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Anime: Death Note v1


Every once in a while you manage to stumble onto a TV show, via your own devices — i.e: it hasn’t been forced down your throat by a marketing machine — and it feels like you’ve struck gold. Often those are the titles that you feel some ownership of, as though they are YOUR discovery and you go about introducing them to your friends as though it were something that you created yourself. That’s kinda how I feel now, after having just watched the first part of the Death Note series on DVD (Death Note 1).

While doing some background research on this series I kept coming across names of other shows like EVANGELION, COWBOY BEBOP, BLEACH and FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST all of which I’d heard of before, but never seen… You see, I’m just not an Anime guy. I do really dig animation, but there’s a point where a character’s eyes start getting drawn too large and their gender becomes a little too ambiguous for my tastes. As it turns out though, those things aren’t facets of everything classed as Anime. Who knew?

To me the genre and the culture surrounding Anime has always appeared to be a massive, unassailable fog. The infinite number of titles, the preconceptions I mentioned earlier and the strange ritualistic ‘playing of the cos’ that Anime’s followers like to participate in, have all served as a barrier between myself and an expedition into that veiled subculture. Fortunately the opportunity to review Death Note 1 came in a box delivered right to my door and the only costume I needed to don while viewing it was my extremely-out-of-touch-guy cargos and grey t-shirt… Which I just so happen to wear under my ‘normal’ clothes at all times, because you never know when culturally-irrelevant man’s help will be needed!

Ryuk, a bored Shinigami (A Japanese God of Death), drops his ‘Death Note’ in the human realm where it is soon discovered by Light Yagami. The Death Note — essentially a mystical note book — is the tool with which the Shinigami take human lives. When a human’s name is written in the book their life will end after 40 seconds, however one has more time to specify the cause of death and, if so chooses, can do so in great detail. There are stipulations too, e.g: The writer must be able to visualise the intended victim or else no death will occur. This is a fail-safe of sorts, so that only the intended party meets their maker and not every one who shares their name.

Light is an extremely intelligent student, and initially quite sceptical of the claims made by Ryuk’s hand written instructions, but he soon grows curious and puts the book to a test. In no time Light is overwhelmed by the power that the book grants him and, by the time Ryuk locates him (and the book) Light has already written more names in the book than any other human before him (apparently these Shinigami lose their Death Notes all the time!).

Ryuk and Light are now bound by the book, Ryuk cannot leave the human world until it is Light’s time to die and Light, having touched the book, is the only one who can see or communicate with Ryuk. The Shinigami doesn’t seem overly concerned by his confinement in the human world, here he is amused by Light’s desires to create a better world by killing all known criminals and he has a steady supply of his favourite fruit, Apples.

In the beginning Death Note appears to be heading in a fairly predictable way, but it suddenly spins on its heals with the introduction of a mysterious detective. Part Howard Hughes, part Columbo, all Mac user, L (that’s his name) is an autonomous agent, with seemingly no official ties to any law enforcement agency, neither in Japan or internationally. As the countless, unfathomable murder of criminals continue the authorities begin to contemplate calling L in to help with the investigation, only to discover that L is already on the job.

The initial introduction of Light as the series protagonist and the reclusive nature of the detective L ends up turning what could have been a traditional “cop hunts bad guy” plot on its ear. This series doesn’t follow the traditional plays-by-his-own-rules cop as he pieces together the clues in an effort to thwart the maniacal killer route. Instead we’re treated to an intellectual cat and mouse game where both parties attempt to keep their identity hidden from the other.

Death Note 1 contains the first four episodes of the series, which is where my biggest complaint about this release lies: Four episodes are not enough! There are some extras on the DVD including a behind the scenes interview with the English language voice actor and director, opening / closing credits without titles and a few different language / subtitle options. However, if you’re like me and have avoided anime, then Death Note could just be the series to introduce yourself. A warning though, you will need to suspend your disbelief to really enjoy this story. Not for the fact that the guy spends so much of his time talking with a Death God, but that said Death God’s death bringing weapon of choice is, well… stationery.

I said earlier that I’m not an Anime guy and I don’t think I’ll wear that label anytime soon, however Death Note has piqued my interest and given me the desire to delve into the genre a little further. Hopefully more of my preconceptions about Anime will be proven wrong, because I certainly feel like I’ve discovered something outstanding in Death Note. But don’t worry, no matter what I find I wont be doing any Cosplay anytime soon… Well, not unless you count the Batman pyjamas I’m wearing right now. [source] [source]

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    I’m no anime buff either, however I am fascinated by how some of them (the animes) seem to blend culturally important stores/fables/morals/etc. into realms of quasi-reality, set within many different eras. Transporting the concept of these gods and their notes into a modern world, in the hands of a teenager, takes these sorts of tales from being more than just a comic-book styled superhero with a power. Maybe this has no basis in Japanese mythology, but nevertheless, they do have a wild way of interpreting the ancient stories into modern contexts.

  • Ooo, ‘nother new look…noice.
    I like anime, perhaps even particularly the sexually ambiguous prettiness…but i do not think you would find that in the least surprising. But i am always on the look out for weird and wonderful – will seek this one out.
    Tried to read your previous post, but couldn’t…thanks for alerting to spoiler-talk. I continue to trudge wearily along with Lost, hoping that my years of faith will be eventually rewarded with an ending that blows my mind. Oh why can’t the yanks learn from the Brits and get to the point a little quicker? Life On Mars was a fantastic watch…although it was the bump on the head that sent him time-travelling, so perhaps not to your liking.

  • @skewergril: Thanks, glad you like the changes.

    If you do seek out Death Note, let me know what you think. I have a few more anime titles to review and despite enjoying Death Note I’m still a little wary.

    I’m disappointed that people think Lost has been drawn out actually. Even though I can see how people feel that way, I really blame the networks rather than the show itself. The biggest problem is that each season has been chopped up and shown with long gaps – that helps no-one when it comes to a story like Lost… but this is a discussion for another thread.

  • I will view this series. I’m not an anime buff either but I’ve watched all of Cowboy Bebop and the movie and I can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys cinema. My other anime experience is limited to Hand Maid May and every single episode of Love Hina. Whereas I’m sure my recommendation of Cowboy Bebop surely draws unanimous support, my note on Hand Maid May is likely to draw derision and questions on my sexual orientation… but after large bouncing asian breasts, ‘chibi’ grade libido in every character and thinly veiled links to Terminator, I say there’s not much more you could ask for.