Death Note [Anime]: Woefully underwhelming

I’ve already mentioned how I didn’t enjoy this anime, and now I get to tear it to shreds to my heart’s content! If you’re a fan of the 37-episode psychological thriller Death Note (2006-2007), and don’t agree with my review, please let me know in the comments. Let’s get some discussion happening!

Death Note

What’s it about?

Genius student Yagami Light is bored in school one day when he sees a mysterious object fall from the sky. He investigates it and discovers that it is a “Death Note”; a book that kills anyone whose name is written in it. After confirming the note’s powers, Light meets Ryuk, a Shinigami (Japanese God of Death), who explains that he dropped the Death Note into the human world to see what would happened. Light realises that this object is his chance to change the world for the better by eradicating all evil. Once a perfect world is created, he will be able to rule over it as a god of justice. Targeting criminals and given the name of “Kira” (killer) by the public, Light attracts the attention of the mysterious L, a world-famous detective. Neither of the two expect the other to be worthy of their intelligence, and what follows is a game of cat-and-mouse as they constantly attempt to outwit each other. With L on his heels, and other Death Notes falling to Earth, Light finds himself running a narrow line between destruction and success.

The Positives

One of the first things you will notice about this anime is how it looks. The art work is amazing, especially when you consider that this anime was made in 2006… that’s almost ten years ago! There’s some interesting artistic things going on with the character’s eyes throughout the series (always great to see, considering the prominence of eyes in anime), and the overall work with faces is really well done. This series excels in work with shadows- definitely something to look out for when watching! I also liked the overall gritty, dark atmosphere of the series; something that both the art and the soundtrack (minus the awful opening songs) contributed to, and I liked how the art got darker (metaphorically) as Light continued his killing sprees.

This picture really shows how good the art was in terms of the face, shadows, and eyes. You can also get a sense of the somewhat gritty tone of the series.

This picture really shows how good the art was in terms of the face, shadows, and eyes. You can also get a sense of the somewhat gritty tone of the series.

Another thing I can really appreciate about this anime is the abundance of some really forward-thinking and cool ideas. I liked the way the creators played around with both the characters’ mindsets as well as the viewers’ mindsets, the posing of the moral question over Light’s actions, the way the characters manipulated each other, and the way the main character was the series’ antagonist- although a well-known troupe, it’s not often used as directly or as cleverly as it was in this series. However, as much as I can admire the originality of these foundational ideas, I’m sorry to say that they are severely undermined by their execution, the actual characters, and a number of other aspects of the series.

The Negatives

I’m going to start with what I easily see as the main problem I have with this anime; the characters. Death Note has taught me a very important lesson; if the writers cannot get me to care about any of the characters, they cannot make me give a damn about their series. I honestly did not care about the fate of a single character in this anime. Misa was so freaking annoying, and easily the character I hated the most. I get that Light’s arrogance is meant to be something akin to his hamartia, and his overly-dramatic flair a “quirk” of his personality, but I rolled my eyes and glazed over every time he monologued. Which was a lot. As already mentioned, his role as both the main character and the antagonist was very unique, but if that’s the only thing Light has going for him, then there’s a major problem. As for L, the writers tried oh so hard to make him a quirky oddball, but largely only achieved creepiness. And because the two main characters worked so well, we get glorified carbon copies of them in form of Mello and Near. Although, to be fair, Near accomplished more in the last five or so episodes of the series than L ever did. I actually got excited in these episodes about what was going to happen next(!). Finally, the other characters were generic and bland. I was cheering for Light the whole series, because I believe the death of all of the characters would have been far more enjoyable to watch.

Near... the closest I got to caring about a character.

Near… the closest I got to caring about a character.

I have already mentioned that this series has quite an interesting, dark tone. Most of the time. It is drama-heavy and intense, and with good reason, considering the premise of the show. However, there were many moments where the drama was so intense I had to wonder if we had crossed the bridge into parody. Was I meant to be taking this seriously? There were too many moments that were so incredibly cheesy with multiple takes of the same scene from different angles with intense music. Most series involving parody give some sort of hint that it’s a parody of sorts, but Death Note’s almost-always serious tone made me wonder if the creators weren’t quite sure what constitutes as high drama and what is just hilariously too much. And that final episode… I regularly watch Asian melodramas, but they have nothing on the overly-dramatic last episode of this series.

One of Light's finer expressions.

One of Light’s finer expressions.

