Death Note – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Death Note

 

Similar: Monster

Code Geass

Terror in Resonance

The Future Diary

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Mystery Thriller

Length: 37 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great atmosphere.
  • Intelligent characters.
  • Well thought out crime drama.
  • Top-notch acting.
  • Tense, riveting music.

Negatives:

  • Part 2 throws away most of the above.

Evil is a matter of perspective. To this day, I still see debates on whether Kira’s goal was the correct one or not. Are there people who deserve to die? If so, who should have power to pass judgement and carry out the execution? Death Note is a look into a scenario where such a power is granted.

Light, or Kira, as he would later be known, finds a notebook lying on the ground at his high school. Inside are a set of rules, the first of which states, “The human whose name is written in this note shall die.” He doesn’t believe it, naturally, but he tests it on a random criminal from the news and they die. The notebook not only works, but it also allows him to specify time and method, within reason, of death. The Death Note belongs to Ryuk, a real death god from the nether plane, who finds enjoyment in Light’s action; death is mere entertainment to him.

Light has always had a superiority complex – an A-grade student who sees himself above the rabble, his higher intelligence making him a superior being. And now, with the power of death in his hands, that superior attitude turns into one of godhood as he becomes judge and executioner – there is no need for jury. The victims are the worst of the worst in the crime world, but soon his judgement becomes stricter until he is even willing to kill the innocent to remain god of death.

Seeing this spree of inexplicable deaths, the police have to uncover the truth. Yet, what can the ordinary man do against he who wields death from the darkness? Enter L, the world’s greatest detective, ready to face this most fearsome opponent. Kira versus L, a battle of the minds.

Death Note’s genius lies in how it handles the duel between these two characters. We see the drama unfold from both perspectives, detailing every stage, every thought, every reaction in these masterful plans to defeat each other. When Kira deceives L or when L baits Kira, we believe the deceit because every detail is laid out for us to see, executed in a plausible manner – no victory is achieved by chance or by the writer forcing his favourite character to win. Death Note is the sort of story where you know what epic twist is about to happen a split second before it happens; it keeps you guessing, riveted to the screen from episode to episode.

Now, take everything I said above, wrap it in a neat bundle with your hopes and dreams for the perfect anime – you wrapped it tightly? – and throw it away for part two.

At a certain point, there is a clear event to end the series on; however, the writer chose to extend the story, it seems, almost like a sequel season to make sure no loose ends of any kind remain, something that isn’t necessary. Part of the joy with many stories is leaving threads up to the imagination where possible.

In this second part, the genius in the writing is no more. Illogical manoeuvres become the norm, clues are uncovered through guesswork, leaps of logic that make no sense uncover the answer, and once intelligent characters make the stupidest mistakes. The mind games are no longer believable. Where the anime showed us smart characters before, it now has characters we are told are smart, but they aren’t fooling anyone.

It doesn’t help that most new characters are irksome rather than interesting – because eccentricity worked earlier, he thinks, “If I just add more eccentricity, it will automatically be amazing!” Wow, you snap chocolate with your teeth in dramatic fashion? How eccentric! … If I didn’t know better, I would say part two is a fan fiction sequel, a poor imitation, a sequel written by someone who thought they understood Death Note, but only looked surface deep.

All this said, the first part ends well and is self-contained enough to keep Death Note an excellent anime. You simply have to endure its ugly cousin hanging around afterwards. Part two isn’t even bad, honestly; it’s when one compares it to what came before that the impact is felt.

Art – High

I love the dark tones, the contrast lighting and shadow, the shot composition, all used to convey mood and thought. Atmosphere greatly helps in drawing the audience into Kira and L’s duel.

Sound – Very High

The acting is perfect in either language. Watching the original on first release, I doubted one could match the voices in English, but those Canadian folk did it. The music is tense, dramatic, riveting – always right in enhancing a scene.

Story – Very High

A student finds a notebook that can kill anyone by writing one’s name within. A battle of wit between self-proclaimed saviour of the world and the greatest detective. Mind games abound. Excellent, for most of the way.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Just know the latter episodes won’t match the preceding quality. Other than that, Death Note is an easy recommendation.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative:

Weak End

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