“I’m not only Kira…I am also…GOD of the new world!”
– Light Yagami “Death Note”
A notebook that can kill just by writing a name…a teenage boy with a strong, if not misguided sense of justice… a god of death with an apple addiction…and a barefoot, baggy eyed super-genius detective. While this might sound like a “Mad Libs” game gone terribly wrong, it’s actually the basis for one of the most popular manga and anime series of our time. “Death Note” is more than just a modern-day “Who Dun It?” story. It’s a “You Know Who Dun It, And Now We Get to See If He Gets Caught.” It makes you question your own perceptions on what is good and what is evil.
You Might Like This Story If:
- You are a fan of suspense thrillers. For the first time viewer, “Death Note” will always keep you hanging off the edge of your seat wondering whats going to happen next. What’s thenext big plan going to be?
- You enjoy character-centered stories. One thing that I love about “Death Note” is the fact that it’s not always about the killer notebook or the mystical shinigami. It’s about the characters…it’s about getting inside their heads, figuring out what makes them tick.
You Might NOT Like This Story If:
- You have any kind of aversions to the use of “god” in anime. Kira, quite proudly, proclaims himself to be the “God of the new world”. In addition, there are also “gods of death” which could be interpreted as demons. Also, the death note’s power itself is quite god-like.
- You have any aversion to violence or death of any kind. This series IS called “Death Note”, so seeing a dead body here and there is part and parcel to this series. There is also a bit of blood scattered around [more so in the second half of the series] and gun usage, so be warned.
- Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this series to anyone at or under thirteen years old.
Story and Premise: “Death Note” is a thirty-seven episode series based on a manga by Tsugumi Ohba and manga artist Takeshi Obata. “Death Note” tells the story of a boy named Light Yagami who is disheartened with the state of crime in Japan. In his eyes, criminals are going free with little to no punishment, causing the world he lives in to become corrupt. One day, he stumbles across a notebook with the words “Death Note” on the outside. Curiously, he picks it up and reads the rules, the first of which being “The human whose name is written in the note shall die.” Not thinking much of it, Light tried it out and, indeed, the notebook causes the death of a few petty bullies and crooks. It is after his first encounter with the Death Note original owner, a shinigami named Ryuk, that Light finds his true calling; to use the Death Note to pass judgement on those who he deem fit. After a while, the Japanese Police Force, understandably upset that someone out there is pulling an “okey-doke” end-run around the judicial system, enlist the help of the reclusive genius detective known only as “L”. And so the cat and mouse game begins, with “L” and Light as each comes up with the most brilliant and elaborate plans to avoid the grim reaper that awaits them should either fail. It’s a good story…up until the halfway point when Mello and Near make their appearance. It just seems like the story falters a bit, and it just doesn’t hold one’s attention as well…however, that changes with the last two or three episodes towards the end when everything comes to a head. The ending is well done and quite operatic in more ways than one. (24/25)
Characters: As I mentioned in my mini-review, one of the things I love about “Death Note” is the fact that, even though you have this mystical notebook with these unworldly powers and demonic characters who can disappear and reappear at will, at the end of the day, it’s the human characters that drive the story. It’s the battle of wits between Kira and “L” that keeps the viewer watching, guessing and second guessing. Other characters are equally intriguing to follow, such as the members of the Kira Task Force which includes Light’s father. In a way, it’s the Task Force members that show the viewers conflicting emotions; who exactly do you root for? Do you go for the guy who is in it just for the thrill of the chase who’s willing to win at any cost, even the cost of other human lives, or are you going for the guy who is killing criminals on his own accord with without due process? (25/25)
Animation and Music: “Death Note” has a very unique overall color palette. For a series that focuses on the subjects of death, murder and suspense, it is understandable that a more muted color scheme would be called for with a lot of dark colors. “Death Note” does this, but it also knows how to use the color red to make certain scenes and characters really pop. Whether it’s a bright red apple or blood-red shinigami eyes, the color red plays it’s part well. With regards to music, “Death Note” mostly hits on all cylinders, with “The World” and “Alumina” by the band Nightmare acting as the death metal opening and closing themes respectively for the first twenty episodes. The incidental music is awesome; reflective at time, suspenseful at times, even breaking out a full choir at peak moments in the series. It makes for a good listen, and if you can find the soundtrack, I recommend checking it out. What DOESN’T make for a good listen is the opening and closing themes for all the remainder episodes. I’m sorry, but Maximum The Hormone’s “What’s Up People?!” and “Zetsubō Billy” get real wearing REAL fast. The visuals match well and look really cool, but I would’ve preferred something a little more toned down than what we got. I mean, the opening scream in “What’s Up People?!” freaked me the heck out when I heard it for the first time…so you can imagine having to listen to hit for twenty-plus episodes. Though, I have to admit, the full version of the song is pretty cool…but, I’m only grading on based on what is presented in the show so…(23/25)