Finally, the pacing. As a whole I felt that the pacing for this series was a bit hit and miss. Sure, they found enough time to make up 37 episodes, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel like all that much happens, save for a few moments. You get lots of planning, lots of talking, lots of explaining, and yet not much else. To top it all off, when the series finally manages to get me somewhat interested in it- 23 episodes in- with some thrilling suspense, the series essentially shoots itself in the foot at its highest moment. [SPOILERS/] It achieves this amazing feat through the death of one of the main characters. Now from what I understand, this is a contentious point amongst fans of the series, with many believing that this particular death degrades the series as a whole, whilst others believe that it’s still fine afterwards. I’m from a third camp- the series was awful long before this point. [\SPOILERS].

Conclusion

Art: 9/10: The art is amazing, and the work with shadows a particular strong point.

Story: 5/10: There is a lot of potential with the characters manipulating each other, but the pacing is all over the place. How did they manage to make up 37 episodes with so little happening?

Characters: 3/10: I can appreciate some of the risks the creators took with the characters, but I did not have positive feelings towards a single character.

I should have loved Death Note. On its most basic level it has everything I love, and it is one of the most highly rated and recommended anime. Considering when it aired, the series has amazing art and some innovative ideas going on in it. However, the plot of the series is hit and miss, the characters are dull or extremely unlikeable, and the ultra-serious tone feels like it unintentionally crosses into parody. I can’t help but wonder if everyone’s love of Death Note is born from nostalgia for the series’ heyday, or even worse, the expectation to enjoy the “best anime series”. Overall I give it a 5.5/10, and a warning if you plan to watch it- it may not be amazing as you expect.

-S

I thought I might try something new at the end of my review; even if you don’t want to leave a comment, I’d greatly appreciate it if you responded to the poll below 🙂

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21 thoughts on “Death Note [Anime]: Woefully underwhelming

  1. This is one of those reviews that highlights just how different opinions can be on a subject (which is fine; I write those all the time XD). I fall into the camp of people that enjoyed the series overall but thought that the second half fell flat compared to the first.

    Where you liked Near I felt that he was more or less a worse version of L (though I can’t deny that he accomplished more) and where you felt the series as a whole was overly dramatic I found it to be exciting and fast-paced (in terms of the escalation at the beginning of the series at least, it does slow down around the middle).

    Still, i’m not disagreeing so much as musing over our differing reactions to the show. I watched it long after its heyday, though, so I can confirm that it’s not just nostalgia that drives Death Note’s popularity.

    • I recognise Near is pretty much a copy of L, although I wouldn’t say I go so far as to “like” him… I’m just a little more favourable towards him, probably because I knew he would end the series haha. I did find a couple of moments exciting and fast-paced, mainly L’s death and the final few episodes, but yeah, I otherwise thought it was quite slowly paced.

      I do find it very interesting that I don’t like it, though. There seems to be few negative reviews of Death Note, and quite a few of these seem to be people jumping on the hate wagon for the hell of it (I like to think I’ve actually given the series some thoughtful review and I’m not just doing this!). I love secret identities and manipulations and so on- for example I adore Code Geass and a drama adaptation of a manga with similar themes (Liar Game)- so I was truly expecting to love it.

      Ah well, as you’ve said, it just shows how the same show can produce such diverse reactions in different viewers!

  2. I entered this post jumping on the opportunity to argue or disagree with you, but now what I can only say is: to each his own. 🙂 I belong to the same camp as your friend above; I thought the second half was really bad compared to the first.

    Its just a matter of different opinions I think; I found Death Note to be rather exciting in the first half and Light and L to be good foils for each other. And I did care for both for them as characters, maybe because I do understand Light’s boredom and why he ended up progressing down this (immoral) route.

    Good review, by the way! 😀

    • Thanks! Aw, here I was itching for a fight too 😛

      I do agree that Light and L were good matches for each other. I just didn’t care about the personal war they were waging with each other haha. May I ask what specifically you liked about each character? I felt so far removed from them as a viewer that I don’t see anything about Light that would make someone like him as a character, and very little in L.

      • Hmm, I thought Light’s fixation on his questionable notion of justice (or rather, just a form of self-gratification) and his craziness made him unique enough as a character to make his antics interesting and entertaining. Like you don’t often see the bad guy as the protagonist so you occasionally want to root for somebody different? Its like watching a fascinating psycho character whose morals are completely out of the window (though we are probably less able to identify with him because he has no reasonable justification – you can’t just go around killing people just because you are bored without having some sort of sobstory behind it.) But because he’s so different I found him fun to watch at the very least; its like my amoral guilty pleasure.

