Death Note is one of the most well known mangas of recent times, at least if you’re American, since it spawned not only an anime, but also a live action movie. There’s been talk an English adaptation is in the works too, so when I found out that series creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata were behind this new series I had to take a look.
Platinum End Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
So what’s it about? The Viz summary reads:
Troubled Mirai’s life changes when he gains the power of an angel, but he may need to become a devil to survive in the battle against others just like him! As his classmates celebrate their middle school graduation, troubled Mirai is mired in darkness. But his battle is just beginning when he receives some salvation from above in the form of an angel. Now Mirai is pitted against 12 other chosen humans in a battle in which the winner becomes the next god of the world. Mirai has an angel in his corner, but he may need to become a devil to survive.
Why does this book matter?
One of the coolest aspects of Death Note which is also apparent in this series is how the author creates a set of rules and then forces the protagonist to navigate around them in order to achieve their goal. That element is present in this manga. Plus the art is photo realistic at times and doesn’t rely on the somewhat cliched manga tropes so often seen visually.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Rules rules rules!
One of the most interesting aspects of this series is how it gets to the core of being a good person. The main character is a high school student who is also an orphan after his parents and sibling were killed in a car accident. His aunt and uncle take care of him now, but they are awful to him, which in the opening pages we learn is what drives him to commit suicide. This is something many folks can relate to in Japan and the world over, but when his guardian angel saves him from death everything changes. He’s given a second chance and then some, as the angel offers him abilities: a ring that will make someone fall in love with them for 33 days and the ability to sprout wings and fly. He’s basically an angel in training or maybe in training for something even bigger and it’s this opening that propels things forward.
Ohba has an incredible knack for building on a concept, applying rules and hierarchy, and then forcing the main character to navigate the waters. There’s a lot of rationale that goes into achieving a certain goal while following the rules. In this case Mirai would go along in life barely using them, but it turns out there are 12 more people who have abilities like him. When he finds out one of them is going to try to kill everyone so they are the last one standing the stakes are raised and the rules of these powers come into play. Ohba establishes though, that Mirai has a good heart, learning from his mother we live to make ourselves happier and with these newfound powers, he has the ability to make many happier too. The moral compass and thought puzzles are in full effect here much like they were in Death Note which is an incredible feat given how different the powers and rules in play are.
On top of all that, Mirai has his guardian angel who has some questionable moral beliefs of her own. Despite being an angel, she seems to think murdering someone for your own gain or happiness is perfectly all right, which freaks Mirai out understandably. It remains to be seen why she wants Mirai to do well with the powers and be the last one standing, but based on her naivete she probably isn’t sure herself.
An impressive element of this manga is how, though printed chapter to chapter, it feels very cohesive cover to cover. There’s some recapping at the start of chapters, but the story progresses nicely and never slows to a standstill. There are plenty of details too so you get the sense that nothing is being held back. On top of this, the final page is such an awesome cliffhanger you’ll be dying for the next chapter.
The art by Takeshi Obata is phenomenal, with plenty of full and double page splashes to enjoy. The angel helper is rather naked looking which will appeal to many, but in an otherworldly, creative sort of way. The biggest payoff when it comes to the art is how heavy dialogue and captioning sequences detailing the rules of the powers and stakes aren’t boring. Though there isn’t much going on, Obata is able to close in on eyes, faces, and other objects to enhance the action of the character.
So she’s a little insane.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Another character who has the angelic powers turns out to be really into sex…which leads to a very graphic sex scene. It’s not so much that the scene exists, but that it sticks out like a sore thumb when most of this book is rather tame and restrained in regards to sex and violence.
Aside from this, the book does move at a slow clip until the final few pages. It’s setting things up of course and that’s a byproduct of that, but it did cross my mind how much work it is to remember all the rules and elements of this manga’s puzzle.
It gets a little Biblical.
Is It Good?
Platinum End Vol. 1 achieves all that and more for fans of Death Note and manga in general. If you like your manga with a moral core and plenty of strategic thinking you can’t miss this.