Chapter 1: Boredom
The story starts out in the realm of the shinigami where the death god Ryuk is off to find the Death Note that he dropped in the human world. The shinigami realm is boring for Ryuk, and he is desperate for some excitement. Light Yagami, age 17, is at school, also bored out of his mind, when he notices a strange notebook lying in the middle of the street. The text is written in English, but he figures out that it’s some notebook of death with specific rules.
“The human whose name is written in this note shall die”
“This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.”
“If the cause of death is written within 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen.”
“If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.”
“After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.”
Light immediately dismisses the notebook as a stupid prank. Five days pass. Light is seen typing at his computer and taking out the Death Note when the shinigami Ryuk startles Light by suddenly appearing. Even though Light is at first shocked at seeing a real shinigami in his room, he composes himself and shows Ryuk the vast amount of names that he has written in a span of five days. The amused Ryuk tells Light that since he was the one that picked up the Death Note, the notebook now belongs to him. Ryuk also tells Light that if he gives the Death Note to another human, all memories that he has with the Death Note will be erased. In addition, Light is the only one that can see Ryuk and that death gods must follow the owners of their Death Notes until their owners die. Ryuk tells Light that he will be the one that will write his name in the Death Note and that users of the Death Note can neither go to heaven or to hell.
In a flashback sequence, Light explains how he came to use the power of the notebook. When he saw a news broadcast of a man in Shinjuku who was taking eight people hostage in a nursery school, they broadcasted his name and a mugshot of the suspect. Curious, Light writes his name down on the notebook and waits forty seconds. After forty seconds, the news broadcasts says that the man has died of a heart attack. He decides to test it again later by getting an immediate result. He goes out on the street and sees a man in a motorcycle who tells a woman his name before he begins to harass her. Light writes down his name and “traffic accident” on the Death Note, and the man dies when a bus runs him over in his motorcycle. It’s all the proof Light needs. Although at first Light feels horrified about the fact that he’s killed two people, he admits that the world “is a rotten mess” and needs to be cleaned up. He decides to use the Death Note to kill all of the world’s criminals by giving them heart attacks and make the world into a better place where he will reign as ruler.
Chapter 2: L
The Interpol meeting continues with the representatives talking about the mass assassinations of criminals. They all agree that they need the help of “L” in order to find the murderer. L is the world’s top detective who has solved thousands of case but has never revealed his name or what he looks like. A shadowed figure in a coat named Watari steps on the Interpol meeting floor and reveals that L has already been working on this case. Watari opens a laptop with a screen revealing an L, and the voice of L tells them that he needs full police cooperation in order to solve this case. Meanwhile, Light browses through several web sites dedicated to the person who is killing the world’s criminals in order to save the world. He sees it as justification that this is what the world wants. The web sites call this being “Kira”, and Light assumes the name.
Suddenly, Light is interrupted by a broadcast made by Interpol on T.V. A man named Lind L. Tailor appears on T.V. and claims that he is L. He directly talks to Kira and calls him evil for being the world’s biggest mass murderer. Believing that he is righteous, Light loses his temper and writes the name “Lind L. Tailor” on the Death Note. After 40 seconds, the man on the television dies of a heart attack. While Light is celebrating his victory, a giant L is shown on the television screen. A voice, mortified by the fact that Kira can kill without getting close to his victims, reveals that he is in fact that real L and challenges Kira to kill him. After seeing that Kira can’t kill him, he reveals to Light that, even though it was announced that this was being broadcast globally, it was actually being only broadcast in the Kanto region around Tokyo. L deduces that Kira is in Japan. He vows that he will catch Kira, and Light accepts the challenge.
Chapter 3: Family
When Light’s younger sister, Sayu, barges in to his room unannounced, Ryuk reminds Light of another rule:
“The human who touches the Death note can recognize the image and voice of its original owner, a god of death, even if the human is not the owner of the note.”
