Anyone who is into anime has undoubtedly heard of this one. Death Note is one of the more successful anime of recent years, which actually makes it a bit of an anomaly when you consider it’s genre.
Death Note stands apart from most of the really popular anime, which are usually battle anime like Bleach, Fairy Tail, and the more recent Attack on Titan. It’s a “psychological” anime, and features no fight scenes at all. It is all about a battle of genius minds, using tactics, manipulation and brilliant deduction to face each other.
The story features Light Yagami, a teenage boy who is brilliant; he is at the top of his class and excels in pretty much everything he does. At the start of the show, he finds a mysterious notebook simply labelled “Death Note”, with various rules written in it. The one that catches our protagonist’s eye (notice I don’t use the word hero, here) is “the human whose name is written in this note shall die”.
He reacts as most people would at first: he assumes it’s some kind of elaborate joke. However, after a while he decides to try it out… on someone who “deserves” to die, just in case it works. Naturally, it does, and Light sets on upon a path to “cleanse” the world.
Here is where the true story begins. He becomes “Kira”, a mysterious figure who judges the wicked and gives them “justice”, and eventually people start to realise that there is someone judging those who deserve it. This eventually catches the eye of “L”, the most brilliant detective in the world. L himself is a mysterious figure, with no one even knowing what he looks like.
Thus begins our battle of wills. However, there is also a supernatural element at play, when the original owner of the Death Note visits Light shortly after he gets it. It is none other than a shinigami, or god of death, called Ryuk. In universe, shinigami use Death Notes to kill humans and take their remaining years to add to their own lifespan, but Ryuk dropped his in the human world just to see what would happen.
Already you can see that we have a set of characters that are not really “good” or “evil”, even L himself is portrayed as unscrupulous, merciless and willing to do whatever it takes to bring in Kira. No one here is really traditionally good or evil, and there are even arguments to be made that Light isn’t “evil”, he just becomes corrupted by power of the Death Note.
This is one of the things that makes Death Note brilliant, that moral ambiguity. You can root for either Light or L, as even though L is trying to bring down the “evil” Kira, he does some pretty questionable things to get it done. Even Light himself is trying to better the world, even if he has made himself a murderer to do it. Another thing that makes the show so interesting is the characters themselves.
The main two are very well written, their plans brilliant and complex (if sometimes a little silly), their dialogue well portrayed. But even the supporting cast are great, and add some nice variety into things. There is quite the varied cast of characters, and even if they aren’t as brilliant as L, they add some much needed humanity to things and some much needed humour as well.
The story can get a bit convoluted at times, especially in the second “arc”, but overall it’s still enjoyable and absorbing. Sadly the second arc is a pretty sharp dip in quality from the first, but that is down to the first arc of this anime being so brilliant. So, the second arc isn’t “bad”, as such, but it definitely pales in comparison to the first.
Lets move on to the animation quality and overall presentation of the show. The animation quality is very good indeed, with the characters all being well defined and animated to suit their personality (with their facial expressions). Sound wise, despite some questionable intro songs, it also has a unique and interesting soundtrack. It brings the right feeling of mystery, intrigue and tension into things.
Considering this anime is a lot of people standing around and talking, or Light/L plotting, the soundtrack and presentation is absolutely vital to making the show interesting to watch. Happily, they both add the right amount of drama to proceedings. The visuals can actually go somewhat overboard with the presentation, but that’s better than it being too dry.
Happily, the show sticks pretty closely to the manga as well. The main difference is the ending, which isn’t changed exactly, but ends on a different note in the show. Overall, Death Note is a unique anime and one of the more popular ones in the “psychological anime” genre, and is definitely one to watch if you’re after something with a bit of brains.
Next time, we’ll discuss one of the lesser known psychological anime – so watch this space!