+ Beautiful Studio Madhouse animation
+ Likeable characters
Too many plot twists
If you've already seen part of this series on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block of programming, I'm sorry. Although it starts out well, it soon breaks down into contrived plot twists, histrionics, and melodrama. Unless you are a masochist who enjoys wading through relentless monologues, angelic choruses, and bulging eyes; don't rent or buy this series. Don't download this series from the internet. Don't let your friends talk you into watching this series. It will leave you feeling headachy and disappointed. If you do happen to watch this series, do yourself a favor and stop watching after the episode that ends with Light joining the police. That's where the creators should have ended.
2.5 out of 5
Death Note Anime Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 2/11/2008
What would you do if you had the power to decide who lives and who dies? That is the central premise of the manga and anime series Death Note. Originally created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami an ordinary, intelligent, but restless Japanese teenager. One day, on his way home from school, Light discovers a small black notebook labeled "Death Note" – notes on the first few pages of the book tell the reader that if a human's name is written in the book, that person will die within 40 seconds. Thinking that the book is hoax along the line of a chain letter, Light takes the book home and examines it more closely. Not only does the book promise to kill any person whose name is written in its pages, it states that even the method of death can be chosen with any number of details, if no method is specified then heart attack is the default setting. As Light reads these words a news report about an ongoing hostage crisis is broadcast on television. Intrigued by the book's claims, Light decides to test it by writing the name of the hostage taker in the book. When the man dies of a heart attack, Light sets out on a path towards becoming the god of a utopia created in his own image.
The story begins well enough, in the timeless dimension where the deities who personify death grimly live out their days gambling and bickering with one another. These so-called Death Gods are not immortal just extremely long lived. They come by their long life spans by stealing life from mortals. The Death Gods' special eyes allow them to see the name and life span of any human they look at. When a Death God sees a mortal whose life span they want added to their own they write that person's name in a note book called a Death Note, that mortal expires in 40 seconds and their remaining life is added to the life of the Death God. A Death God named Ryuk has gotten extremely bored with his lot in the afterlife and has tossed his Death Note into the human world in the hope that the result will be amusing.
The Death Note is discovered by Light, an extremely intelligent teenager who has become dissatisfied with his lot in life – according to Ryuk, there is no particular reason for this other than Light being the first person to come across the book. Who has the right to decide who lives and who dies? After determining that the note book really does what it claims to do, Light decides that, as the most virtuous student in the country, he should rid the world of unnecessary people. After bringing about the demise of a number of notorious criminals, Light moves on to petty thugs, and anyone else he deems unfit for life – as he sees it, anyone who has at anytime caused misery or even unpleasantness for another human being deserves to have their name written in the Death Note. When Ryuk comes to Earth to see what effect his Death Note has had on the mortal world, he is very impressed with Light's handiwork, most people, Ryuk admits, are too frightened to write more than one or two names in the book, but in just five short days, Light has filled its pages with dozens of names. When Light tells Ryuk about his plan to create a utopia, Ryuk glibly replies that Light will be, "…the only f**d up person left." Light of course sees himself as a crusader on a generous and righteous mission. As the first episode ends, Ryuk warns Light that when he dies he shouldn't expect to go to heaven or hell.
With each successive death, Light's reputation as a vigilante grows. The mysterious deaths of hundreds of wanted criminals come to the attention of both the police and the public. While the police see Light as a murderer as dangerous as the criminals he has killed, the public has embraced him as a folk hero nicknamed "Kira" after the Japanese pronunciation of the English word "killer". Light explains to Ryuk that while people may publicly denounce those who kill "bad people" as criminals they secretly desire someone to watch over them and pronounce judgment – to prove his point Light shows Ryuk the hundreds or perhaps thousands of Websites that have sprung up overnight in honor of "Kira" and encouraging his mission. Meanwhile, the police enlist the aid of the mysterious detective known only as "L". The eccentric "L" determines from the timing of the deaths, that "Kira" is probably a student, that he has some mysterious power that allows him to kill with only a thought, and that he has some connection to the law enforcement community.