Meanwhile, L is wondering why Kira couldn’t kill him and deduces that Kira needs to know the victim’s face before he can kill them. L listens to the investigative report being made by the investigators from the Japanese police. The report states that the majority of the deaths occur between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m., Japan time on weekdays while during the weekends, the deaths were scattered between 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. L orders that they investigate how the victims were reported in the Japanese media, namely if the reports included pictures or footage of the victims.
Back home, Light finishes tutoring his sister and goes downstairs for dinner when his father comes home. His father is Soichiro Yagami, the chief detective of the Japanese National Police Agency who was at the briefing with L. Ryuk finally realizes why Light is so relaxed; he can use his father’s position as an advantage. During dinner, Soichiro mentions to his family that they suspect that Kira is a student. Light excuses himself from the dinner table and goes to his room. He confirms with Ryuk if it’s true that he can specify the specific times of death.
Three days later, at the investigation headquarters, the investigators find out that 23 victims died the before; each victim died exactly one hour apart from each other. Some detectives mention that this disproves the theory that Kira is a student, but L quickly dispels that. He tells them that this is a direct challenge from Kira who wanted to show them that not only does he have a way to obtain information about criminals but also that he can set the time of death to whenever he wants. The chapter ends with Light and Ryuk in the ruins of an abandoned house. Light mentions that he has about 50 criminals in reserve for experimentation and that he is planning a hiding place where he can hide the Death Note.
Chapter 4: Current
L sits in his hotel room and wonders how Kira knew about his assumptions that he was a student. He deduces that Kira has someway of obtaining information that only the task force knows. L decides to communicate with the FBI director.
Light and Ryuk are then at a department store where Light is shopping for supplies to construct a hiding place for the Death Note. He also suspects that L has become suspicious of the National Police Agency and that he will soon begin to investigate its members, including his father, Soichiro. Light also reveals to Ryuk that he can hack into his father’s computer without leaving a trail.
Meanwhile, members of the investigation are resigning because they are afraid Kira will kill them. L watches this incident from his hotel room and is finally sure that Kira needs to know what they’re victims look like in order to murder them.
Light reveals to Ryuk his new Death Note hiding place in a secret compartment under his drawer. If anyone tries to forcefully open the bottom, the drawer will catch on fire and destroy the notebook.
At the end of the chapter, L asks the director of the FBI to send his agents to investigate each person investigating the Kira case in the NPA.
Chapter 5: Eyeballs
As Light walks home from school, Ryuk tells him that he is neither on his side or L’s side. However, Ryuk feels like he should tell Light that during the last couple of days there has been a man following him. Even though initially Light is surprised, he still thinks that the FBI investigator knows nothing of his identity. Still, Light is determined to find out his name without looking too suspicious.
Ryuk then tells Light the purpose of the Death Note. A shinigami gets extra life from killing humans in his Death Note, which is why a shinigami can live for many years and cannot be killed in any other way. However, shinigami are apathetic when it comes to the human world, and they sometimes forget to write down names for centuries. Then, Ryuk explains to Light that the shinigami have eyes that allow them to see any human’s real name and life span over their head. In addition, a shinigami can make a deal with the owner of the Death Note to receive the “shinigami eyes” in exchange for half of that human’s lifespan. Ryuk mentions that he can see Light’s lifespan, but isn’t going to tell him how many years he has left because he is neither on his or L’s side. Ryuk offers to make a deal with Light for the “shinigami eyes.”
Chapter 6: Manipulation
Light refuses the deal for the “shinigami eyes” stating that he needs to live in order to rule over his utopian world. He asks Ryuk if there is anything else he should know about the Death Note, and Ryuk says probably not.
Suddenly, Light has an idea about how to find out the FBI agent’s name. He decides to use his stock criminals in order to find out how specific the details of death need to be.
