Death Note started off as a manga and anime series that joined others in its ilk during the 2000s renaissance. This was the time period that brought us many herald classics such as Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Inuyasha, Full Metal Alchemist, and Gurren Lagann. I can spend the entire time naming at least ten other series that would either go on to have devoted fans over a decade later or continue in some form. Of course Naruto lives on through Boruto, rumors of a Bleach revival are on the way, and One Piece is, well, never ending at this point.
However, among the “Roaring 00s” of anime, Death Note always stood out to me. While I was invested in Naruto since middle school, I hadn’t touched Death Note until my high school years. During this time, the series was still popular, yet it always seemed overshadowed by the other bigger names. Despite this, it remains a huge hit in Japan with several live action movies, a prequel light novel, several dramas, and a TV series.
Of course, there was also the Netflix Original film which was an attempt to “Americanize” the series, for whatever reason. Back in 2017 it was a talking point, mostly how it didn’t live up to the source material presented. Nowadays, no one really talks about it and it is probably for the best.
While Death Note is considered a cult classic in both the East and the West, it is no surprise that content is still being created to this day. The surprise factor stems from the unexpectant delivery of said content. On February 3rd 2020, the creators behind Death Note, author Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, revisited the world that Kira left behind in a one-shot published by Viz Media.
While you don’t need to read the original manga to read the one-shot, the one-shot will assume you know the original source as many existing characters, themes, and events from the original manga are all featured within the chapter. That said, it will greatly enhance the experience if you know the source material. Past this point there will be spoilers on the original manga and the one-shot chapter as I’ll be referring to both.
This isn’t the first “one-shot” within the Death Note universe. The first official one-shot dates as far back as 2008, two years after the original series was completed. Set three years after Kira’s death, this one-shot focused on a new “Kira.” This “Kira” has access to the Death Note via a shinigami (who wasn’t Ryuk) and used it to murder those who had a low life expectancy. However, the new “L,” formerly known as Near, quickly shuts his antics down. The new “Kira” then uses the Death Note to kill himself and the shinigami retrieve the book.
Before we can discuss the latest one-shot, we first have to discuss Takeshi Obata’s art exhibit that was held in the Summer of 2019; Never Complete.
Never Complete was an art exhibit celebrating Obata’s thirty-years as a manga artist. Within the exhibit, many of his previous works from Hikaru no Go, Bakuman, Death Note, and the latest ongoing series, Platinum End were all on display.
Bonus content which included first drafts of illustrations, were also featured. Among the bonus content, the most peculiar one was a storyboard draft of the 87-page one-shot. The storyboard draft can be seen and read in almost its entirety on the official Shonen Jump Plus website. Six months later, we have an official release in both Japanese and English. The official English translation can be viewed here.
Our story begins right where the previous one-shot left off. The shinigami who wasn’t Ryuk, gives Ryuk back the Death Note, claiming he was unsuccessful while also giving him an apple as an offering. Being bored of the shinigami world as well as a craving for more apples, Ryuk sets off to see who could be the successor of the Death Note. If it entails free apples, Ryuk ain’t complaining.
We then get to meet a young Minoru Tanaka, a middle schooler who is known for having the highest test grades in the region. When Ryuk introduces himself to Tanaka, the only thing Ryuk knows is that Tanaka is smart in school, comparing Minoru Tanaka to Light Yagami’s aptitude in school.
However, his actual grades are mediocre at best. This already contrasts Light who was a certified genius both in tests as well as grades. As Tanaka explains that his ability to score high on tests are dependent on his knowledge of IQ tests and quizzes, he bemoans that adults who see grades yet fail to see the bigger picture are no better.
As Tanaka holds the Death Note in his hand, all he knows is that it was once Kira’s. It is during this scene that we learn the state of Tokyo after Kira’s death, ten years later. Yagami’s legacy lives on as he is taught in schools around Tokyo. Tanaka exclaims that he was taught about him in Ethics class and in World History class, both of whom consider him to be an evil mass-murdering sociopath that placed Tokyo on the brink of destruction.
There’s just one problem with holding the single most powerful and dangerous weapon in the world. What good is a Death Note if you can’t even read its instructions?
While this wasn’t a problem for Light as he was a genius who understood fluent English and Japanese, here was a middle schooler who struggled with English. He asks Ryuk to translate the English into Japanese, just so that he can understand how to use it.
However, while not as academically bright as Light, Minoru is more logical with his approach. He understands how the Death Note was used in the past. The major difference between the past and the present are the increase in security measures to ensure a repeat of what happened doesn’t transpire again. When Ryuk asks if Minoru can use the Death Note the same way that Kira did, Minoru hesitates.
Knowing the state of Tokyo right now as well as knowing the history of Kira and the Death Note, he has no interest or intentions of using the Death Note for similar deeds. Here lies a normal child who excels at critical thinking who has the opportunity of a lifetime.
Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. He also can’t risk the book falling into the hands of someone else who would use the book for the same reasons Kira did, or worse. So he does the one thing that he could do in this situation.
He buys himself two years of time. He tells Ryuk to come back to him in two years, while asking him two critical questions.
The first question he asks is if it was possible for those who touched the notebook to still see Ryuk. This would involve the former Investigation Team and Near, who brought Kira to justice.
The second question was how far can Ryuk move around without being close to Minoru. This comes into play two years later when Minoru decides to ultimately sell the Death Note.
