the last days of his life. You see, L has written his own name inside Ryuk’s Death Note. He made it so that in 23 days he will die quietly, and before that happens he wants to solve one last case to effectively save the world.

At the start of L, Change the WorLd we soon learn that there’s quite the nasty virus out there. America wants it, Japan wants it, terrorists want it, and somewhere in between all of them stands L. He uses his extraordinary abilities of deduction to get to the bottom of what’s going on with the virus and who is actually getting their hands on it. Caught in between events right along side of L is a young girl named Maki. She’s the daughter of a prominent scientist who was working on an antidote for the virus. Naturally she finds her way into L’s care and becomes a sidekick of sorts. This part was a little out of character for L, but his childlike nature itself made it feel plausible to some extent so it never feels forced.

Standing beside L is an FBI agent named Suruga who has taken over for L’s former contact, Naomi. A doctor who worked with Maki’s father joins them at some point, and several characters from the anime franchise also make an appearance in one form or another. Naturally there are some villains as well, though the rivalry between they and L never quite ascends to the level as L’s battle against Kira did. This kind of all comes back to the direction and focus of the book, which feels slightly off at parts. The manner with which some events unfold is never explained appropriately and some appear to be completely by chance.

There’s a fair amount of tension in the story as well. The writer, M, does a wonderful job of conveying the danger of the virus and putting the book’s characters in the thick of it. The story here isn’t as wholly compelling as the one told in the anime, but there are some moments of true edge of your seat entertainment. Readers will feel compelled to turn to the next page at many points just to see how events unfold and come to the resolution of a climax. Considering the chapters of the book countdown to the inevitable death of L, there’s a great sense of foreboding that hovers over everything.

L, Change the WorLd features a bit of action as well. L finds himself in the midst of some interesting situations, and I dare say that they feel a tad out of character. He leaps into things in a manner that seems to contradict what we’ve learned about his character, but then again that could be a part of the fact that his death has already been sealed. Knowing you can’t die until the prescribed time would probably make you do things you typically wouldn’t.

The writing style of “M” is lightly descriptive, but gives the reader enough of a visual for each scene. The dialogue is mostly very good as well though sometimes the things characters say is a little verbose for the content of a simple conversation. L, Change the WorLd is aimed towards young adults and clocks in at 174 pages, so it’s a light read for sure. The cover and presentation of the novel are quite attractive with some nice artwork and a nifty slipcover, so it looks great on the shelf next to other Death Note books.

Death Note: L, Change the WorLd is a fine entry for the franchise. The continuation of L’s adventures is compelling for the most part and there are some nice bits that flesh out his character. The story of his last days as he fights to stop a deadly viral outbreak is gripping and tension filled. There are some missteps that appear such as the inclusion of the kid characters who don’t provide much for the overall story, pacing issues, and the fact that the villains just never feel like a worthy foe for L to take down. Still, fans of the franchise will definitely want to pick this book up. It’s a good read all around and will keep you turning pages right until the end.

Maki Rating:

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