Reviewby Michelle Yu, Feb 12th 2008
DVD 1 - V1
Light Yagami is handsome, popular, idealistic and highly intelligent. So when a book known as the Death Note falls into his possession, he is determined to use it to rid the world of evil. The person whose name is written in the Death Note will die and he fills it quickly with the names of the world's criminals. However, the police catch on and enlist the finest investigator- L, in order to capture the vigilante. As L does not use his true identity to communicate with the police or outside world, he becomes Light's greatest adversary and the second player in one of the greatest cat-and-mouse games of all time.
Death Note. In Japanese, the word for notebook is "nooto" (pronounced nor-toh) which is where the English title has derived the word "Note" from. As one may have now deduced, the title refers to a "death notebook" in which if a person's name is written, they will die. This notebook initially belonged to the realm of the Gods of Death, or Shinigami. All Shinigami possess one, in order to take human lives before their time to die in order to add the difference in years to their own lifespan. Thus, a Shinigami's existence relies heavily on the death of humans. However, one Shinigami- Ryuk is tired of his world. It is barren and desolate, with little to do, eat or see. So Ryuk obtains a second Death Note by tricking an elder and "accidentally" drops it into the human world. Out of boredom, Ryuk starts off one of the most memorable stories in anime.
When the lucky Light Yagami finds the Death Note in his school, he thought it was some twisted prank. Ryuk had even written the rules of the Death Note inside in English- the most common language in the world today. Light, being a Japanese prodigy is fluent in English and sees the first rule of the Death Note- "The human whose name is written in this note shall die." Intrigued by it, Light sneaks the notebook into his bedroom and writes the name of a criminal who was being broadcasted live on television. The second rule of the Death note was "This note will not take effect unless the writer has the subject's face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected." The news program had displayed a photograph of the criminal on screen which allowed Light to know specifically who he was dealing with. The interesting part is when the rules begin to explain the causes of death:
In my opinion, to think up rules for an instrument of death as if it were a game requires something close to a sociopathic mind. But for a person to make money off an idea that could have labelled them criminally insane? That is something else. Like Spanish master artist Francisco de Goya's "Black Paintings", the thought of it is genius as much as it is morbid. Despite the conclusion that the viewer must have already reached regarding the notebook, Light writes the name of the criminal on its own in the notebook and waits. Just as he was going to switch off the television, the hostages who had been held by the criminal streamed out claiming that he had collapsed. Disbelieving, Light decides to try the Death Note out a second time on another criminal in order to prove its powers.
Being an archetypal and idealistic hero, Light begins to use the Death Note in order to whittle the criminal population down to nothing. While living alongside Light, Shinigami Ryuk takes a great liking to apples which ironically are a symbol of death in the fairytale Snow White. Light and Ryuk share the same views on their respective worlds, which could be summarised with the line (spoken simultaneously for extra impact) "This world is rotting." They share similar opinions of their respective worlds, which is that they are stagnating through injustice and boredom.
The police begin to become suspicious of the amount of heart attacks in recent times and suspect unnatural causes. However, without sufficient evidence, they seek the help of L, the world's greatest investigator who has never failed to solve a case. His unknown name and face makes him a formidable opponent for Light, or "Kira" as the public has dubbed him. While killing may be "wrong", support has grown for the faceless vigilante on the Internet where opinions can be freely exchanged without much consequence due to the anonymous nature of online forums. This is very typical of Japanese society where it is often believed that it is better to conform and keep up appearances in order to keep the peace.
While it may be likely that a hooked fan of Death Note might paint an exercise book black and write the words "Death Note" on the cover in liquid paper, people should remember that IT IS FICTION. Writing names in a notebook will not kill anyone. However in China and the USA this behaviour has caused controversy regarding the series. The fans have got something right though. It is a great watch, although some of the dubbing is awkward, such as when Light, a Japanese person is in English class (This is a common problem to all dubs - VocalEd!). The editorial copy only came in the English dub, with no extras so no comment can be made on the original Japanese voice acting, nor any extras that may be included in the retail copy of this first volume. The art and animation are clean, with little frivolity which adds to the realistic nature of it being set in modern Japan.
An idealistic, serial killer student may be something that oppressed students can relate with (earning Death Note legions of young fans.) Not to mention the J-Rock opening and ending themes ("The World" and "Alumina" respectively) by the band Nightmare have a mainstream kick. However I mostly enjoyed the way the series delved into the psyche of such a person. Even more so that it is one so young and quite realistic in appearance, behaviour and values. Although he exudes a "typical anime hero" aura in the beginning, his darker side coupled with his high IQ is both intriguing and terrifying. What is shown of Light's adversary L also illustrates him as a highly intelligent man on par with Light himself. Their different ideas on justice and representations of justice remove the traditional labels of hero and villain, blurring the line which divides good and evil. While viewers are usually quick to take sides, Death Note forces viewers to step back from the picture and think before slapping the protagonist and antagonist labels on the main character.
A series like this does not come by often. Its realism laced with the supernatural allows us to believe for a moment that perhaps evil could be rid from our world, but then reminds us that a Utopian world is not so easy to attain. Due to its engrossing storyline, this is a series best served all at once. This is one cat-and-mouse game where the roles are almost indistinguishable from one another.
Overall (dub) : B+
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Engaging storyline and characters.
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