Before the hit manga Death Note was first published in 2004, a year before, there was a one-shot pilot which ran in Weekly Shonen Jump #36.
It all starts when a Shinigami named Ryuk accidentally drops his Death Note into the human world. A thirteen year-old Japanese boy named Taro Kagami (names have been changed to protect the innocent) finds it on the ground while walking home from school. Since the Death Note title is in English, and Taro only knows the English word "note" and not "death", he takes it home to use as a diary.
It all goes downhill from there.
The rest of the one-shot plays out like a supernatural horror story, which ends with the death eraser which Taro uses in the end to bring all of the victims back to life; years later, rumors of the incident become a popular urban legend and pop-culture phenomenon.
Readers liked it so much that it was adapted into the full series that it is today. However, there were plenty of changes. As quoted from the main page: "the schoolboy became a mega genius with a god complex, the boring Film Noirish detective became a freakish mega genius with a sweet tooth, and the Deus ex Machina ending was replaced with plans by the bucketload, and the rest is history".
It was republished in Death Note 13: How to Read.
Examples of tropes from this one-shot include:
- Accidental Murder: Taro thought the Death Note was a journal and inadvertently killed one of his classmates by writing his name.
- Adaptation Expansion: What the main series is.
- Artifact of Death: The Death Note, of course.
- Death Is Cheap: People killed by the Death Note can be revived with the Death Eraser.
- Deus ex Machina: The Death Eraser.
- Distant Finale: We learn how years later the events of the story have become an urban legend.
- Foreshadowing: In a highly meta sense. While the detectives are investing the mysterious deaths caused by the Death Note, one of them hypothetically asks what they would do if they could kill people just by thinking about it (which isn't too far removed from the kind of power a Death Note would give). One detective says he'd try to create a just and righteous world by eliminating all those whom he believed the world would be better off without, while the other says he'd kill off anybody who got in his way or suspected him of murder. This conversation effectively predicts main series protagonist Light Yagami's actions after he finds the Death Note.
- Halfway Plot Switch: Once Taro discovers the death eraser, the story ceases to be about him escaping from the police and instead focuses on him trying to find and stop his own copycat killer.
- Happy Ending: Taro gets this, but - due to him keeping and possibly still using the death note - it's not clear if this applies to anybody other than him.
- Kid Hero: Taro. Mixes with Kid Detective after the copycat killer makes himself known.
- Mood Whiplash: In a meta sense, both series. The oneshot is a straightforward, relatively light supernatural murder mystery that fit quite well in Jump. The serialized version, well, wasn't, but did well in Jump anyway.
- Shinigami: Ryuk.
- Show Within a Show: Years after the Death Note case, comics and movies based on it become very popular; the Death Note manga series could ostensibly exist within the pilot's universe.
- 13 Is Unlucky: Taro Kagami is 13 years old.