After twice reading the finale volume to Ohba and Obata's Death Note (Viz), I thought I'd take a look at some of the online reactions to this series finish. One of the first I found was a fan writer who repeatedly screamed "I HATE YOU!" at the series' creative team. Mebbe David Chase has the right idea keeping Tony Soprano's ultimate fate unresolved, eh?
Okay, Medium-Sized Spoiler Alert: Death Note concludes with its anti-hero Light Yagami, a.k.a. "Kira," the arrogant sociopath who's been using a supernatural notebook to cleanse the world of evildoers, defeated and falling apart in front of us. The guy even gets a chapter-long death scene, so if you're one of those who's always had difficulties accepting the show-stopping dying monologues in Shakespearean tragedy, you probably won't go for this either. Me, I think the bastard had it coming.
Looking at the full twelve-volume Death Note series (purportedly, there's a thirteenth "case files" book available in Japan, but, essentially, the story is over/done/concluded), you can easily divide the saga into two "books." The first centers on high-schooler Light's acquisition of the notebook, his adoption of the Kira alter-ego and his cat-&-cat games with "L," the eccentric and analytical detective who turns out to be close to Light in age. When Light defeats and destroys L in Volume Seven, the detective's adversarial role is taken over by two young protégés, Near and Mello. The second half of the series, set six years later, sees Light in an adult position of authority, while Kira has developed a large cult following of acolytes. His primary opposition comes from Near, a younger and more visibly immature genius who acts out his deductions and plans with a series of finger puppets.
Because of the age discrepancy and the fact that Near goes nowhere near Light until the climactic volume, the conflict between the two antagonists lacks much of the snap that the intellectual gamesmanship between the first L and Light possessed in the first seven books. There's a lotta folderol involving real and faked copies of the killer notebook getting passed around – with Light recruiting a faux Kira to further confuse the forces pursuing him – and the casual reader (or the exceedingly attention deficit like yours truly) can understandably get lost in the midst of all these antics. In the concluding book, scripter Tsugumi Ohba gives us page upon page of back and forth between Light and Near revolving around real and faked notebook pages. At one point, we're asked to believe that Near's people are able to create a fake copy of the full notebook overnight that's undetectable as such by the person wielding it.
It all gets to be a bit much until the actual face-to-face showdown (in a neatly disturbing visual touch, when Near first appears, he's wearing a mask of the late L's face), which is handled with such a high degree of cinematic intensity by artist Takeshi Obata that all the text-heavy panels preceding it seem irrelevant. In one particularly suspenseful sequence, Light, possessing one small slip of notebook paper, attempts a last ditch move against Near, and it's a moment that crackles with Hitchcockian who-am-I-rooting-for-again? ambiguity. In those pages, Death Note's overriding story – of an amoral and too-smart young man who's been given a power he shouldn't possess – carries you through to its inevitable finish.