Show More As the series progresses it strikes an interesting balance between police drama and supernatural thriller. It uses parallel story lines to explore both the investigation into Kira's crimes and Light's continuing experimentation with the Death Note. The police task force tasked with bringing Kira to justice struggles throughout with dwindling numbers as those who fear Kira's ability to kill simply by knowing a name and face leave in droves for less dangerous assignments. And soon after turning to "L" for help, the remaining officers begin to question whether they can truly trust "L". "L", it turns out suspected a connection between Kira and the police from the beginning of his investigation and has been using the FBI to investigate the police, their friends, and family. The problem of trust is finally resolved when "L" finally agrees to allow the remaining task force members to meet him in person and work directly with him during the investigation. Eventually, much to his horror, Light's father, the chief of police learns that "L" suspects Light is Kira. In order to know for certain, he authorizes the use of surveillance of his family's activities. Meanwhile, Light has been experimenting with the Death Note, learning its secrets, and finding ways to use it that not even Ryuk knew were possible. For example, he learns that he schedule deaths in advance by writing down the details of the person's death first and then adding the name only when he wants them to die. He also discovers that he can control a victim's behavior before they die but only if the details are things within the realm of the possible. For instance, he is able to cause a prisoner to paint a pentagram on his cell wall before he dies but he can't cause another prisoner to draw a picture of a man he doesn't know. Further, when Light specifies that a certain man will die in front of the Eiffel Tower, it doesn't occur – a man in prison in Japan can't possibly go to France.
Although he is the protagonist of the story, Light is no hero. He is self-righteous and a serial killer who justifies his violent actions by repeating his belief that he is creating a new and better world. Some scenes between Light and Ryuk put him on par with historical fascists who believed violence could bring about a utopia. With each kill; "Kira" becomes more and more aggressive. Unlike other fictional vigilantes such as Batman, the Punisher, and Paul Kersey (from Death Wish fame) who only kill criminals, Kira begins to kill anyone who gets in his way including the members of the FBI task force on loan from the United States. However, each escalation of Kira's violence makes "L" more determined to catch him. A genius in the mold of Sherlock Holmes or Bobby Goren (of Law & Order: Criminal Intent) if Sherlock Holmes or Bobby Goren were a creepy Emo kid who looked like a goblin, "L" is as relentless in his pursuit of Kira as Kira is in his pursuit of better world. "L" goes so far as to allow Kira to kill a condemned criminal being used as a decoy in a taunting TV broadcast and eventually enrolls in the same college as Light when the investigation finally points in Light's direction. Later in the series "L" even shows that he is not even above torture and psychological manipulation in the hunt for Kira. "L" compares himself to Kira, believing that they are both young men who hate to lose and that they are both equally determined to see their missions succeed. Of course only one of them will emerge victorious from the looming conflict of egos.
Show More Besides being a police drama and super natural thriller, the series also occasionally takes on an element of satire. The series producers take a critical eye at both the media which turns killers into celebrities and the people who see them as heroes. As is often the case in real life, as his fame grows, Kira becomes the subject of a crush. Misa Amane is a young model with a fascination with death and the occult. When Kira "passed judgment" on her parents' killer, Misa fell in love with him and when a Death God named Rem gives her the Death Note of an expired Death God, she uses it to meet Light. Using her abilities to hold the personnel of a ratings hungry TV station hostage, Misa poses as Kira and uses the media to get the real Kira's attention. Partly because they value their lives and partly because they want the ratings such a scoop will give them, the station's personnel broadcast what they believe to be messages from Kira directing the public and the police to tune in to a pair of TV news broadcasts. Misa causes the on air deaths of two TV journalists who have been critical of Kira's actions. She also issues a challenge to the police and the public to help Kira build a better world or face his judgment. L and his team eventually realize that this Kira is a fake – with the exception of the FBI agents working the Kira case, Kira has only killed criminals. The real Kira has been drawn into "L's" investigation – as suspicious as he is that Light is Kira, he is impressed by Light's ability at deductive reasoning. So partly because of Light's abilities and partly because he seems to believe in the adage, "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer," L asks Light's aid in investigating the false Kira. He even asks Light to pose as the real Kira and draw out the fake. Misa and Light eventually meet. Misa is apparently as naive and sweet as Light is arrogant and calculating. She actually believes her actions will cause Light to love her. Light, however, only sees an opportunity to make his plans easier. Unlike Light, Misa has accepted a deal with her Death God to trade half her remaining years to have the eyes of a Death God – like a Death God she can see the name and life span of anyone she looks at. Light hopes to use this ability to his advantage – if she can look at L, Misa can tell Light L's real name.
