I am still in the middle of watching it. I originally decided to watch the whole thing, then write about it. Right now, I realize I don’t have the patience, and let’s be honest- waiting till it’s ended is just another sneaky form of procrastination, and I know too well how big a bitch that can be. That said, onwards!
Death Note is a popular anime series based on (what else?) a manga of the same name by Tsugumi Obha and Takeshi Obata. It tells the story of a highschool senior named Mogami Light who happens upon a notebook of death dropped down onto Earth by a death god (one of many) named Ryuk. There are a number of rules written in the book that explain how, by touching the book, you become able to see and interact with the original death god owner, and how by writing a persons name in the notebook, you can kill them. There are more specific details but right now they’re not important. Anyways, Light is a certified genius (I was going to use the Korean word chunjae LOL). He is so smart, he’s bored of life. The notebook comes along and changes all that. He reads the rules, and being the cool, logical person he is, dismisses it as a hoax. He tries it out on a criminal holding a bunch of people hostage. The live TV crew present confirms that the man suddenly died of a heart attack. This makes him comprehend the possibility that this may be the real deal. He later kills another wrongdoer and gets a visit from Ryuk, who introduces himself, explains to him the real significance of the book and tells him that he’ll be shadowing him till the day he (Light) dies. By then, Light has gone all dark (pun intended) and likes the twisted power vested in him. He likes the idea of killing off the baddies of the world and dreams of creating a world that bows down to him in gratefulness and submission. Add on his already bloated ego and superiority complex, and you have the perfect set of ingredients for a psychopath. He wants to become a god of this world, and has been, by then, writing names left and right, night and day. All over the world criminals have been dropping dead like flies, all of them because of heart attacks. An international conference is held, and it is agreed that this is no coincidence and that the taking of lives without fair trial is wrong. (how a bunch of old politicians can come to this conclusion, despite the overwhelming evidence, is beyond me. Old fogeys are not supposed to be so accepting of new ideas) Enter the mysterious ‘L’, a man whose identity no one knows, but who is rumored to be a master at solving crimes others fail at. He agrees to take on the case.
Start battle of wits between L and Kira (the netizen-bestowed name given to Light)
So far, the series has been spectacular. It got off to a slow first episode, since we’re just being told what we already know or suspect. Even so, it was still fascinating to watch, the sinister changes in our lead from apathy to antipathy. The first episode was packed with the necessary base plot devices and set the tone for all to come. It firmly established that this is no kiddie toon.
From episode 2 onwards, it’s been one staggering surprise after another. Don’t be fooled by the dull color pallette used, or the oldschool animation style. It’s the plot, supported wholly by the characters and their interactions, that carries the show. The first shock comes when L comes on national live television, revealing his face and name (the two things Light, or Kira, needs to kill) sending a message to Kira that he’s out to get him. Two seconds later, that guy is dead, and is being hauled off screen by two men. Screen changes to a picture of the letter ‘L’ and a digitally altered voice floats out, informing the watching Kira that he lied, that was not L, it was a criminal who’d been sentenced to death anyway. He ups the game and tells him that not only that, but he believes that Kira is Japanese. He’d lied about the broadcast being played all over the world, it was only being broadcasted in the Kyoto area of Japan. One blow after another, and it’s proved that Light has found his match. One can only stare in incredulity as the story progresses.
My favorite character, so far, is definitely Ryuk. This is no ordinary supernatural being. He’s like a eccentric hobo old guy on crack, who also has a odd penchant for apples. (how symbolic, seeing its mythical significance as the’ forbidden fruit’) He’s so hilariously candid, it’s not spooky at all. The one who really scares me is Light. He is unfazed by Ryuk, and treats him like one would an annoying pet. He even learns how to manipulate him, to a certain extent. Ryuk isn’t stupid and has a few tricks up his sleeve too, which he uses occasionally to have fun at Lights expense. Ryuk, being a death god, or shinigami, cannot take sides. He cannot tell Light more information that is allowed, nor will he aid or abet him in any of his situations. Mostly, he just stands by and laughs his old-guy cackle, much to Lights chagrin.
An examination of Light and L’s characters is also interesting. Both are the same age, posses the same level of intelligence, and apparently the same level of expertise at tennis, but aside from those few facts, they are the antitheses of each other. Other than being obvious moral opposites; even in appearance, they are completely different. Light possesses the air of complete civility and perfection, despite being an animal inside. He’s like a carefully caged beast, whose presence he must not let on to anyone. L has the haggard look of an undernourished druggie, and even in his behavior and mannerisms, there is a strange animal-like quality, yet he is the true hero, if not the main character.
I still have to watch on. Who knows? With all the surprises, I’m not betting on anything, not even on the good remaining good, and the bad remaining bad. I purposefully didn’t include many spoilers, except an overview of the first episode, because I want everyone to be as shocked as I was at all the developments. Hope this gets people to add it to their t0 watch lists. It’s only 37 episodes, so you don’t need to worry about it going on forever like most anime’s seem to do. Oh, and one last thing, watch the original Japanese version with English subtitles, not the English dub. Compared to the original, the dubbed version seemed too…Americanized. That may be the entire point of a dub, to make it more appealing to the English-speaking audience, but if you’re a culture buff (or just plain purist) like me, you’ll definitely want to watch the original. I love the sound of the Japanese language, and watching something with subs gives you a more accurate feel of the show. You subliminally learn a lot more about the culture, customs, and you even get clues based on subtle differences in gestures and language. It’s fascinating, really. In the English version, I thought Light seemed not-dark-enough. His vocal tone wasn’t subdued enough and I found myself caught up in making comparisons. If you find reading and watching simultaneously difficult (a fact a few of my friends admitted to) then you’re probably better off with the dub, or else my unchanging opinion would be to watch the Japanese original.