Rating - 3: worth reading once (borrow it from a library)
Perfect in every particular but not so much as a whole. It brings everything to (approximately) the right ending but not a satisfying climax.
The final confrontation. Exactly as planned.
All the details are right. The big plans come to fruition and are explained in detail. All (but one) of the surviving players are at center stage. Everyone gets to demonstrate his motif, from Near's toys and posture to Light's plotting and megalomania. The villain gets his big speech. The comic relief gets his moment of heroism. The crazed cultist looks Tolkien-esque. The wild card gets played. The dog that did not bark gets the last bite.
All the details are right. When the teams of investigators are arranged in opposition to each other, it is not just that their poses, facial expressions, and layout are classic for "final battle." Look at the shading on the suits, how one side (the mixed-gender side with someone theoretically from the opposite team!) is in identical suits while the other side has no visual unity.
And yet, on the whole, it is not a great ending. It is good and proper, but it does not rise to great. I think there are three problems.
First, I still just don't like Near. Maybe that's petty, but he is a lousy knock-off of L and an egotistical man-child, not to mention someone whose competence, people skills, etc. seem to fluctuate as the plot demands. He is not someone I want at my big finish.
Second, I am not happy with its having come down to a lucky break. Granted, the premise of the series from the beginning was that Light just happened to be the person who picked up the death note, but the game of plans within plans should end based on those plans, not based on the wild card. Of course, all the problems and randomness are things we already knew were uncertain elements; I listed them in the previous volume's review. That they all fell in the same direction is problematic, but then Light sometimes likes to talk about destiny.
The biggest point is the pacing. This is a long climax, taking almost the entire volume. I respect giving the story its due, but each part of the climax gets an entire chapter. That makes for a single scene that just keeps going, and it draws out the moment past the point of savoring to rubbing it in.
Look back to volume 3, the first time we spend too long explaining things we already know just so that everyone gets to hear it aloud. We already know the beginning of Light's plan, although folks may need a reminder after months passed in the original publication. The explanation makes the smallest details explicit, and to put even more text on the screen, it is backed by pages from the death note.
Compare to volume 7, when the other major plan came together. Look at how long that climax takes. We see the plan come together ... and then it happens. We have a moment, not chapter after chapter of it. That may err on the side of too quick, but it is drawn out in the denouement, rather than drawing out the climax itself.
Look back to volume 2, when things were really slow because we spent several chapters drawing out one confrontation. As expected in this series, the final moment here takes 40 seconds of in-story time. That takes 8 pages. Those 8 pages include a flashback, about 150 words of dialogue (with quite a bit of stuttering), another 50 or so of thinking, and 5 silent frames (and many of the non-silent frames had just a few words). I know that a lot can happen in 40 seconds, but not a lot does happen, and it does not vary much from the suffering that preceded it except for the surety of the outcome. And it follows the slow chapters of the climactic scene being drawn out.
Really, an 8-page climax in a comic series is in no way bad. That is a good length, especially when you are not spending it on splash pages of melee combat. But it is the last element of a climax that started six chapters earlier. Stretching it across that many issues violates a standard of the medium.
That might be my imposing American comic standards on manga. Maybe that happens more there, although not in any shonen manga I have read. The film version must cut that down a lot. The anime version could go either way. You cannot draw it out indefinitely on screen (well), but some anime series have intentionally drawn things out to get more episodes, with Dragonball Z being getting jokes about entire episodes with characters standing around speechifying while showing off battle aura. This has a bit of that feel, only with intellect rather than combat. It still feels like people standing around speechifying. You can do great things with people standing around talking, but if it feels like they are speechifying rather than talking, that's bad.
Final art note time! The visuals on Light's megalomania are in full force here. Good time and placement for them, even if they feel like part of the dragging on. More importantly, very small differences in Ryuk's look make a big difference, don't they? He spends most of the series being a monstrously cute puppy dog. Change the lighting, give him some realistic shading rather than cartoon flatness, and oh yeah, he is a god of death.
The art on Light does a lot of work. His facial expressions (and at times his body language) carry the weight where we do not need additional words. Light's expressions have been key at all the important plot moments, and this does not disappoint. He also picks up some of Ryuk's more realistic lighting at the end.
Summative evaluation of the series: worth reading, very good. There are quite a few slow chapters, and that is coming from someone who likes Asimov-ian intellectual writing, but the high points make it worth it. There are great schemes, some great characters, excellent plots. Many high highs, very few low lows, and overall a high average: a success. I plan to pursue it in other media to see how they interpreted it.