At the NPA headquarters, Soichiro gets a call that six more prisoners have been killed, but three of them did something different from the rest. All three cases died of a heart attack. However, one victim drew a picture of a five pointed star inside a circle before he died. Another victim left a suicide note. The last victim managed to escape from the prison and collapsed in a public bathroom. Watari sends this information to L, and L wonders if Kira can control the specific time of death, can he also control the victim’s actions before they die? L quickly deduces that Kira may be using these criminals as guinea pigs and instructs the police to tell the media that the victims died of cardiac arrest and nothing else. Light, however, reads the data off his father’s computer and knows that he succeeded in his experiments.
Meanwhile, L wonders what exactly Kira is planning to do next and while examining the suicide note finds out that the first words of each line contains the message “L, do you know…”
Chapter 7: Target
Light meets the girl in a bus stop and makes sure that the FBI agent is tailing him. The FBI agent is convinced that he can stop his investigation of Light Yagami after that day. He follows Light and his date into a bus and sits behind them. Then, the criminal that he is using for his plan enters the bus. He hijacks the bus threatening to shoot anyone who tries to stop him. Making sure the FBI agent is watching, Light then passes a note to his scared date telling her that he will try to attack the hijacker. The FBI agent tells him in a low voice not to do it because it’s too dangerous and that he will take care of it. Light asks the man to give him proof that he is not the hijacker’s accomplice. Even though the agent is taken aback by this request, he has no reason to suspect Light and gives him his ID card. He finds out that this man is from the FBI, and his name is Raye Penber. Light tells Penber that he trust him now but has no idea why the FBI is on board a bus.
Then, Light “accidentally” drops a piece of paper. The hijacker notices this and picks up the piece of paper. Unbeknownst to him, the paper was a piece of the Death Note, and soon, he can see Ryuk standing at the back of the bus. The hijacker begins to shoot at Ryuk and in a panic, runs off the bus and is run over by a car. He dies. The events happen exactly as Light wrote in the Death Note.
In the first chapter, we are first introduced to Light Yagami. An ordinary yet brilliant 17-year old who is bored with his ordinary life. It all starts innocently enough with him picking up a seemingly ordinary notebook with extraordinary powers. Ohba, throughout the series, poses this question: What happens when ordinary people receive the extraordinary powers of a god? Will they do good? Will they do evil? Or maybe a little bit of both?
In Light’s case, it is debatable. It is up to the reader to decide.
We see the first hints of Light’s transformation from high-school student to Kira the second he witnesses the power of the Death Note. He is, at first, afraid of it and cowers in his bed once he realizes what he has done. However, the more he kills, the more desensitized he becomes to death. When he starts to judge people without batting an eye, Light has officially gained the powers of a god.
The interesting thing is that he never questions whether he is at a position to judge what is evil and what is good. He just assumes that he has the right to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die. From very early on, Ohba seems to suggest that Light’s sense of superiority is his hubris that will be his ultimate undoing.
In manga, there exists an archetype of the young, good-looking protagonist with powers always being the noble hero who will save the day. In Death Note, however, the young, good-looking protagonist is not portrayed as your cookie-cutter “good guy.” He murders and manipulates without remorse. His intentions may be noble, but at what cost? The answer isn’t simple, and this makes Light Yagami more interesting than most manga “heroes.”
It’s also intriguing that Ohba chose an affluent teenager as his protagonist. If Light was poor, he would have probably used the Death Note for his own benefit. However, Light Yagami was in need of nothing so he could concentrate on building his utopia. It almost suggests that it’s the wealthy who try to change world because they have no need to better themselves.
The whole concept of a shinigami (or death gods) is also different than what’s popularly portrayed in popular culture. The archetype of the grim reaper collecting the souls of the dying definitely does not apply to Death Note. The shinigamis do not care for writing down names in the Death Note. They only do it to survive and extend their lives. However, for most of the time, they’d rather spend their time gambling and drinking in the shinigami realm. In addition, they are rather apathetic when it comes to the human world. This is why Ryuk doesn’t care whether Light uses the notebook for good or for evil. He is just amused at the cat-and-mouse game that plays between Kira and L. He neither helps nor hinders Light’s plan but goes along with them hoping for a bit of fun.