The classic horror manga Death Note is a series known for its tense standoffs, dramatic reveals, and unpredictable plotlines. Those tendencies continue in creator Tsugumi Ohba’s latest one-shot, which sees President Donald Trump enter into a bidding war for the magical murder notebook that sits at the centre of the franchise.
Although the original Death Note manga wrapped up in 2006, the franchise has received a steady stream of adaptations and supplemental material since then. Some, like the anime series, are pretty good, while others ended up being nonsensical and unnecessary. I’m not quite sure where on that spectrum to place the latest piece of Death Note content, but it certainly stands out due to its real world analogues.
The original Death Note story concerns a notebook that can kill anyone once their name is written on its pages. After being gifted the eponymous murder tool by Ryuk, a “Shinigami” or “god of death,” series protagonist Yagami uses the Death Note to kill those he considers criminals under the moniker of “Kira” before going completely off the rails as he evades capture by a series of genius detectives. It’s a silly yet compelling story that never really needed an epilogue or follow-up, but I’ve kept up with the various one-shots released since its ending and was more than ready to return to the world of Death Note when Ohba dropped the latest chapter.
This new Death Note story—unofficially dubbed “Never Complete” by fans after the art exhibition in which it was first revealed—sees Ryuk return to the human world to grant the powers of the Death Note to a teenager named Minoru Tanaka. His main goals are to cause mischief and eat apples (a delicacy in his world), and Tanaka promises to give him all the apples he can eat should he follow along with the boy’s plans. See, instead of kill off his enemies or enact some twisted form of justice, Tanaka tasks Ryuk with using Japanese television to auction off “the power of Kira,” who in the years since he was active has become a household name the world over.
The bids eventually grow so large that only Chinese president Xi Jinping and United States president Donald Trump can continue, the former publicly claiming that he plans to use Kira’s power “for peaceful ends” and the latter promising not to use it at all. After a furious bidding war, the United States wins the auction with an offer of $US10 ($15) trillion.
The last surviving genius detective from the original Death Note storyline watches these turns of events closely, pondering how the new Kira plans to accept this outrageous sum without exposing themselves in the process. The solution is simple: Ryuk’s last message instructs the United States to distribute the money evenly among everyone with an account at the Yotsuba Bank of Japan, which comes out to $US10 ($15) million per person. Tanaka and around a million other Japanese citizens suddenly find themselves filthy rich.
Neither president in this storyline is explicitly named, but the characters look so much like the real world Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that there’s no denying the references Ohba is making. Upon revealing himself to the Trump lookalike, Ryuk informs him of a new rule handed down by the Shinigami King that states anyone who buys or sells the Death Note will die once they take possession of the notebook or the money. Self-serving as always, the American president refuses to take the Death Note from Ryuk, preferring to simply put on a show for the rest of the world.
“I’m going to announce that I’ve gained the power of Kira anyways,” Trump explains to the Shinigami in the Oval Office. “I’ve got it, but I refuse to use it. I’ll make me look like a saint.”
“Never Complete” is a fascinating return to the Death Note universe, both in terms of the manga’s overarching narrative and its commentary on the real world. The back-and-forth between China and the United States as they fight over the supernatural power of the Death Note mirrors some of the chest-beating in which the world powers are known to partake during diplomatic negotiations, and it didn’t surprise me to see Trump prioritise purchasing some ephemeral omnipotence for personal gain rather than, I don’t know, improve the well-being of his fellow citizens.
In any case, Death Note is at its best when laying out the complex plans of its protagonists, and anyone who fell in love with Light’s subtle scheming in the original storyline are sure to find something to love here. Just take the intelligence and candor of the unnamed commander-in-chief with a grain of salt.
Oh, and the new kid dies like Light before him, just in case you needed a reminder of the limits of humanity’s hubris.