Reviewby T Strife, Feb 18th 2010
Death Note Relight - Visions of a God (Director's Cut)
After happening across a Death Note – a notebook that can take the life of any person who's name is written in its pages – Light takes it upon himself to rid the world of evil as he perceives it, and swiftly decides that it is his calling to become the God of a new world. A series of unexplained criminal deaths soon follow, and the police force are left with no choice but to rely on a mysterious detective known as L – the only mind capable of matching Light's own.
A couple of years ago, I found myself in a short-term relationship. It scarcely lasted a month and as such my memories of this girl are somewhat limited. However, watching through this condensed retelling of much of the Death Note storyline brought back a few of those memories with level of clarity that surpassed their worth. This isn't because she was particularly interested in anime or manga or even foreign film or animation of any kind, but rather because she watched a lot of nature shows. I don't think I ever heard David Attenborough's voice throughout my entire life as much as I did during those few weekends I spend sharing time in her apartment.
The hook of such television, when it is well researched and produced, is that it causes you to become interested in – and to develop an affinity with – its chosen subject of study, be it worm, monkey or tiger. You side with and feel for that hour's protagonist, but the programming can play your capricious nature like a violin, and so you may be perfectly happy to bear witness to the very same creature getting eaten a week later.
The battle of wits between Light and L in Death Note does this. It graduates the instrument playing from after school classes to the Sydney Opera House. It will move your focus of empathy back and forth so frequently that it may become exhausting. It will make you want to cheer for both protagonists at the same time, and it will leave you at odds when you try to think of any way that all of this could possibly bring about a happy resolution. It will make you fear for Light's safety and secrecy, even though you know that he is, fundamentally, a sick and evil bastard child of the human race.
How sick? Sick enough to allow his own opinion of himself rise to such heights as to perceive his judgment as on par with that of a supreme deity and evil enough to kill supreme numbers of people under such a sense of self-righteousness. It is the notebook dropped by the shigami Ryuk that allows for this power; all that is needed to murder a man with its pages is a name and a face.
It's an utterly implausible scenario that nonetheless leads into a stunning array of twists and turns that are plotted carefully around the narrative's own internal rules and logic. Comically balanced out by Ryuk's constant nagging and addiction to apples, it makes for an engaging psychological study where sword and pen are trade places in a manner that goes beyond metaphor, and where breath is held as schemes are played out.
And, at numerous points throughout, you will catch yourself off-guard, realising that you're biting your nails out of concern for one of the most villainous characters in to ever grace an anime series of any kind. This effectiveness is thanks to a fine balance of writing and production values. Death Note's charisma is found more strongly in its actions than it is in expression – it's a story to be remembered in the mind rather than the heart. But it spares no expense in presenting its world, and everything from the character animation, through to the clean backgrounds and frequent (yet almost understated) use of a shaky handy-cam filming style collaborate with the writing to make sure that the visuals are sufficiently arresting, and wholly worthy of the scripts.
Scripting of which comes with several pros and cons in such a condensed, telemovie form. Certainly, the story holds together better than you might have any right to expect it to, and the comparatively limited (but still considerable) run-time allows the cutting of an amount of the waffle that is used to pad out episodes of the series from time to time, but it's also true that not everything can survive. The story told here is of more arcs than a contained script is usually expected to carry, and it segues into them so speedily that it can, at times, be a little awkward. And yet, when all is said and done, for all the appreciated details that are missing, the overall impression is that the edits have all been as worthwhile as they can be for the product that was in production. What has survived is a singular, streamlined narrative than nonetheless twists and turns like a dog chasing a wagging tail.
However, what it doesn't deliver is its promise of presenting the story from the perspective of the shinigami. This concept is presented no more than lip-service, handled mostly through an opening and closing animation that is used to help frame the story for a singular, condensed telling. It's been altered, however subtly, but this is still the Death Note as the world already knows it.
Should you somehow still be out of the loop of such a successful franchise, then this is as good a place to start as any. The high production standards of the original television animation spare it some embarrassment when retold as a stand-alone, movie-length presentation, and it covers a lot of ground to deliver a conclusion that should satisfy until the retelling of the other half comes along. Extras are thin, and it's true that the English cast pales in comparison to the Japanese one – but that's best seen as a compliment to one group of actors rather than an insult directed towards the others. Either way, this disc contains a far more entertaining game of cat and mouse than logic may lead a person to expect.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Animation : B+
+ Tightly written, well animated and, at times, genuinely thrilling.
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