Spoiler alert: Please be advised that this review will contain spoilers for the entirety of the Death Note manga, as well as some minor spoilers for the newly released one-shot.
Whether you love it or think it’s overrated, it’s impossible to deny the cultural impact that Death Note has in the world of Japanese entertainment. From the relatively short (but classic) run of the original manga to the contentious live-action releases, the world of the Shinigami and humans who possess the deadly notebook is one that’s been explored for more than a decade now. While we haven’t received new manga releases since the 2008 one-shot featuring Near, that all changed this week as we got a beefy 87-page one-shot featuring a new “protagonist” and lots of meddling from loveable and unpredictable Shinigami Ryuk.
A new threat and a new protagonist
Nearly a decade has passed since the end of the original Death Note, and the first pages of this special one-shot take place after Near’s spotlight chapter. Back in 2013 (right after C-Kira kills himself thanks to Near’s passionate speech), the Shinigami that granted the Death Note to C-Kira returns it to Ryuk. Ryuk, wanting more apples and chaos (of course he does!), heads down to earth to see if he can wreak more havoc with a new host. He comes across Minoru Tanaka, an intelligent student that’s a slacker, and agrees to the conditions in order to use it.
Except he doesn’t.
Right from the get-go, Minoru is remarkably different from Light in terms of character and skill. While apparently smart like Light, Minoru doesn’t really care about academic performance and is more of a typical grade-school student. It’s actually pretty refreshing that he doesn’t have a god complex and would rather coast by, even asking Ryuk to come back in two years to decide on what to do (which exploits the memory loss clause for which the series is known). Minoru even scoffs at the fact that the Death Note’s instructions are written in English, and outright demands Ryuk to translate it for him. Minoru is a bright kid, even if he manifests his cunning differently from the classic protagonist of the original.
The world doesn’t end with you
Probably the first question I get asked when recommending the original Death Note to people is, “Wouldn’t everyone else want a piece of this?” Kira, and by extension the Death Note, is a household historic entity, as Minoru mentions that he learned about the killer in school. However, it was always framed as a massacre, though some devout followers saw Kira as a god. There are events here and there that highlight the repercussions of the original series, and even the protagonist mentions that Kira’s actions wouldn’t fly in today’s world of surveillance.
Minoru’s plan with the Death Note (sell it for cash!) is something that Light would never even consider due to their upbringings and personality, yet it works remarkably well in the themes of this series. Even without using the power of the notebook, Minoru still manages to make waves throughout the world, as everyone is glued to the online auction, with world leaders eventually getting involved in the fray. If you ever wanted to see the president of the United States get a Death Note, your wish may or may not be fulfilled.
A lot of these concepts and ideas have been created and explored thanks to the political and cultural climate of the past few years, which makes the whole affair oddly relevant. Even the trademark twists and “house always wins” mentality rears its ugly head, which is par for the course in a series like this.
Considering the themes and motivations of the protagonist, this story feels like an updated version of the manga as well as a continuation of it, which is weird because the characters that sparked the tense but wonderful conflict are… well, no longer with us.
Or are they?
Near, far, wherever you are
While you could probably count the number of people still living after the events of the original Death Note on one hand, it’s nice that this one-shot includes the survivors in some capacity. As established in 2008’s one-shot, Near has taken the mantle of L as he tries to solve the case of A-Kira. It’s also shown that the more things change, the more they stay the same: He’s still a social recluse, but now has even longer hair. However, his posture indicates that he’s grown into a fine detective, and is worthy of taking L’s place.
My favorite character Matsuda also gets to make an appearance as the police force monitors the A-Kira case as well. It’s still surreal that the 2000s are now two decades ago, but the art style still has the signature inks and character designs of the original (thanks to the fact that the same writer/artist duo have created this).
All in all, this special Death Note one-shot chapter was a remarkable treat, and while the it wraps up the story nicely, I wouldn’t mind seeing future stories like this. After all, Ryuk really needs those apples.