First things first: where other anime depends on the overdone plot devices such as robots, demons and ravishingly, disproportionate teenage-girls (all of which harbour extraordinary powers), Death Note matches pressure-cooker intensity with engaging, yet surprisingly original, storytelling.
The story begins when the clever Shinigami death god, Ryuk, purposefully drops his notebook from the death realm to Earth where Yagami Light, a top-grade high school student, takes a special fascination with it.
Hang on. Yagami finds that the notebook has a macabre power to cause people’s death within 40 seconds after the names of people he knows are written in it. This sets off his mission to cleanse the world by writing criminals to a “timely” death. Granted a god-like power over death, Yagami leads a dual-life as high school valedictorian and the people’s god of justice, Kira.
On the other side of the coin is the rough-and-tumble, troubled genius and world-class detective, L, who investigates the Kira incident. L aids the police department, making himself a primary threat to Yagami by using a combination of cool-headed, intellect and veteran investigation work to help thrust pressure upon Yagami/Kira’s secret.
What makes Death Note so different from most anime is how little action sequences and femme-fatale characters are relied upon to give the series its zest. Because of Death Note’s unique story and original genre, it hasn’t had to depend on a specific consumer base to support it. Whether you are of the 15-40 year-old male audience that is predisposed to enjoy manga/anime or you’re just into a good story, this series doesn’t alienate, as much as, include the reader. Think of it as a savvy version of the movie Zodiac splashed with a supernatural theme that can be likened to a Dean Koontz novel. Either that or a CSI episode that smacks of some sort of believability resembling reality. I promise not a single five-minute DNA test is to be found throughout, but on the other hand. CSI is hot and riddled with femme-fatale characters and action sequences.
What Death Note lacks in uber-violence is transcended by the edginess of both L and Yagami’s complex battle for strategic higher ground. Their pervasive inner monologues build tension, staging a rivalry to outwit one another, and interesting characters and plot twists lace the tale keeping you eager to finish one cloak-and-dagger episode after another. Be warned, this series doesn’t deliver the usual graphic violence, as much as intense, meta-physical assault and battery.
Without getting too far into the detail of the drama that occurs, by the time the side story ends you’ll be floored by the many elements that this epic tale travels. The topics are various, covering law enforcement investigation, confidentiality, the media and the occult, all being delicately weaved into a seductive psycho/crime drama.
As with any successful Japanese manga-turned-anime (i.e. hack//, Naruto, Akira) Death Note has already made healthy strides in the marketing department with the release of two live-action movies, two Nintendo DS video games, Viz Media’s reprints of the successful 12 volume manga in English and an additional 13th volume Death Note How to Read 13, which looks like being to the Death Note series what The Silmarillion was to The Lord of the Rings.
June of 2007 marked the conclusion to the anime series in Japan and on October 20th the Death Note series made its U.S. debut on the Saturday night ‘Toonami’ lineup on Cartoon Network at midnight.
The Death Note: Volume Two DVD continues the story of Yagami’s secret life as he feels he may have left clues to his identity in Episodes 5-8 (Tactics, Unraveling, Overcast & Glare) The 100-minute disc comes complete with behind the scenes footage, audio commentaries and both actor and director interviews. The DVD is also considerate enough to make an option available for viewing with the original Japanese audio and English subtitles. Seiyu heaven.
For the anime elitist, there is the Limited Edition, which will be simultaneously released with each volume. Each Limited Edition will include a figurine character from the series. (Volume Two’s is a definite collector’s item being that it is one of the main characters, Yagami Light, holding a Shinigami notebook in messianic pose.) Note to Fan-boys: Be ready to cough up an extra 15 clams for L.E. volumes.
There is no reason to be put off by Death Note because of its being anime, which mainly hits or misses with American audiences. This series challenges the quality of writing that permeates the wasteland of anime titles. It is a great anime to get into if you’re interested in this genre of cartoon, but have no idea which to start watching. There are a plethora of run-of-the-mill anime titles to choose from, but Death Note will be one of the championed cartoons to be remembered as truly innovative and a classic.