Death Note volume 1 DVD review

Kevin discovers a new favourite in Death Note. Hurrah!

Death Note

I really wanted to start this review by reciting the mind-jangling, instantly mesmerising theme from Death Note, my now favourite manga series. Unfortunately I don’t speak, let alone sing Japanese, and I could never do the warbling, melodramatic, but deeply wrenching tones any justice. As the subtitles translate the lyrics the first couple of times you witness said introduction, I guarantee you’ll be utterly perplexed; ‘the future the forbidden fruit foretells, he’s made a vow and pledged to the revolution, what on earth is this gibberish?’ I can see anyone asking, because the translation perhaps do the song little justice. Yet as bizarre as these lyrics may seem, they are the perfect introduction to the series behind them.

Death Note, a series scripted by the combined efforts of writers Tsugumi Obha and Takeshi Obata, is about a bright student in a district of Japan finding the notebook of Ryuk, a Shinigami (death god) who happens to have dropped it into the human world out of sheer boredom. Rules of the book then come into play, but the main one we need know is that any human whose name goes into the book will die. There are various intricacies to this, involving specified times and causes of death, but these are explained as the episodes progress.

Back to Ryuk: following his book into Japan, he discovers Light Yagami has picked it up, which forces Ryuk to stay in the human world (handy, because it both entertains him and provides him easy access to his favourite snack, apples). Eden and forbidden fruit aside, the story unfolds from there, and bar a shakey first couple of episodes where a highly complex groundwork needs to be laid, and the first rules of the Death Note set out, things progress steadily with a first frightened Light soon realising the power of the book and – as you’d expect – using it in a bid to create an idealistic fantasy of paradise on earth.

If that sounds interesting, well, that’s because it is, though in truth these first eight episodes have a somewhat strange ongoing effect. Because while at first they spawned in me prejudgements – that the fledgling discussions of power versus responsibility, the meaning of justice and the divide of good versus evil would be as erratic as the combination of rules and dialogue in the first two episodes – this feeling soon halted. In fact beyond the fourth episode, events become less frantic and more considered, as do Light’s experiments with the Death Note. This more considered approach also benefits the characterisation of the main names and an ongoing war with ‘L’, a legendary detective who has never failed to solve a case, and is singularly one of the most interestingly odd characters I’ve ever come across in the manga universe.

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It’s this battle, along with the odd interjection from the observing Ryuk (an aid to nobody in these events except when it suits him), which consumes you as Volume 1 comes to a close. Events have already become a bit extreme, and an all out tactical war between the two great minds begins to unfold. The only problem is Volume 2 isn’t out yet.

4 out of 5

Rating:

4 out of 5