        As for L, I wasn’t so much a supporter of his character than I was of Light. To me L is merely a good foil to Light in terms of intelligence but character-wise aside from the quirks (which i didn’t really find endearing too) I agree that he didn’t get much development. What I cared enough was because he represented the ‘good’ cause and that featured largely in my assessment of the character in general. 🙂

        • Ah fair enough. I can understand being attracted to the novelty and complexity of Light’s character. I normally like the crazies, too! As for L, I really don’t get why he has such a large fan base.

          But ah well, gonna have to go with the theme of the comment section and say “each to his own”!

  3. This is one of my favorite anime shows of all time. It’s got a great cast of quirky characters and an intelligent storyline packed with twists and turns. Shame that you didn’t enjoy it, but hey everyone has different tastes. Perhaps your expectations were too high going into it as the series is universally praised.

    • I think having high expectations did contribute to it, although one of my close friends, with very similar tastes to me, did warn me that she didn’t consider it amazing. But as you say, everyone has different tastes.

  4. This is one of my favourite anime’s of all time, but different tastes for different people it’s all good 🙂

  5. I am a Death Note FAN. I loved the series, loved the characters and loved the animation. I agree the animation was beautiful but I have to disagree with the fact of the characters being annoying. Yeah Misa was hella annoying but to me she was actually necessary in showing how serial killers usually can control and manipulate people at will and how even if a person loves them that the psycho has no empathy. I mean Light at one stage wanted to off his own sister. I agree to each his own and every comment about second season being bad is relevant, the fact that Near got him irked me. I prefer the secret ending that’s on the internet where Light lives and goes to the Shinigmi Realm upon his death atoning for his sins and trying to get out of it. I respect your opinion about the anime, in the end it is your opinion, to each his own.

  6. I was curious as to what you thought of Death Note; the title grabbed my attention, and everyone I know that’s seen Death Note claims it to be one of the best anime ever made. While I did enjoy it somewhat, I’d say that calling it one of the best is… stretching it. Juuuust a bit.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on the view of the characters. The monologues which Light made were becoming more tiring and annoying as the series went on, rather than the quirk to his personality which I supposed the writers were trying to put in. However, if you’ve watched the dub, the “potato chip” line he had during one of his monologues early on had me laughing for a while. As a side note, I’m glad I’m not the only one who found myself cheering for Light.

    Initially I liked L overall, but only to realize I only liked him because he was a good foil to Light. Other than that, his actual character was somewhat of a hit and miss. He had some great lines that had me laughing, but that’s pretty much it. As you say, the “quirky oddball” personality the writers were looking for just wasn’t there for me.

    I enjoyed the series somewhat up to the point where the death of that “certain main character” occurs; after that, I didn’t find myself to be as excited in the latter parts and it felt like the show was just missing something as a whole.

    I did enjoy the show a bit more than you did (6.5/10), but I do agree with you on a lot of points. Great review!

    • Thanks for the comment 🙂

      I didn’t watch the dub, so maybe I missed out on a few good lines by the sounds of it. I agree that L and Light were a good match in terms of intelligence and cunning, but it seems like we both aren’t fans of either of the characters.

      What did you enjoy about the series? The way the two main characters manipulated each other?

      Yeah, our opinion seems to be pretty unpopular. I’m glad I found someone who agrees with most of my points 🙂

  7. Hello!

    I’ve watched this anime. I like it. I agree with some of your opinions. The art is amazing! I’ve never seen an anime with such detail.
    I think it had too much episodes. They could tell the whole story in 20 episodes.
    L’s death was the fact that make me keep watching the anime… It was kinda boring before that.
    In my opinion, Misa is an important character to break the seriousness of the anime. Every anime needs some fun. But sometimes Misa was a really annoying character.
    This is just my opinion. But in general I liked this anime.

    ~Karol

    • Hi there!

      I strongly agree with the anime having too many episodes. I think that’s what largely contributed to what I felt was the slow/boring pace of the series. If they had strung the more interesting parts closer to each other, I may have enjoyed it more.

      I think it’s interesting that you enjoyed it more after L’s death than before, given that this tends to be the opposite opinion of most people who watch the series. Was it because you found his death completely unexpected and wanted to see what else the series could do, or was it something else entirely?

      I agree that Misa was meant to break the seriousness of the anime, but I disagree that she did that successfully. She was just really annoying and grating, which really sucked because she’s voiced by one of my favourite voice artists!

  8. Pingback: Liebster Award Nomination… TIMES FOUR?! | justanotheranimefan

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