Director: Tetsuro Araki
Writer (of original manga): Tsugumi Ohba
Animation Studio: Madhouse
Version Watched: Subbed
Some actions are always good, and some actions are always bad, but most of life is colored in shades of grey. Many of those we label evil believe their chosen path to be the good one. Death Note takes these statements and presents them in anime form, and, by and large, does a good job of it. Unfortunately the second part of the series doesn’t quite deliver what the first part leads you to expect, bringing this particular anime down from a potentially excellent score. Still, Death Note is an incredibly popular and well known anime, and there is definitely a good reason for that.
Yagami Light is a high-school student with exceptional academic ability but an otherwise unremarkable life. However, this all changes when he comes across a mysterious book known as the Death Note. After picking it up, Light encounters a fearsome Death God from another world, Ryuk, who appears to oversee its use:
Light, being the son of a distinguished police investigator, immediately realizes the uses of such an artifact and begins judging criminals, aiming for the creation of a world without crime and suffering – one that he will reign over as God. Of course, the deaths of hundreds of high-profile criminals does not go unnoticed, and the unrivaled detective known only as “L” is called in to find the mad killer calling himself “Kira”.
The first part of the show (that’s about 25 of the 37 episodes) is extremely well written and executed. The story moves very quickly but doesn’t seem rushed, with the rapid escalation leaving you craving more and wondering what could possibly happen next. The main aspect that keeps the series exciting are the interactions between Light and “L”, each genius striving to out-do the other; you can never quite tell who’s going to come out on top. That all changes, however, once L steps out of the spotlight, handing the reigns over to a new set of characters which were really unnecessary and hard to become attached to over the 12 final episodes they feature in. The story remains decent but the excitement provided by the Kira vs. “L” theme disappears, which is a real shame because it was exciting. I’m not one to marathon anime, but when I watched it Death Note was the closest I had come to doing so in a long while.
Death Note is a very serious anime dealing with some fairly heavy issues, so it seems a little out of place whenever it makes an attempt at humour. Whenever it showed up, and it was really just a few episodes in the middle, I wasn’t prepared for it because that’s just not what the other 95% of the show was like. Instead of being funny, the sections in question just came across as awkward. Not quite as awkward, but still rather questionable, was the portrayal of Ryuk the Death God. It wasn’t so much his personality as much as, well, how pointless he was in the long run. He’s certainly important, but I feel like for a character that’s introduced early on and is in nearly every episode he just didn’t do much. That’s probably just me being picky though.
As far as characters go, Death Note’s main ones are done pretty well done. Light and “L” are both very strong personalities and even though they oppose each other it’s difficult to choose a favorite. While some of the side characters are also very good, I would have to say that most of them are only there to facilitate the continuation of the story rather than being interesting in their own right. As mentioned earlier, some new main characters are introduced in the latter half of the series that aren’t particularly noteworthy (I mean, one of them is practically just a worse version of “L”), so I won’t bother describing them.
Death Note’s art style is quite different from the very clean anime art you may be used to. The colours used are duller than usual and the style itself immediately tells you that the series means business. It fits the show perfectly, but isn’t always the best quality-wise. The characters’ facial expressions can be especially poor at times. Overall though the visuals don’t detract from the viewing experience and manage to convey the intended feeling admirably. The audial aspects aren’t worth exploring, but they aren’t bad either.
Summary – Death Note boldly explores the grey area of morality that few series succeed in representing well, and though the quality drops near the end you will still be entertained throughout; I have yet to talk to a person that didn’t enjoy it. Most of my gripes with the series are minor ones and the sense of excitement it evokes in its early episodes shouldn’t be missed by any fan of good anime.
Score: 8/10 – Good