The first part of the series really works. The role of the Death Gods and the rules governing their world and the Death Notes are well thought out and convincing. Light is an interesting, charming, and likable character even if he is an arrogant, self-righteous mass murderer. The witty and often insightful Ryuk gets all the best lines and injects much needed humor into the dark drama. "L" often behaves like a strange little kid but we forgive him for it because he is a genius. Even the supporting characters, Light's father and the other police officers investigating Kira, seem to come alive as they struggle with their duty as cops and their duties to their families. The plot twists even feel like natural and organic developments of the established rules. These elements are so good that weaker elements such as long expanses of exposition (In one episode, Light spends five minutes out of 22 explaining the booby trapped draw that guards the secret of the Death Note), the hand wringing over whether or not Light is Kira, and the angelic choruses whenever Light writes in the Death Note are less noticeable and even forgivable.
It is shortly after Light and Misa meet that the series begins to go down hill. It begins to feel bloated – as if it made one too many trips to the buffet line. Plot twists begin to feel more contrived and there are more of them – piled on one after the other. "L", Light's father, and the other cops spend longer and longer stretches wondering whether or not Light is Kira. The series becomes more melodramatic as more and more lines are delivered at the top of the lungs or through gritted teeth and more and more scenes are accompanied by loud choruses and chanting. One wonders if the series' director started taking cocaine, meth, or some other powerful stimulant during the shows production. Ryuk isn't even around to crack a few jokes: There is a long segment in which Light and Misa lose their Death Notes and forget about their time as serial killers. During this period Light even aids "L" in the hunt for a third Kira who has been using the Death Note to gain advantages in business. Several plot twists later, Light is reunited with his Death Note and returns to his career as Kira – once again passing judgment on the criminal, abusive, and just plain useless. By this time it is 2012 and Light, having finished college, has joined the police force replacing "L" (who has since died) as the head of the Kira investigation in Japan. Kira's celebrity has grown into a religion and the world is divided into those who support Kira and those who work against him. In the United States a young genius named Near has been made the head of an anti-Kira agency and he has taken up the cause with the same fervor that once gripped "L". Meanwhile, Near's rival, a genius named Mello has taken over a mob family and steered it towards finding Kira and the Death Note before Near can and Light does his best to steer the investigation away from himself. As interesting as this may all seem on paper, by this point in the series, the audience has been so battered by plot twists, characters wringing their hands over whether or not Light is Kira, and angelic choruses turning even the most minor action into operatic melodrama that it is impossible to care. The last 12 hours of the 37 episode series are a tedious slog; only the grimly determined will hang on to find if the series at least comes to a satisfying conclusion… It doesn't.
Bloated. That is the word that best describes Death Note. It starts out well: A dissatisfied teen who wants to change the world finds a super natural object that will help him with that goal. The teen becomes a vigilante and killer, the cops chase him. That should have been enough. But nooo…The producers of the series went wild in the buffet of plot twists and story elements. They piled them on until they oozed off the plate. The series creators must have also started to hate their audience because watching the show was like running the gauntlet. It wasn't enough to have creepy chanting and angelic choruses when Light was writing in the Death Note. They had to have it in every action scene. And every action scene had to have gritted teeth and bulging eyes. And every action scene had to be framed by brooding internal monologues that ended with characters screaming. They had to beat the viewer into submission with choruses and monologues. And just when it seemed the creators had come back to their senses they disdainfully ended the series with a lukewarm attempt at tragedy that would have made Shakespeare blush.
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