Reviewby Casey Brienza, Aug 13th 2008
Death Note: Another Note, the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases
There's a serial killer terrorizing the streets of Los Angeles, and the mysterious clues he has been leaving in his murderous wake seem to be taunting authorities. Onto the scene comes the L, the best crime solver in the world, to untangle the case. He recruits Naomi Misora, an FBI agent on a leave of absence from the bureau, to be his eyes on the ground, and soon enough she finds herself working alongside the decidedly creepy Ryuuzaki, who claims to be a private detective hired by the families of the victims. But as the mysteries start to unfold around the two of them, it becomes clear that L and the killer, whose name is Beyond Birthday, have a mutual past—something that has to do with Wammy House…
Shuueisha has been publishing light novel spinoffs of its most popular Shounen Jump manga titles for quite a few years now, but VIZ Media's handsome American edition of Death Note: Another Note, the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases—near-identical in presentation to the original Japanese one—is anything but lightweight. The book, which actually weighs quite a bit for its size, has been printed in lavish hardcover, foil-stamped and bound in black cloth. Interior pages are thick and creamy. A lovely full-color pin-up drawn by series artist Takeshi Obata and a black ribbon bookmark are also included. Each chapter, moreover, begins with even more amazing Obata art—H. R. Giger-esque illustrations in sinister monochrome. Chapter two's is especially striking, a realistically proportioned skeleton standing slightly hunched over and chewing on a fingerbone. Those familiar with the Death Note series should know instantly who it is supposed to represent…and just in case you were not entirely certain, the chapter's subtitle is “Ryuuzaki.”
As for the prose of the novel itself, written by the youthful novelist NISIOISIN and smoothly translated by Andrew Cunningham, it is not half bad. The story is narrated by Mello, ostensibly based upon his recollections of things L once told him about past cases. This conceit is not strictly necessary for the novel's purposes. Mello does not participate in the specificities of the plot's action in any way, and his presence makes things a bit too breathless in places and a bit too self-conscious in others. Still, using a narrator like Mello is, after all, a classic detective novel device with a long, pedigreed history in Western examples of the genre, so it is easy to understand why NISIOISIN chose to frame the story in this way. (Other detective novel conventions also appear, such as allusions to cases that, in this case, do not actually exist in any published form.)
The protagonist is Naomi Misora, a character who first appeared in the Death Note manga proper (killed by Light when she got a bit too close to the truth). This story, however, is best understood as a prequel to the manga since it takes place in July and August of 2002, shortly before the events surrounding the death note begin. No shinigami or other supernatural elements are present. The antagonist is B, or “Beyond Birthday,” a wannabe L from Wammy House determined to “defeat” L by staging a series of crimes that the super-sleuth is unable to solve.
Not that the reader is going to be able to figure any of this out until NISIOISIN is good and ready to let the cat out of the bag. The logic chain is simply too obscure; this whodunit is not, alas, well-written enough to invite active reader participation. And then there is the final twist, about how Misora solves the crime, which is exactly the opposite those already familiar with the franchise now reading the novel have been led to expect. I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that it raises some interesting questions about the origins of some of L's aliases. By contrast, the origins of L's capoeira-like fighting style are definitively revealed. Other oddities of the novel go blithely unexplained. Most notably, names like “Believe Bridesmaid,” “Quarter Queen,” and a handful of others are too bizarre to be believable. There is no good reason for them and no precedent in the manga.
In final analysis, Death Note: Another Note, the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases takes an innovative approach to the characters and the franchise that fans should find both refreshing and rewarding. While still a niche release that will not be fully appreciated by newcomers, it is, without question, the best Shounen Jump-spinoff novel to hit American shelves thus far.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A+
+ An innovative take on Death Note that approaches the series from a very different angle. Gorgeous hardcover edition.
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