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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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 🙂