So I’m a little late to the party as Death Note is an anime that first aired in 2006. Strangely enough that was the year I was watching a shit ton of anime yet this one passed me by. Anyways, it’s on Netflix and has been for a while so I thought I’d give it a go.
Death Note is the story of a guy, Light (that’s his name), who finds a notebook dropped by a god of death. If a name is written in the notebook the person whose name is written will die. There’s a whole bunch of rules to this and what not, but that’s the premise. Light takes on the alias of Kira and starts using this notebook to murder criminals all over the world in an attempt to end crime and bring about a new era of peace and prosperity with himself as the god of justice. At the same time the authorities bring in a genius detective, L (that’s his name), to help catch Kira. What follows is part cat and mouse, part chess game, and part Holmes Vs Moriarty.
It’s worth pointing out I watched Death Note with English dubbing because it’s actually very good quality and… OH DEAR GOD L IS PLAYED BY LIEUTENANT GAETA!
Anyway. So Death Note has a very interesting premise and for the most part is really well done. There’s very little actual action in the show though it’s quite fun to watch how they anime-up the writing of names in a notebook. The story really revolves around Light and L trying to outsmart each other. It’s very much the world’s greatest detective Vs the world’s greatest criminal. What starts out as quite a simple move and counter move quickly grows more complex as more Death Notes are added to the story and more characters willing to use them.
At times the pacing is a bit lethargic and at other times it rushes forwards at break neck pace as though it’s suddenly trying to catch up. Sometimes characters are added and then killed off quickly and it gives a good sense of no one being safe in the world… which is fairly accurate when your premise is about a guy who can kill anyone just by writing their true name in a book. And that’s where much of the narrative comes from. The name written in the book has to be a person’s true name. Light soon realises that L is after him and that he is a suspect in the case, but without knowing L’s real name he can’t kill him. The show becomes a deadly game where Light has to both allay suspicion while also trying to discover L’s real name and he has to do it before L can prove that Light is actually Kira. Sounds a bit complicated? It is. Both players weave complex plots and plans to outwit the other and it’s really quite fascinating to watch how they all play out.
Onto the characters. Light is a psychopath (most of the time… I’ll get to that). He truly believes he is doing a good thing by murdering bad guys. In a way he’s very Dr.Doom in that he actually believes the world would be a better place for everyone under his control. He’s also a psychopath! Light is quite clearly addicted to killing people and sees everyone as a threat. Everyone is against him and he is smarter than them all and he will kill anyone to protect himself and his vision of the world. He’s very well written and played for the most part, seeming like your everyday student even as he’s plotting how to kill everyone in his way. He is evil, but he’s also the main character of the story.
L is characterised as very much the eccentric. He’s a genius and thinks both inside and outside the box but has so many distracting quirks that it’s often easy to forget he’s the world’s greatest detective. Honestly from the way he sits, to the fact that he clearly never sleeps, to the fact that he is always eating sugary snacks… He’s either insane or it’s all an act to distract everyone around him. He’s probably just insane. He’s also a joy to watch as he’s the only character that operates on Light’s level and it makes for some brilliant deductive reasoning, not to mention banter between the two. There is a strange hypocrisy in L though. I have to wonder if he too is a bit of a psychopath. He clearly sees Kira as evil and recognises the need to catch the murderer, but he also clearly believes himself above the law and often breaks the law in order to catch Kira. L is probably the most fascinating character of the series. He latches onto Light as the prime suspect because he has no other suspects and the show quickly becomes a sort of witch hunt. Nothing Light can do dissuades L from believing he is Kira.
So it should be obvious by now that I really enjoyed Death Note… But it’s me and you might have realised by now that I have issues with everything. So here we go. Some of the leaps in logic and deductive reasoning are completely beyond the realms of the realistic. It’s hard to go into specifics without spoilers but I’ll just say L sometimes figures out things that he really shouldn’t be able to without having knowledge of the Death Note… which he doesn’t. He’s actually not the only character who does it and it sometimes feels like the weave of plans formulated by Light and L can only be solved by these insane leaps of logic. Maybe I was just overthinking things and I should have just accepted it, but I was sometimes left thinking “How the fuck did he figure that out?”
Secondly I feel I need to address the inconsistency in Light’s character. Light is a psychopath but only while he has possession of the Death Note. Now I know it’s meant to show that power corrupts and all that… but that isn’t the way it works. If Light is a psychopath, he is a psychopath whether he has a magical note book or not.
I have one more gripe but I can’t talk about it without MASSIVE SPOILERS… so I’ll put it down at the end.
Overall I enjoyed Death Note. I thought it fun and clever with plenty of interesting characters and twists. However I just couldn’t overlook some of its flaws. I give it 3 stars.
OK. Conclusion done so it’s time for my biggest issues with the story. SPOILERS!!!! You have been warned.
For me the show lost all urgency about two thirds of the way in when Light manipulates events into killing L. The entire show had been built around the cerebral battle between the two of them and then it was over. Light had won. Fair enough… but the show wasn’t over. It continued with Near (L’s successor) taking the place of world’s greatest detective. Near felt like a pale copy of L and I never connected with him like I did with L. Essentially the show moves on to a new stage with Kira being in control and Near struggling to catch him… but I kinda stopped caring.
Then there’s the ending. Maybe my own expectations were a problem here but I expected it to be… better. More intelligent. It boils down to Light trusted someone else and they weren’t as smart as him and Near catches Light through this other character. It was very unsatisfying and mostly because I honestly expected L to reappear after somehow faking his death and outsmart Light for the final time.
The final third of the show dragged out and led to a completely unsatisfying conclusion with characters I simply didn’t care about. It felt like one of those detective TV shows that goes on too long and forgets what made it good in the first place. By then Light had become a tired character and L’s replacement was all sorts of meh.