Performances: The English Language version of “Death Note” was produced by The Ocean Group in Canada with veteran ADR Director Karl Willems at the helm. Both he and The Ocean Group has handled some big projects including such shows and movies as “Dragon Ball Z”, “Inuyasha”, “Escaflowne”, “Hamtaro”, and many others, so they know how to handle epic stories as this. Brad Swaile’s portrayal of Light Yagami/”Kira” is one for the history books. It’s as though he was born to play this role, playing the many different versions of Light we see with the kind of dedication that only his Japanese counterpart, Mamoru Miyano, could muster. Brian Drummond plays the role of the apple loving shinigami Ryuk with a perfect mix of scary demon and playful buddy, just like his Japanese counterpart, Shidō Nakamura. Playing the role of teh sweets loving, barefoot super genius “L” is Alessandro Juliani, who gives a performance worthy of the great detective. Playing the role of Light’s
freakish stalker would-be lover Misa Amane is Shannon Chan-Kent, who, when compared to Aya Hirano, the Japanese voice actress, does a stunning job, especially when called upon to sing. Overall, I had no real problems with any of the vocal cast in either language, with the exception of Mellow, played by David Hurwitz. He does a passable job, but at times he can be a little over the top with his performance. (24/25)
Story and Premise – 24 out of 25
Characters – 25 out of 25
Animation and Music – 23 out of 25
Performances – 24 out of 25
Final Grade: 96/100 = 94% (A)
Availability: “Death Note” is actively available in many different markets, both online and off in DVD format. You’re also given many different options; you can either go whole hog and get the two “Complete Collection” volumes which contain all the episodes, or you can go the individual volume route and collect the disks one at a time. Each DVD includes a “Behind the Scenes” featurette which features interviews with the ADR director Willems and the main voice acting cast. I really like these interviews as you get to see the thought process of Director Willems and the actors and how they approached the portrayal of their characters. Also included is a commentary track for select episodes, which is both informative and very funny. With regards to my own collection, which I bought from FYE some time back, they came with little prizes inside the DVD case like key chains of “L”, Light and Ryuk, buttons, patches and things like that. It was a nice little touch, and it really makes you feel like you are getting more for your money.
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):
- Throughout the series, “L” and Light are seen as being opposites of each other, so much so that Light uses a PC-style computer, while “L” uses an Apple-style computer
- Apples are seen and used throughout the series in various ways, either in the opening sequence, or as Ryuk’s anti-drug. One could argue that this could be an illusion to Adam and Eve eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge.
- According to the “Behind the Scenes” extra on the DVD’s, David Hurwitz, the voice actor for Mello, had issues with some dialogue due to his Canadian accent requiring extra takes.
- Alessandro Juliani, the voice actor for “L” also plays Lt. Gaeda in the Sci-Fi series “Battlestar Galactica”.
- Speaking of “L”, the font used to represent both “L” and “W” for Watari is known as Cloister Black which bears a resemblance to Times New Roman font.
- There are several parodies of real-life websites and products used throughout the series, the most notable is “Gentle”, the search engine used by Light when researching Misa Amane.
- In a case of art imitating life, Aya Hirano, the [fallen] voice actress in Japan for Misa Amane, is also a notable pop singer in addition to being a sought-after voice actress having playedtwo of the most popular anime characters in the last few years: Haruhi Suzumiya from “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” and Konata Izumi from “Lucky Star”.
So where does that leave us? Well, simply put, “Death Note” is a suspense thriller that keeps you guessing and asking questions long after the last episode. With its unique story telling method, intriguing characters, mood-altering animation and music, and an acting cast that makes you sit up and take notice, “Death Note” is one series that lives up to its hype and then some.
And there you have it. My review of “Death Note” is completed…kinda-sorta. After some thought, I decided to postpone the three live-action “Death Note” movies in order to end the year on a more happy note! Therefore, the FINAL review of 2011 will be a complete one-eighty from “Death Note”, and it will be a tag-team review with one of my oldest and dearest friends! So prepare yourself for our review of: