Show: Death Note
Studio/years aired: Madhouse, 2006-2007
AniB’s thoughts: Well, this review was a long time coming: an iconic anime like Death Note was unlikely to just sit on the sidelines forever, and with the announcement from Netflix a few weeks ago at the time of this writing that yet another live-action Death Note film is happening, it seemed like high time to finally sit down and go over the show. Indeed, this review had been in the planning stages for a long while, and was actually one of the first series that I had sat down and written a grading skeleton for, even before the launch of AniB Productions, but I was happy to revisit Death Note and heavily revise my original thoughts up to what’s on your screen now.
Indeed, Death Note is a favorite that has continued to remain relevant and representative of the best of anime 12 years on from its debut. The tale of Light Yagami’s initially noble sort of intentions with the Death Note turning into justified mass murder, and the battle of wits he engages in with L, the world’s greatest detective, remains as engaging and high stakes as ever upon a rewatch, and the show’s overall impression has not dimmed despite its immense popularity and the scrutiny that comes with the territory.
There are plenty of elements that made this show a huge success on a number of levels, but from a narrative point of view, it is the tension that is created and upheld, culminating in the most satisfying of manners, that really stands out. This series finds a way to build up its big parts slowly, with detail and intricacy, and then- bam! Like a spider’s web, the strike is quick and decisive, but wholly enjoyable. It may be a simple observation, but from where I can see it, this simple concept is executed so well in this particular show that’d I’d be remiss not to mention it.
For the few who have not seen the show, it is an excellent choice for both beginning and experienced anime viewers. With a gripping narrative, excellent animation that still holds up (2006 wasn’t as recently as any of us probably remember), and a cast of characters that expertly hooks you in as they develop, it’s a textbook case of the best of what Eastern animation (and in general) has to offer. Conversely, for the many who have seen this show, it is definitely worth a watch over again, and at least as far as this piece is concerned, is definitively superior to Netflix’s live-action interpretation of this series, and rightfully so, given its status as the original manga adaptation of the series.
Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime, with computer shading and coloring. Death Note looks terrific, from the character designs to the different sets, and the animation often is effective at conveying the mood or themes of the show. This sort of attention to detail is especially apparent in the key scenes where narrative tension is at its peak. 5/5 points.
Characterization: The characters are amazing, really, but what else can you expect when all 37 episodes are character and plot development?
Light Yagami is one of the most interesting main characters in any series, serving as the standard-bearer of the protagonist-turned villain; it’s essentially left to the viewer to decide by the end if he’s the main protagonist or antagonist. A honors high school student, Light finds the Death Note one day by chance, and intrigued by the possibilities instead of being scared away, he imprints his idealistic vision of justice on the book’s effects, which gradually and then rapidly becomes more distorted and complex as he mires himself and his life completely to the ledger of the shinigami, engrossed in the “Kira” persona he creates for himself. Brilliant as he is ruthless, the iconic lead of Death Note always provides high drama.
Opposing Light is L, the world-famous detective. Unusual in tactics and mannerisms, he shows an astounding ability to think outside the box, and his ability to think multiple steps ahead is only matched by his worthy adversary. With a strong sweet tooth and an unwavering determination to figure out who’s behind the string of unexplainable deaths, the highest-stake games imaginable unfold between the two, with unexpected turns at every corner.
(SPOILERS, for the rare soul who hasn’t seen this:)
Near, a boy who was from the same orphanage L originated from (and which doubles as a training ground of potential successors) takes up that mantle in the second half of the show after the time skip. Near in several ways shares similar mannerisms and a similar appearance to L, though he has white hair instead of jet-black, and and an obsession with toys compared to his predecessor’s sweet tooth. All business, Near revives the pursuit of “Kira,” putting Light on the defensive with the one possibility he failed to account for, give he’d claimed L’s title for himself.
Dueling Near for the title of succesor is his rival Mello, a boy who has remarkably different and far more mafia-style tactics in his approach to finding “Kira.”
(SPOILERS END HERE)
L, and the office he holds as the prestigious ace detective of the international community serves as a worthy adversary through the show, perhaps even to the point where they are truly the protaganists given Light’s descent into the power the Death Note gives him. Indeed, the battle of wits between Light and L is something iconic to the show.
As for the rest of the cast, there are a few important characters in a fairly concise cast, starting with the shinigami, or “god of death,” Ryuk. Only able to be seen by wielders of a Death Note, Ryuk is fairly good natured despite his appearance and is mostly interested in breaking his boredom he was experiencing in the shinigami realm. Partnered with Light, he serves as a neutral, albeit interested observer in the grandiose plans of the current Death Note wielder, and for whatever reason, has a love of red apples.
Misa Amane, or “Misa Misa” is a famous model in the Death Note universe, but had come across a Death Note of her own. In love with Kira and his work, she finds a way to cross paths with Light; the latter finds her useful for his own ambitions, but she truly loves him despite it all.
Aside from these two, the only other character really worth mentioning is Light’s father, who is a respected and renowned police chief who in an ironic twist, is tasked to head up the force searching into Kira. He’s proud of the son he thinks he knows, though the tension hangs heavy in the air with the answer to his question so nearby…
All the characters receive excellent development and importance through the story. It’s even better in context, no doubt. 5/5 points.
Story quality: This is the rare breed of animated show that has no filler (Western or Eastern). It’s straight story and character development, and to that end, what a narrative it is. The pacing is perfect as a result, and the story itself has two distinct arcs of pre- and post-time skip. Richly layered, a fascinating battle of cat and mouse, traps and queries, a chess match to the death- it is not inaccurate to say the show has it all in terms of a rich plot. Add in the wonderfully developed characters, and occasional humor to balance out what’s a fairly serious show and it’s a great mix. 5/5 points.
Themes: Most obviously Death Note deals with the ideas of life and death; the idealistic notions of people, and the easily corruptible sense of justice people may have. It also points at the folly of arrogance, and plays up the idea that when you try to play God, it leads nowhere good. Aside from that, there’s heavy mystery elements, a fair bit of violence that makes sense in the context of the show, and some ideas about how secrets can tear people apart, with far-reaching consequences. 4.5/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: Death Note is wickedly smart, though I’d not recommend it to anyone under 15 due to the intensity of the show and the inability to grasp the most complex themes. It’s a classic of anime at this point, and a joy to watch whether you’re an experienced viewer or relatively new to the medium. 5/5 points.
Total Score: 24.5/25 (98%). A masterpiece of anime, Death Note stands tall as a titan of the genre, with brisk pacing, a gripping narrative, and brilliantly written characters. It holds a legacy that surely many anime will try to reach now and in the future.
Like what you see? Are you a big fan of Death Note? Leave a comment!