Review: Death Note

A mid-2000’s classic finally gets a review.

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The Lowdown:

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!

 

 

Preliminary Review: DuckTales (2017)

The rebooted action of a beloved classic gets put to the critic’s test.

Ducks, ducks and more ducks…I had no idea that my next piece would be about Disney’s clan of the birds after Daffy Duck’s character piece, but here we are, kicking off September at the time of this writing with a special preliminary review. Yes, one season is finally in  the books for the highly-anticipated reboot of DuckTales, and it’s my pleasure to finally put some numbers and analysis on this bad boy. Let’s take a dive in like Scrooge does with his money bin!

The Lowdown:

Show: DuckTales (2017)

Studio/network/years aired: Disney Television Animation, Disney X.D./Channel, 2017-

AniB’s thoughts: A year or so ago, I sat down and watched with great interest the pilot for this reboot of the beloved 90’s classic. That specific first impression can be found here. Recently though, the first season of this ‘toon wrapped up and so, the time has finally come for the first review of the show at hand, and I must say- it acquitted itself well.

I suppose any DuckTales conversation worth its salt starts with Scrooge McDuck, the famous Scottish adventurer of fame and (very, very, very) great fortune. Returning more to his comic roots in terms of design, Scrooge’s miserly pallor is lifted in the opening act of the season, and the bold, famous duck of legend is back in full here. He doesn’t appear in every episode, but he does in most and when he’s center stage, he frankly steals the show. With the death of long-time Scrooge VA Alan Young prior to the show’s debut, it’s David Tennant- better known as one of the Dr. Who’s- who steps admirably into the void left here, and truthfully does some great work as the Scottish spitfire.

One of the most prominent moves in the adaptation was the decision to overhaul Webby Vanderquack’s character and personality entirely. While both this version and the original 1989 show saw a kind girl wishing to be the “fourth triplet” with Huey, Dewey and Louie, the current incarnation has some incredible martial arts and spy training, courtesy of her grandma (more on Mrs. Beakley in a bit) but also some social aloofness and naivete stemming from her sheltered upbringing. She’s energetic and tends to get overexcited about things that catch her interest, particularly the life and history of Scrooge, who she idolizes. It’s my opinion this version of the character is equal parts charming and cute, but not too annoying, and it works.

Another welcome change was the inclusion of Donald Duck as a major supporting character in this iteration of DuckTales. In an eye for detail, Donald is regaled in his classic comics sailor’s outfit, but is also true to the most classic iterations of the character- bombastic but also highly caring of his family and friends (particularly his nephews, who he is the legal guardian of in this series.) Cast as the one-time close member of Scrooge McDuck’s entourage who accompanied him on his globe-trotting adventure, the two became estranged after a certain key incident, which incidentally thawed itself out in the pilot episode.

A number of other cast members and places prominent in the original series return as well, from a Mrs. Beakley who’s a sultry British ex-spy/super maid in this outing, to Launchpad McQuack, who remains fairly faithful to his original iterations, though perhaps a tad more dimwitted than before. Of course, this also includes Scrooge’s old rogues gallery, from the ever-vengeful Flintheart Glomgold, to the bumbling antics of the Beagle Boys.

Overall, DuckTales was always going to be evaluated largely by not only its art style (which is simply eye-catching with that comic feel), but how it decided to approach these beloved characters in a new way, and overall, it’s not a bad re-framing of the universe with a more modern polish. The more timeless characters are as you’d remember them, though the triplets got a bit of an overhaul that’s notable as well (though using all my thoughts on the characters before the character section of grading would be a waste, wouldn’t it?) Additionally, the show features a nice overarching plot and mystery that no doubt got some influence from the creative team, a number of whom previously worked on Gravity Falls, and like the latter, the show has both an episodic and story arc hybrid sort of episode style going on, with a clear forward time progression. Finally, I will say the finale was a solid cap to the built-up events of the next season and a fine way to wrap up a number of outstanding questions while keeping perhaps the biggest one perfectly intact. As the theme song goes, “life is like a hurricane here in Duckberg.” It most certainly is, and it will be one of the more intriguing questions of 2019 as to where this series goes.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, computer animated. The style of this show is done in a way that emulates classic Scrooge comics a bit, right down to the key character designs, and this influence can also be notably felt in the revamped opening for the show. It’s a style that feel different enough from the original show to feel aesthetically unique, but pleasing, but similar enough that it’s unmistakably DuckTales. A fine job all around. 5/5 points.

Characterization: The thoughts above already encapsulated a wide variety of observations on the main cast of this show, with one major exception: the triplets.

The forever gripe about Huey, Dewey and Louie had been the difficulty in differentiating them as individuals. They also all had the “Donald Duck” voice treatment in most of their iterations, meaning it was often hard to complete understand what they were saying. In a bold, but not completely unexpected move, the creative team decided to overhaul the trio a bit and give them a) design makeovers, b) actual separate voice actors, c) more defined individual personalities, and d) both a strong sense of individuality but also unbreakable brotherhood.

So, to recap: Dewey is the headstrong adventurer of the three, though lacking in common sense at times. He’s the blue t-shirt. Huey is the one who retains the classic outfit with the hat in red, and in this iteration is the smart, nerdy duck. He’s well organized and believes in facts and data, order and planning- and especially if it’s in the Junior Woodchuck manual. Finally, Louie is the cool cat, in the green hoodie and with an appreciation for the finest things in life. He’s got his Uncle Scrooge’s penchant for treasure and the riches of the world, and he’s got a bit of a clever con-man inside him too. Sometimes, the trio can be their own worst enemies, but oftentimes, they make the best team that can overcome any obstacle.

While the story and show isn’t done being written yet, the reimagined DuckTales cast has been not only satisfactory, but rather well-implemented with a charm all their own. The writers do appreciate some references now and again to the original series, so keep your eyes open for the details!

4.5/5 points.

Story: Hybrid of episodic and overarching plot storytelling. As noted initially, this takes some cues from Gravity Falls in all likelihood, especially with the mystery elements, but some credit should also go to the original DuckTales, which occassionally had some mini-arcs on some of Scrooge’s outings, perhaps none more notable or memorable than the feature-length film that was the original’s pilot (and worth 5 episodes!) Within this show though, it’s a nice blend that keeps dramatic tension up nicely while furthering character development all the time, and episodes have good attention to detail of past events and prior happenings as well. Intriguing setup is in place for season 2. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: This show’s about family and the relationships people make, aside from all the adventuring, spelunking and various other (mis)adventures. It’s got a real emotional core in there though, and deals with some pretty complicated stuff within that simple premise, from the strains of being siblings to the dreams and desires of an only child to be part of that, to even an old duck’s regrets and misunderstandings causing very real pain. Don’t be fooled- this show even with its humor and the network(s) it airs on has some real weight in the characters themselves, especially when you key in on the details. It will be fascinating to see how this continues to unfold. 4/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: From the revived classic theme song, to the fast-paced action of the show, and the family-friendly presentation, it makes a good impression in this department. Some of the technology references though could get a bit dated as time goes on, but that’s a minor gripe. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 22.5/25(90%): This may seem like a bit of a high grade for one season of a show with huge expectations, but it was a genuinely enjoyable watch that had a lot to like in its initial relaunch. It’s not a perfect show- nothing is- but it captures the essence of DuckTales supremely well and is a great show in its own right thus far, no strings attached. It’s worth checking it out sometime!