Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 30th 2008
L has placed Light's life under a microscope, and while Light ultimately prevails, the eccentric sleuth still smells something awry. So much so, that he joins the same college and personally introduces himself. The intellectual sparring between the two suddenly takes on a much more personal tone, but just when it seems that something has to give, someone with powers similar to Kira's besieges a television station. L, faced with two Kiras, enlists Light's help and Light agrees, hoping to allay suspicions. However, his search for the new Kira turns serious when she—she's a somewhat bubble-headed girl his own age—starts unintentionally feeding L everything he needs to know to deduce where Kira's godlike powers truly stem from.
There comes a time in the career of any reviewer when they must grit their teeth, clutch their integrity to their chests like a magic charm, and go forth to buck the opinions of nearly everyone they've met, talked to, or read. I thought that that time had come when I felt compelled to give the well-loved Super GALS a thorough horse-whipping. However the trepidation I felt then was nothing compared to what I felt when, after being assigned to review this volume, I caught up with the series by renting the second volume and realized to my horror that I hate this series. It wasn't boredom, pain, irritation, or even a matter of flaws versus merits. It was pure unadulterated loathing.
It's a difficult reaction to puzzle out and one that usually indicates that a series is actually quite good—there has to be something to a show that can elicit a reaction that strong. And indeed Death Note is strong on all fronts. Its art is beautiful—rich, dark, and dripping with cold alienation. Its movements are clean, smooth and startlingly devoid of budgetary deficiencies. Its soundtrack is bursting with baroque doom, and it is acted to cruel, chilling perfection in both languages (save for a certain weakness in the English supporting cast). It's written with an intelligence and ruthlessness that shames the vast majority of its Shonen Jump brethren. It builds suspense with masterful skill, seizing the attention at the beginning of each episode, never letting go until there are simply no more episodes available to watch. It is continually changing, always shifting narrative focus or introducing some awful new quirk into Light's plans. There is nothing repetitive or predictable; every new turn is a surprise, every event the introduction of a new point of interest. Just when you think Light and L's intellectual battle is running in circles, L personally confronts Light, completely retrofitting their relationship.
It would be easy to point out narrative flaws. Light is unsympathetic and no other character is given enough of a focus to compensate for it. The intricate rules regulating the use of the Death Note smack of American superhero silliness (why does Kryponite hurt Superman? Just because. Why does Light need a name and a face to kill someone with the Death Note? Ditto). While Light's plots are certainly clever, he also makes fundamental mistakes that throw serious doubt on his vaunted genius. What kind of genius thinks that evil is so simple and rare a phenomena that it can be cured by killing a few evildoers in a world with six billion other potential evildoers? What kind of genius can't understand that crime is a symptom of social ills, not the cause? L makes similarly stupid mistakes. If he knows that Kira can control people before he kills them, why can't he figure out that Kira can make them commit suicide? However, flaw-listing isn't just easy, it's also cheap. And even worse, meaningless. Death Note's flaws are easily trumped by its merits; indeed they're insignificant in comparison.
No, what leaves a septic taste in the mouth—and make no mistake, Death Note will leave a septic taste in some mouths—is something far more fundamental. Something that goes beyond all entertainment value, that supersedes emotions of any kind, makes cleverness and intelligence pale, towers over tension, and overshadows invention: It's morally repellent.
You could say that we're not supposed to agree with Light's sickening course of action or sympathize with the nasty little psycho, and in reply one could counter by saying that placing him in the position of main character forces us to sympathize with him and root for his success no matter how vile he is. But again that misses the point. Light's actions aren't where the aftertaste comes from. In part it springs from the series' often thoughtless treatment of issues of profound moral complexity. As when it forces audiences to consider grey shades of morality and yet builds its questions on a black and white division of the world into “criminals” and “innocents.” Or when it constructs fanciful mind games around the Death Note without even stopping to consider the implications of its ability to remove free will. In part it comes from the callow pop nihilism of making a psychotic villain the hero. But the real filth that sticks like psychological monkey dung to fans of humanistic entertainment is the series' populating of the world with mechanical, soulless masses of victims searching, en masse, for a higher power to solve all of their problems. Other than Light and L, there are no “real” people in the world, people who have lives, ambitions, and wills of their own. It's a streak of solipsism so extreme that the series sometimes borders on a masturbatory fantasy for every teenager who ever blithely came to the conclusion that the world was evil just because they felt disenfranchised.
Perhaps Death Note is merely biding its time, allowing Light to pose and gloat over his killing spree until it pulls off some new twist that deals with the icky implications about free will, that proves that it's Light rather than the writers themselves who is looking at the world with uncritical eyes clouded by nauseating misanthropy, and that gives some indication that humanity at large has real humans in it besides L and Light. It could happen. In fact, this volume itself makes some progress—the bravery and initiative shown by police and citizens alike in face of the second Kira is a step in the right direction—but until it's willing to treat characters like people instead of marionettes playing parts in some high-concept experiment, it will always be inferior to its similarly sadistic but infinitely more humanistic cousins like Hell Girl.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Dramatic shifts in the series' dynamic; Light doesn't kill any innocent people this time; has the power to draw you in and not let go.
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