Review: Death Note
The story of Light Yagami is one of the most iconic tales in all of anime. This is a show everyone has a different opinion of, and it would be impossible to watch without forming your own. Whilst many of it’s ‘twists’ have become undeniably notorious, Death Note is a psychological masterpiece that is utterly thrilling and completely unforgettable.
A lot of the time a show gains iconic status because of the way it influences that which follows. Because of this many subsequent shows often eclipse that which they pay homage to, and some of the most well recognised film and television eventually becomes predictable and uninteresting. Fortunately, Death Note still remains unmatched in the quality of it’s narrative and the level of suspense it creates. It is storytelling at its absolute finest, and it sets an incredibly high standard that few other shows can match.
And I mean shows, not anime. Calling Death Note an anime almost implies that it can only be enjoyed by fans of the genre, or at the very least those with an interest in Japanese culture. This isn’t the case; if you like television then Death Note is the show for you. I do however think it says a lot about the anime audience that such an intelligent and complex show is one held in such regard by the community. If you look at the most popular media from other forms of entertainment, you might find content that tops the charts because it is generic, boring, and appeals to the masses. This is not Death Note.
The story itself is a psychological mind game between a boy who finds a deadly notebook and the genius detective trying to uncover his identity. With a predominantly evil main character, it’s up to you to decide who’s side you’re on, and this is something I always love to debate with other fans of the show. But whoever you’re backing, it’s still one immense adventure and Death Note also has a superb, and potentially overlooked, supporting cast that are also highly compelling.
But for me personally it’s the detailed set of rules by which the show’s fantasy elements abide by that sets it apart from other anime. The notebook operates under a very specific set of rules, and these are established early on. The characters try to use these to their advantage, and have to overcome the issues they result in. One scene in particular shows Light experimenting with the powers the Death Note gives him, and deducing what is and isn’t possible. This results in some supernatural element that are not only clearly defined, but are detailed enough to be believable.
On top of this, people’s actions in Death Note have serious consequences. The first episode in particular almost feels like a complete story in itself, and I think most people who see it will wonder what can come next. Light commits a serious crime, and I felt naive for almost thinking it would go unnoticed. For the most part Death Note has a sense of hyper realism, and the events that unfold are incredibly convincing.
Of course it would be nearly impossible to talk about Death Note without mention the controversial direction the story takes in the last third of the show. I won’t ruin anything, but will say that for me personally things don’t get as bad as many people claim they do. Towards the end I did feel that the pacing slowed down for a few episodes, but I was still hooked until the final episode, which I found to be a very satisfactory conclusion to the story.
Minor issues aside, I think few people can dispute the fact that Death Note is an edge of your seat thriller that will hold your attention for pretty much all of its 37 episode season. For me it will always be one of my favourite anime ever, but you’ll really have to watch it for yourself. Subtract one point if you watch it all and think it only deserves nine out of ten.