That’s right. He sells the Death Note.
But not just to anyone, especially not via Craigslist either.
Conveniently, the TV broadcast station is close by Tanaka’s house. With a pen and paper he tells Ryuk to write a message that will incur interest without actually having to directly contact Tanaka himself. Since the net and all of its usage can be easily tracked, using the TV to broadcast the message provides a safe approach for Tanaka to cover his trail. Rather, you can’t cover a trail you never create.
Conversely, those who had seen Ryuk from ten years ago, were able to see Ryuk on television. This introduces several key characters from the original series into the one-shot. The first is Matsuda, who is every bit as hot headed and foolishly passionate in the present as he was in the past.
The second, is L.
Not the L we know, but, the current L. Near.
Fragments of the iconic “L vs Kira” fight start to show over the next few pages as the bids for the Death Note reaches into the trillions and L continuously wondering how things are playing out. He understands that the “Auction Kira” or “A-Kira” is playing a very cautious game, but fails to see the endgame.
As the bid for the Death Note reaches record highs, it is revealed that the two nations bidding for the Death Note are none other than…
…The United States of America…
Despite two of the largest world leaders in the hot seat bidding on the Death Note, Minoru is unphased. In the end, the USA wins the auction. At this point, Near awaits to figure out just how “A-Kira” is going to attain the money. Thinking this through, Minoru demands payment in such a way that it is almost impossible to be tracked down.
Within this time period, it is enough for Tanaka to relinquish ownership of the Death Note, forget he had it, and live a peaceful life along with millions of others in Japan. Given the circumstances and how millions will have access to such money, as well as the owner of the Death Note forgetting he had the Death Note, Near backs off, admitting defeat.
There is one fatal flaw to Tanaka’s entire plan and it was a flaw that would lead to his death.
Turns out Tanaka was so smart that not only did he outsmart the smartest human alive, but he also outsmarted the Shinigami King himself. Shortly before the Death Note was relinquished, the King ordered Ryuk to write a new rule within the Death Note. The rule being this.
With even the Shinigami King being upset that the Death Note was allowed to be sold to another, this new rule ensured that Tanaka was going to die a month from now. The president, however, chose to relinquish ownership, but declares that he has the power of Kira to herald his power over everyone else.
So, as stated in the new ruling of the Death Note, Tanaka’s name was written in Ryuk’s Death Note as soon as he received the money and the chapter ends on that note.
The first thing I want to mention is that Tanaka was too smart for his own good. Kira’s downfall was that his God complex forced him to become disillusioned. Tanaka’s downfall was the complete opposite. He felt his plan was entirely foolproof without taking into the variable of the shinigami lowballing him.
This reminded me of the time when Rem declared that she would kill Light if he ever caused the death or harm of Misa. At this point this was Light’s first interaction with another shinigami. Knowing who Rem was and the type of person she was, he was able to manipulate her to his livelihood by sacrificing herself. Tanaka never got to see the Shinigami King himself, and the King made sure of it.
Tanaka not only never met another shinigami so he could understand how they would behave, but he also never met Near—I mean L. I gotta stop calling him Near.
He never got to meet L, he never got to meet the investigation team. All of Tanaka’s actions were met through the safety of his room. This was beneficial as he was able to cover his tracks, but it proved his downfall as he followed a plan from start to finish without thinking of the variables.
The moment Tanaka relinquished ownership, his fate was sealed. Tanaka wouldn’t have known about the rule change and it wouldn’t be up to Ryuk to remind him. Ryuk is many things, but Ryuk is a shinigami of his words.
It’s because of Ryuk being a shinigami of his word that proved to be fatal to Light as well. From the beginning of Light’s reign into Kira, Ryuk promised that if Light were to ever put himself in a situation where Light would die, Ryuk would write his name in the Death Note.
Ryuk never had the chance to warn Tanaka about the rule change as he was told never to show his face again. Thus, Tanaka died oblivious to anything that he had done, unlike Light who died knowing all of the things he’d done.
The final thing I want to reflect upon is the concept of legacy. Throughout the chapter we’re told about the lasting impression Kira had on not just Japan, but the entire world. It was this legacy that spurred the interest of ownership of the Death Note to begin with. Even if the Death Note was never used, the fact that it could be used to incite fear and dominance among one’s nation and the world is enough for anyone in a position of power.
The caveat of covering your path is that no one knows your name. This was the entire point of Tanaka’s ownership of the Death Note. He wanted to get rid of it while also making a profit off of it. If all of Japan would reap the benefits of the Death Note, then it was just a bonus.
His mother wouldn’t struggle, his family wouldn’t struggle, everyone would be set for life. This one child single-handedly caused an entire economic bubble and yet his legacy would be left behind with no one knowing who he was.
If you’re a fan of the series, I highly recommend giving this a read. In fact it makes me want to revisit the series one more time. It was nice seeing how my old favorites were doing ten years later, both literally and within universe. It was also a good read that, much like the original Death Note, left a lot to think about as far as current events.
The timing of the release of this chapter, the realistic physical details of the world leaders for USA and China, and the themes shared within the chapter are non-coincidental I believe. While a Death Note is obviously fantasy, it reads itself like a parody of modern-day politics. A caricature of the lengths those in power would go to obtain a destructive instrument used for intimidation purposes.
Unfortunately, even if you do everything in your power to just live a peaceful life, in the words of Ryuk…