In Review – Death Note (Series)

First thing’s first. Death Note is the first anime I’ve ever seen – I was bored one afternoon and wanted something to watch. Secondly – if you’ve never watched an anime because it’s “for kids”, now is the time to change your opinion. Death Note is dark, watchable and entertainingly plotted. Its’ yummy, easy to digest 20 minute episodes and tight, tense dialogue lead to a constantly engaging, enjoyable and surprising TV show. It also lead to me finishing the entire thing (37 episodes) within about two weeks, which was both simultaneously wonderful and disappointing. Death Note definitely isn’t for those looking for a longer running anime like Bleach or One Piece, but it is effortlessly enjoyable and mixes tense dialogue dripping with subtle humour on an episode-to-episode basis without losing it’s way in an overall story arc.

Okay – so here’s the concept. A death God from another world (shinigami) drops a ‘death note’ – ostensibly some kind of blank journal –  into the human world, after he realises he is bored with the life (or death?) of a death God – he and his fellow shinigami sit around playing poker, gambling away years of their existence as currency. Young Light Yagami picks this up while at school, and at first is initially skeptical of the description written upon this ‘death note’, “the human whose name is written in this note shall die”.

You may have noticed it doesn't actually say that on this picture. Feel free to scribble it down on your screen for true authenticity

Suffice to say though, Light’s curiosity gets the better of him and when he finds that indeed this ‘death note’ does as it says, he endeavours to rid the world of all criminals, saying he will bring justice to the world. As part of his taking of the ‘death note’, the shinigami – called Ryuk – who dropped it becomes visible to Light and while neither helping nor hindering him in his goals, informs Light of the potential consequences of using such a ‘death note’. The relationship between Light and Ryuk is often compelling and while never overtly emotional, there is a tangible sense of companionship – particularly when Ryuk has a revelation in the form of the human-world apples – that is enjoyable and humorous but also tainted with a deep sense of foreboding, as Ryuk is a death God that not only enjoys the struggles and pains of the humans he gladly watches, but who also knows the lifespan of those around him.

One of the other more interesting aspects of Death Note is the moral one and it is constantly being asked during the show, “is it right to kill criminals in the sake of justice and improving society?”, and overall the writers do a far better job than that of the cop-out that was Minority Report and it’s half-hearted moral ambiguity. While no character truly comes down on either side of the fence, there is enough content there to make you consider your own stance on the matter, and it’s done in a way that isn’t preachy or jarring.

Death Note is a greatly twisted monster in it’s approach and this invariably leads to much of the constant tension surrounding the first 15 or so episodes. While there is enough action to keep the more blood-thirsty viewers out there happy, it’s real genius lies in it’s dialogue and the relationship between Light, who says he represents “justice”, and the police force. This takes the shape of a daring game of cat and mouse throughout, and although the show sadly takes something of a dive between episodes 20-28 or so, it soon enough just about manages to regain most of it’s previous form and marches on towards it’s (slightly uninspiring) ending.

Gotta catch 'em all - oh right, different show

It must also be said that both the animation team and the original Japanese cast (I watched a fan-sub) do an excellent job in the way of consistently dark yet often humorous scenes. The OST accompanying the show is also fantastic ; again, it is dark and usually gloomy, keeping the same set of around 4-5 tracks in each episode, which gives the show a deep level of continuation, which I really enjoyed and is a far cry from the more usual TV shows where new music is placed into a show apparently with little care or attention.

I only have one major criticism and this largely concerns one plot element, and so I think it would be something of a spoiler to reveal it to you. Essentially, my view on this particular plot point is that it was a real shame that it was never expanded upon, and having been given such attention at a relatively early stage, it made me wonder why the writers included it at all. It seemed like an unnecessary plot device that, well, never became a device. There was little need for it in the story outside of a couple of key events, and even then, I feel there might have been a better way of dealing with those.

Overall, Death Note is exciting, dark, funny and a riot to boot and I seriously recommend it for either the anime-lover who has not yet got round to it, or a complete newbie like myself.

Carrollometer says :

(That’s 4.5/5 to you)