Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 9th 2009
NOTE: This review strongly alludes to a major spoiler for a key event within this span of episodes.
Higuchi is dead, but the killings continue, leaving L perplexed about what is happening. He has little more time to figure it out, however, for thanks to Kira's machinations, his fate has been sealed. In the wake of his passing Light takes over as L to pretend to continue the investigation, while two new figures arise as aspiring replacements: the temperamental Mello and the brilliant but blandly odd Near. Several years later, events force the Death Note the task force possesses out of their hands, and cause the death of a task force member, but time has also strengthened Kira's influence on the world. Another Shinigami eventually comes looking for his absent Death Note, while at the same time the dangerous competition to see who between Near and Mello will catch Kira first heats up.
Death Note started out as an immensely popular and highly-regarded series, but as often happens with series that achieve such a great degree of success, some elements of anime fandom have gradually turned on the series over time. In some cases this is a knee-jerk response to the popularity of the show from the minority which disliked it, while in others the phenomenon represents flaws in the series gradually starting to show as the initial ardor towards the series cools off. This series is partly an example of both. Some fans have definitely become disgusted with the high degree of overly dramatized sensationalism that others love about the series (though in truth Death Note cannot hold a candle to Code Geass on that point), and this pair of volumes shows the series' biggest flaw in all its ignominy. That flaw has a name:
In fairness, Near is hardly the entirety of the problem here, but he sits at the core of what is wrong with the last third of the series. After establishing the initial presence of the Death Note, the series steadfastly built itself around the conflict and mind games between Light/Kira and L, and when that crucial conflict was in play the series shined. When it wasn't – as was the case during the Yostuba Group arc – the series tanked. L's final episode, despite a blatant and overplayed allusion to the Garden of Gethsemane from Jesus's story, briefly returns the series to its glory before drifting through a mostly recap episode and then time-jumping five years forward, where the series' downfall begins.
The downfall is not immediate, and at first it looks like the series might hold its own by continuing with its trademark exaggerated melodrama. As time passes, though, what the producers have done becomes progressively clearer: they have taken what made L into L and split part of it off into Mello (who gets the occasional emotional side and food fetish), while Near became the other part (the purely analytical side). In the process they broke one great character down into two decidedly mediocre descendants, and in this case the two halves most definitely do not equal the whole. Near may quickly prove quite capable as a foe, but his opposition to Kira lacks the edge and tension that L brought to the conflict. His presence feels too much like an attempt to provide a surrogate for L because the writers could not come up with another worthy opponent, and that can leave a sour taste in the mouth.
At about the same time the caliber of the series' dramatic flair starts to go downhill. A certain amount of exaggerated drama is perfectly acceptable as long as it is handled well, as it is in episode 25 and in the earliest stages of the series, but around the beginning of volume 8 (episode 29) the series starts overdosing on it. Bringing a helpless American President into the picture only exacerbates the problem as it rips up the already-shaky underlying premise of the series: that no one but L or his replacement could track Kira down. (The oft-stated complaint that people would not idolize Kira the way he is in the series carries little weight, especially if one looks on Kira as a cult figure.)
The series does have its good points through this run, however. Sidoh's presence provides a bit of levity in a series that takes itself much too seriously most of the time, Light's manipulation of Rem despite his knowledge of being manipulated is sadistically clever, the handling of Soichiro brings a proper resolution to his story, and Light being forced back on guard by renewed internal suspicions renews a tension that should never have been allowed to pass. Getting to see Light's sister Sayu all grown up is an added bonus, as is the interesting use of an insert song in episode 25. These episodes also maintain the high level of distinctive artistic quality that has been nearly as much of a watermark for the series as its title notebook, including several especially nice choices of shots and visual effects. The signature grandiose sound of the series also continues, hitting some high peaks in places while sounding overblown and overwrought in others. Hard-core metal opener “What's Up People?!” continues through these episodes, as does second closer “Zetsubou Billy,” both by Maximum The Hormone.
Whatever flaws may be found elsewhere in the content, the English dub is not part of them. The core cast does an excellent job of infusing their respective characters with a proper tone that does not stray much from the Japanese originals, and the English script stays remarkably tight. Regrettably the most distinguished performance – that of actor Alessandro Juliani (Lt. Felix Gaeta on the new Battlestar Galactica) as L – lasts for only two episodes before bowing out with the character, but none of the performances are bad, and Samuel Vincent's whiny interpretation of Sidoh is a hoot. While this dub may not quite make the cut as one of the elite, it should be plenty good enough for anyone who normally at least tolerates dubs.
Extras on both volumes includes additional installments of the “Behind the Scenes” pieces seen in previous volumes, limited sets of production art, and an English audio commentary for one of the episodes which involves ADR director Karl Willems with a rotating set of English voice actors. In volume 7 Alessandro and Colleen “Rem” Wheeler talk about episode 25, while on volume 8 Cathy “Near” Weseluck (probably most famous to American fans as the voice of C-ko) joins Mr. Willems for a discussion of 30. Neither impresses.
In retrospect, perhaps the most interesting thing about episodes 25-32 is the way they unobtrusively foreshadow later events. (For instance, if you have already seen the end of the series, listen carefully to what Matsuda says through this run.) Although this run initially marks a step out of the Dark Age into which the series had fallen, the reprieve proves only brief. These volumes may have some strong content, but on the whole they stray far from the series at its best.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Episode 25, artistry, English dub.
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