‘Death Note’ enters its twelfth, and final, volume as if it were a chess game nearing its own conclusion with everything in the balance. This volume pits the two geniuses against each other in a match that will decide the outcome for human morality. Perhaps the fate of the world in their hands.
In many ways this volume is one of the greatest volumes of manga in the history of the genre. This is because, instead of the usual fare, it is a really challenging moral dilemma that is summarised nicely in the last exchange by Light and Near. ‘Death Note’ deserves this recognition because of this dilemma being posed throughout the whole series. Volume twelve is where the dilemma is summarised and is dealt with in a style only ‘Death Note’ could manage.
This style is also why it is one of the classic manga. It is not the usual ‘shoot-them-up’ type of scenario, although Matsuda does shoot Light to stop him killing both Light’s and Near’s staff, but a scenario which involves unravelling both plans and unravelling one of the protagonist’s inner-character.
Also Ohba combines this unravelling of Light’s character with the idea that some of the pawns being manipulated and controlled in the game are loyal but fallible, something Light is trying to eradicate by his mass butchery. This is specially written so that trust and friendship are seen as essential facets of humanity. In the end, Kira’s downfall is due to the fact that he lost control of his pawns and they acted to try to save him without thinking. In the end it was Mikami’s loyality which destroyed Light and put him in the position of Checkmate. Several pieces moved without Light and Near moving them. This is what made the story quite interesting as sometimes Light and Near were not in complete control.
Both Light’s and Near’s plans are, in nature, complex but are reasonably well explained. Obata’s artistry is again on form, as it has been for the entire series, and this is very much Ohba’s swansong. His writing in this volume is incredibly well balanced and natural presenting the two different sides of the chess board equally and with which the reader, you, decide who has won and who has lost. After all Matsuda and Ide after the battle in the warehouse are used as devices for discussing whether they themselves where right to condemn Light to death. Reading this Light’s arguments and rhetoric are quite convincing but the utter conviction to uphold the law invested in Near is also very convincing.
In conclusion, it is the freedom of choice interwoven within the story that makes this one of the stand out volumes in manga history. It is both different, interesting and allows the reader the decision of whether Matsuda made the right decision in preventing the death of Near.