Anime Review: Death Note

Light Yagami finds the death note

I hope that everyone is doing well, even if you are dealing with the daily grind.

Things are going fairly well, even though I am still not in a good enough position to fulfill all requests on Patreon, though that should be fixed when April comes, and I can sit down and do something enjoyable.

Recently, I decided to take a look at what I had access to without any additional expenditures, and revisit a series.

Today, I will be reviewing that series, which is called Death Note (part 1 and part 2).

L & Kira

Light Yagami is a brilliant student, with the top scores in his class, who has earned a good reputation with the police.

However, his peaceful and boring life ends when he comes across a notebook that gives him power over death, and, while skeptical at first, begins to perform experiments, which prompts people to start looking for the identity of an unknown killer.

Now, Light, who started to use the notebook for his own agenda, and the people determined to bring him to justice, headed by a famous, yet mysterious, detective, must partake in a battle of wits that will likely end in death.

Misa talking to Matsuda

As is the case with Sherlock, even though I may have gotten into something because of one or more works, it does not mean that I still like those works, which is why revisiting an old favorite is not always that great.

Fortunately, after watching this series, I can say that I liked it quite a bit.

From the moment that I started watching the first few episodes, I did not want to stop watching for any reason, even though I do have to satisfy the same needs that every human has.

While few, if any, of the more recent anime that I watched were able to capture my attention this well, unlike the many books that I have read, it is still nice to see that there are still some titles that can actually get me this excited to watch all the way through, or at least feel like watching the good majority of it, since this series is not perfect.

One of the biggest problems with the entertainment produced where I live is that, aside from a lack of an overall storyline, the first few minutes or episodes are not usually that great, which makes it hard for me actually become interested, and can turn plenty of people off when they want something to become engrossed in, or even make it difficult to determine what kind of show is being presented.

However, some of the best series that come to my mind, such as Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, though I prefer the manga, have pilots that make me interested within the first few minutes and maintain that interest for much of the episode.

In the case, of this series, the pilot episode had me just as interested in finding out what was going on and what would happen as the pilot episode of Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, without making me feel like this would be yet another fighting anime or a poorly executed work in the detective mystery, and crime fiction genres, though I would not say there is no mystery to be found for a good majority of the series.

This is what I expected to see in this series, and Madhouse delivered.

Now, I am not too familiar with the work of Madhouse, but it seems like they knew what they were doing when they adapted this from Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's manga, unlike the team that produced the live action film adaptations, and it makes me somewhat interested in checking out their other work, though I do not feel like actually going out and seeing what is available on Crunchyroll or FUNimation from them, since I am already following a few series just for the sake of relaxation on both services.

Seriously, if anime were handled this well today, I do not think that I would feel like something was missing, and there would probably be a chance that people could be genuinely interested in anime.

Unfortunately, it looks like Japan is having as much difficulty at creating a series that is good from beginning to end as the US, and are starting to focus more on their eye candy than delivering original, or seemingly original, works.

Of course, I have not quite given up on anime like I have with US television and movies, since I can still find more gems than garbage, even though the trash pile is reaching the same amount that could be found in prose fiction and American television.

I also liked how I felt like I was on the edge on my seat throughout most of the series.

Works that are considered thrillers, regardless of the kind of thriller, whether it is legal thriller, like most of John Grisham's work, psychological thriller, or something else, are supposed to give the reader or viewer feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation, or anxiety.

Even though John Grisham failed to deliver these feelings in The Whistler, which is where I first brought up these expectations of a thriller, I do not think that I went one moment, at least in the first 25 episodes, where I did not feel any or all of the feelings that I expect a thriller to deliver. I could not see just how Light or L would be able to upstage the other, or even get out of the traps each one set, and I felt like I was truly watching a game of either chess or checkers that was being played by masters.

This is what I really wanted to see from somebody with the kind of experience that John Grisham has, yet he failed where Madhouse succeeded.

Then again, out of all the different kinds of thrillers out there, psychological thrillers like this only work in a printed or animated medium, since those are the only mediums where the most important aspects of a psychological thriller can be fully realized without turning off the viewer, so I do not think that I would have found this as enjoyable if it were not animated.

Another thing that I liked was that the heart attacks seemed believable.

When I watched the two live action Death Note movies, things seemed to feel fake not only because hearing the thoughts of the characters did not feel as natural as they are in an animated or written work, but also because the people in those movies were obviously faking a heart attack.

Yes, actors are expected to fake quite a few things, but, as a viewer, I want those faked emotions and actions to feel realistic, and that was not really delivered in those movies.

Here, however, whenever I saw somebody experiencing a heart attack, it actually seemed like they were experiencing a heart attack, as opposed to faking it.

If the actors in the movies pulled this off, even if the anime might have made things feel much more dramatic than what it would be in real life, I might have been able to like them a bit more than I do, though it would not change the fact that works like those are the kind that I would not even dare watched dubbed.

Then again, I guess that it all depends on how well the director and actors do their job, since there is only so much that either of them can do to make a work of fiction great.

