Death Note is quite the manga series. It isn't one of the most popular manga series to ever crossed both sides of Japan since Love Hina for nothing. The franchise even got the attention of the non-manga reading demographic, for example, the Chinese government.
The story begins with two simple beings, Ryuk, a Shinigami who is bored by the lack of social life in his world deliberately drops a death notebook; that when written with the name of a person while having the image of their face in mind, the person would die of a heart attack. The notebook is picked up by ace student Yagami Light. Like Ryuk, Light also happens to be bored with life in the human world. However unlike Ryuk's penchant for using the notebook as an entertainment purpose, Light view on the notebook as godsend - a purpose to cleanse the human world of sinners and create an utopia.
The 12 volumes of Death Note are split into two main arcs. Within those are minor arcs that takes about a volume each to complete. So even if you pick up any volume to read you will find some fascinating storyline within. The correct way however is to start numerically and to begin with the manga series first, if you want to make sense of anything (do avoid the awful life action adaptation). The first arc concerns the battle between Light and an ace detective known as L. As the authorities closes in on Light, he must use the advantage of the notebook to deflect attention of him and eliminate L. The second arc is slightly similar to the first where Light, now an adult and a high ranking officer, has to battle with L's predecessor. In my opinion the second arc is the weakest of the Death Note story.
The characters are well designed. Despite marketed as such (VIZ publishes Death Note under their Shonen Jump Advanced label), the protagonist (?!) isn't your typical average Shonen stereotype. For one he is an evil sociopath with fascist tendencies. Despite that you will find that rooting for him is an almost guilty-less pleasure. L is an equally mad nerd with a holier than thou persona who is a similar personality to Light. The two very much make up both sides of the same coin. As the series progress new characters are introduced including two new Shinigamis who play important roles in Light's quest.
The localisation by VIZ is above average, though a times some of the dialogue isn't as well conveyed as well as those fan-translation version. You will be pleased to know that they have gone further than most publishers (like TOKYOPOP) and translated the sound effects, though Death Note being a non-action manga contains very few sound effects in the first place. It is nice to find that the official translator did not attempt to personalise the manga by inserting witty slang into it (though I found Ryuk's "humans are a riot" comments out of place). You will be pleased that I have not found any evidence of censorship either. There are however no colour pages within, but this isn't surprising considering the release is in the cheaper tankōbon format.
There are major issues on discussion with morality with Death Note. There are times when Light (when he loses his memory a third through the series), seems like a genuine good guy who refuses to even succumb to the method that L prescribes (who is willing to let others die in order to obtain evidence). But when he regains his god-like power, he immediately transform into a mass murderer. When Light's intricate plan to subvert the police becomes apparent and his attempt and failure to control Amane Misa, a celebrity who also happens to own a death notebook; it is far obvious to anyone that Light is a pathetic Angel of Death whose agenda to clean the world is often sidetracked by his thirst for more power.
Death Note isn't the most mature manga to have left Japan. It is a Shonen manga after all whose target demographic is still the teen market. But it is still an amazing thriller to read with extremely smart writing, wonderful plot and great artistic design by Obata Takeshi. At 12 volumes, it isn't too expensive to own either and makes up for a good light reading during weekends. While crafted in a way to provide a thrilling read, Death Note's obvious draw isn't as obvious as what was printed on the sheets of paper. Like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Deus Vitae and other equivalent mangas, Ohba Tsugumi challenge the reader to raise moral and ethical questions in the Death Note world that is parallel to our real world.
Thanks to Amazon UK for despatching our order through a next day courier service despite us opting for the free super saver delivery (normally delivered 2nd class by Royal Mail posties taking 3-4 days). This goodwill is very much in contrast to the CWU and Adam Crozier for mucking about.