Light Yagami is a high school student who is almost too perfect. Popular among classmates, adored by his family, and on top of this he's academically the top student in Japan. A bored god of death drops a notebook into the human world for fun. Any name written in the notebook, called a death note; will lead to the death of that person. Light finds the notebook but decides on a curious course of action. He writes names of criminals in the note to become a god of justice in the world. The nickname Kira (Japanese approximation of "killer") is assigned to this vigilante, and speculation grows as to who this is and why they're killing people. A task force is formed to find and stop Kira, lead by an investigator mastermind known simply as "L". A battle of wits ensues. Will Light learn L's name before L learns his identity?
It's been a while since I got into an anime so good I prayed wouldn't screw everything up, and just maintain a level of greatness. Could it pull it off for 37 episodes? Yes and no. Death Note starts incredible, is amazing in the middle, and only pretty good by the end. I heard the series goes down hill as it progresses, but I didn't find that to be exactly true. It's extremely difficult to keep a suspense thriller engaging, especially over long periods of time. Movies struggle with this for a mere 2 hours, never mind nearly 40 episodes. This intensity makes Death Note engrossing, but difficult to sustain. By shuffling the cards to keep things fresh, parts of the story languish, with different players removed and added, but not always improving things. For a show daring enough to attempt this kind of concept, I think it's forgivable.
It begins with Light's vision of the future, before quickly moving to a game of cat and mouse between him and L. At first this is a great setup, but will clearly need to move to something else, and does so by the mid point. It goes down hill when L's successors enter the picture. Light inconsistently hatches elaborate schemes to cover his tracks, but stumbles with simplistic mistakes drawing investigators closer to him. The biggest question: is the end good? The final outcome is expected and hits a great climax, although I have mixed feelings about the conclusion
My problem with Death Note lies with its characters. Some are captivating, but I didn't really love any of them. "L" is interesting as an aloof weirdo, but for that same reason I didn't find him likable. Light is the main character, but also the villain, which makes Death Note a very unusual anime. I found his charisma and immoral behaviors fascinating, and the way he manipulates others is simply jaw dropping. It's intentional that the viewer be distanced from him, but this makes emotional investment difficult. This means your main connection with Death Note will probably be on an intellectual or philosophical level, something I don't think many anime fans look for in anime.
Misa is introduced by practically throwing herself at Light, and I thought "Please not a character like this.." She's as hot as Tabasco on fire grafted right on to your eyeballs, but also just as irritating. Then it occurred to me this show could be taken to the next level by inserting a crazy girlfriend. Misa is an obsessive fan who throws Light's plans into chaos with her odd demands, but presents opportunities with her abilities. Light can't rid himself of her and would be forced to deal with an ever more complex web of problems. Unfortunately she still ends up plot fodder, like nearly everyone else.
Morality often comes up in discussions of Death Note. The anime doesn't take any stance on the morality of using the note. Some find this objectionable, but anyone not understanding what's wrong with its use is beyond help or doesn't care anyway. Light himself is highly hypocritical; lacking morals or empathy, he merely uses people as a means to an end. He preaches justice, but also uses the note to kill people simply to throw off authorities, and kills more than a few of his pursuers. Death Note does not paint Light as any sort of hero (quite the opposite), nor does it say much about his actions. Is that even needed? I don't think so.
In many ways Death Note is exceptional, but it's not perfect. It's not an anime to watch if you prefer to attach yourself to characters, as few of them are relatable. The story is well thought out, even if too convenient in spots, but that's forgivable for a show trying to keep things moving to maintain freshness. Death Note provides a fascinating setup tackled with intelligence, setting it apart from most anime.
Misa: If you date other women, I'll kill them!
Light: Misa, sweetie. Calm down.
Ruk: It's "sweetie" now huh?
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