Still, that does not mean that Madhouse and Viz did not do a bad job of choosing their staff, and I feel like giving them a lot of praising for being able to outdo the live action movies, which somehow gets more praise than they deserve.

I also liked how human behavior and psychology was explored in this work.

While thrillers are expected to deliver certain kinds of feelings to the viewer or reader, each subgenre of thriller has its own expectations. Legal thrillers, which John Grisham is known for, are supposed to deliver those feelings in a setting involving one or more aspects that are expected to be present when dealing with the field of law enforcement, and may include the actual investigation itself.

Psychological thrillers, however, rely on knowing the thoughts, actions, and reasons behind each action taken by the protagonist and antagonist is important to the story, which means that a basic understand of human psychology, including how to manipulate people, is necessary, and this series does quite a good job of presenting that.

For example, around the time that Light is first confronted by L, Light talks to Ryuk about the differences between what people really think and what they claim out in public, by saying:

Although this would probably never happen in school, let's say that students were asked to discussed whether bad people deserve to die. Well, you can bet that everyone would give the politically correct answer, “It's just wrong to kill people.” That's what they're bound to say. Of course, that's the correct response to give, right? Humans will always try to maintain appearance when they're in public. That's just how we are, but this is how they really feel. Most are too afraid to support me, as they're worried what others will think.

Many would rather deny my existence, but on the internet, where you can remain anonymous, support for Kira is growing. Maybe people are afraid to say it out loud, but they all understand what's happening. Somebody's making the bad guys disappear one by one. Those who have done no wrong are cheering for Kira in their hearts because they have nothing to fear, while those have done wrong are on the run, forced to hide from an unknown enemy. This is how it should be. It's perfect. Everything is going just like I planned.

Like what Light brought up in the above quote, people do not always express what they really think out in the open, as they are afraid of how they will be perceived, such as how people deal with all of these improvements that are trying to be implemented across the globe or how people who are critical of the church that I belong to, whether they are trying to bring it back to what it was once was or calumny, which is, according to post from this month by Alan Rock Waterman on Pure Mormonism, lying with the deliberate intent to destroy, as opposed only having the intent to defame, are not looked upon too kindly, simply because they are not faithful in some kind of way, and, because of it, I am too willing to talk with people if I am in a setting that I cannot be sure that what they are giving me is the genuine article.

Of course, this is shown quite a bit in the series and comes across as believable because people are public opposed to Light when he first gains recognition, with supporters in only being present in a somewhat anonymous setting, since there is a way to track people down, yet those that opposed become the minority and how each side was hiding in the shadows at each point in the series.

Not only did it go over how people present masks in different settings, but it showed what blind loyalty was like and doing things without question.

Like how we present masks in various places, human beings can become so dependent on a belief or idea being true to the point where it ultimately leads to our downfall, or even our loss of self.

In our society, this is seen in extreme cases, such as Jonestown and Heaven's Gate, where people ended up dying because many of the people thought that they knew the truth and the world was against them, creating a world that that they imagined as either black or white, with no shades of gray.

However, there are also much more benign groups that are mostly good, but utilize the usage of a confirmation basis to instill the black and white mentality by encouraging them to only pay attention to things that put them in a positive light, or, in the case of the church that I belong to, continue to promote it as something that it may not be, which is why the BITE model is very dangerous when it is used to take away a person's freedom.

In the case of this series, the black and white mentality was instilled because everyone knew that those who opposed Light, such as L and the police, ended up dead, while those that did nothing to stop him or outright supported him continued to live their lives peacefully, which shows an aspect of what is called behavior control, according to a page talking about the BITE model on Freedom of Mind, and the unquestioned belief in what Light did led to the death of somebody that held the same beliefs as Light, as well as the capture or death of Light's other allies.

Now, Death Note is not really that great of a study in how human beings work, much like Liar Game is probably not a great work to understand humans either, but it is always nice how one work can show how too much confidence and blind loyal can lead to ruin, while the other talks about the importance of doubt and how it helped the characters actually become stronger, and it makes me want to give Madhouse, Tsugumi, and Takeshi a tom of credit for bringing this series to the masses.

There were two things that I liked the most though.

First, there was little, if any clichéd fan service moments.

In many manga and anime today, the seems to be some kind of need for a trip to the beach, a public bath, or both, and they are not generally called for at the time, so they only act as a way for viewers to see the female characters in swim suit or in the nude, which makes me feel like the creators needed to add something in just to pad things out.

Here, however, there were no moments where the characters went on a beach trip or to the bath, and I only remember one instance in which a woman was forced to strip.

Yes, this series is approximately a decade old, but I am glad that there was not more of the usual to be found in the series, and actually find this refreshing.

Honestly, if anime and manga were not so focused on unnecessary fan service, there would be a lot more shows that would be entertaining than there are now, though it is nice to be reminded that everything be presented is not technically real.

Then again, I do not see this changing any time soon, because there are rumors that the Japanese are trying to do their fan service stuff so that they can get more viewers, since their population is declining, so I can kind of understand what is going on.

Still, that does not mean that an anime like this does not deserve to be praised for being different from the crowd, and makes me want to applaud Madhouse for not stooping so low.

The other thing that really caught my interest the most though was that there was hardly any unnecessary violence.

If the clichéd beach and hot spring setting is annoying in anime, the thing that gets annoying in American media is the need for violence just for the sake of violence and action, because American media relies too much on eye candy.

However, a psychological thriller is supposed to involve a mental struggle of some kind, so the violence needs to make sense with the characters actions, experiences, and beliefs.

In much of this series, I do not remember too many scenes involving violence that did not have some kind of purpose, like revealing the identities of those chasing Light or to put pressure on the characters, as the main battle was always a mental struggle between Light and L, yet I was still interested in what was going on.

Maybe, John Grisham could learn how to writer better thrillers from checking this series out, because this lack of action did not take away the feelings that I expect from a thriller, whereas those feelings were gone from The Whistler the moment that the mystery element disappeared.

On the other hand, if he did take cues from this series, the world might have to suffer through yet another Death Note rip off, like the manga community had to deal with when Lost+Brain was being published, so I guess it might be better if John Grisham stopped writing altogether.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else that I particularly liked, at least that could stand out on its own.

Because my interest was held for most of the series, in spite of not having a whole lot of action, I was able to get the feelings I expected from a thriller, and a bit of human psychology was explored, as well as the fact that it did not rely too much on clichés found it anime today and had things that were more believable than the live action adaptations, this series was one of the best I have seen.

Near thinking

Although I liked the series, there are some issues.

However, aside from things to minor to talk about, there was only one thing that really bothered me.

While the last 12 episodes were not that bad, the story itself felt like it was complete the moment that L was killed off.

If I had to say why, it is because of two reasons.

First, the feelings that I got from the first 25 episodes were not present in the final twelve.

As I stated earlier, thrillers are supposed to give the readers and/or viewers feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation, or anxiety, and, while that was present in the first 25 episodes, the final 12 did not give off any of those feelings, especially the final episode.

Now, I am aware of rumors, though I cannot verify them, going around that this series was supposed to end with L's death, yet it continued in the manga, but if JC Staff can deliver much more feeling in A Certain Scientific Railgun S than what could be found in volumes 4-7 of the manga, then Madhouse could have done the same thing here with their adaptation of this series, but they did not.

Really, Madhouse? Until this point in the series, this was looking like a series that deserves to be called one of the best anime made, but they squandered it.

Maybe, things would have been better if Madhouse did some more work on the series, but I am not too sure how it could have been improved, since people were not satisfied with the last seven volumes of the manga, so I can at least somewhat live with a lack of any of the feels that I expected, though it does not lessen the problem.

The other, and biggest, reason why this series felt like it was too long is because I felt like I knew what was going to happen.

Yes, like Detective Conan, I have watched this series at least once prior to watching it again to review it, so I would know how the series would end, just like I knew how A Silent Voice ended and how the manga version of Boku Dake ga Inai Machi would end, but it had been long enough that I had forgotten many important details and I think that I would have been able to see this ending coming from a mile away.

With the way the series had gone for 25 episodes, Light would have either won or lost against any adversary and the way that the last 12 episodes ran in a way that suggested that Light would lose the battle this time.

Thrillers are not supposed to have endings that are predictable, or poorly executed predictable endings, but this ending was fairly predictable.

As much as I want to blame Madhouse, since this is an adaptation of the original, I have to blame this on on Tsugumi and Takeshi, because Madhouse created a fairly faithful adaptation and things seem to have the same kind of progression, according to what I could find from online scans.

Seriously, is the best that they could do? At this point, I am willing to believe the rumors that say that they were forced to prolong the series, because they delivered everything a thriller should before L's death, but this series was marketed as a psychological thriller.

Do they really think that fans of thriller stories would let them get away with making the ending feel so predictable when the rest was not as predictable? This is not what fans of thriller genre want to see and it ends up making the whole show look worse than it did before.

Hopefully, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata will get this right when they create another thriller series, and nothing happens that forces them to prolong it, but, at this point, I am not too sure that I would want to check out their other work at this point.

Then again, writers must listen to more people than just their fans, so I will give them some slack, but since it contributed it making this series feel like it was too long, I cannot overlook the issue completely.

Fortunately, nothing else came up from either Madhouse, Viz, or the creators of the manga that made the series look any worse, thereby saving it from the trash bin.

While there was only one thing wrong with this series, it was bad enough to keep it from being one of the best anime ever made.

Despite the fact that the series felt a little long and predictable, there was enough to like that it was worth watching.

I recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers and those that are tired of anime or manga that rely too much on physical fighting, but the best parts are only found in the 25 episodes.

As for everyone, this might be worth giving a try, especially because some people got introduced to anime through it, but I encourage you to stop after watching episode 25, as that will leave the best impression of the series.

If you have watched this series, what are your thoughts on Death Note? Please leave a comment and let everyone know why you liked it or hated it, especially if your reasons differ from mine or you disagree with me.

Also, if you liked this review and would like to see more, please consider supporting me on Patreon, so that I can find more worthwhile anime to watch.

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Copyright © 2015 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.