The odds of winning the Powerball are more than that of stumbling across a person who knows what anime means but hasn’t heard of this one. For most, it serves as the gateway into the eccentric world of both Japanese animation and Japanese comics, and is easily in, if not at the top of their list of favourite anime of all time. With good reason too.
What’s the noise about
So here’s the sales pitch: 15-year old finds a book belonging to a god of death and uses its power to successively kill off the people he deems as the worst scum on the face of the earth. The book comes with its own set of rules, the first one being, “Whoever’s name is written in this book shall die”. True genius that he is, Yagami Light uses the book to reshape the world in his image, doling out death sentences to those he pleases, as he pleases, when he pleases. But a killer is a killer and soon enough, the brilliant and eccentric young detective ‘L’ makes it his goal to catch the murderous vigilante. The two find their ultimate rivals in one another, and one of the greatest cat and mouse chases ever written, drawn, and animated ensues.
During and after-thoughts
Death Note is definitely one of the least clichéd or stereotypical anime ever created. It’s charm lies in the mind games and psychological battles that the two protagonists engage in, and can also be termed as an un-anime-like anime, which makes it extremely appealing to first time viewers since its theme and tone can be well compared to a gritty Netflix or cable channel show. It lacks frivolity and is heavy on the tension, keeping you on the edge of your seat, waiting to know what happens next. It’s a show you’re guaranteed to enjoy. That is, of course, if you’re not me.
Before fans jump down my throat for saying this is not the most amazing anime ever, hear me out. Imagine you’ve been digging through the bookshelves at your favourite store looking for that bestseller that you’d missed out on when it was fresh off the press. It’s been a few years since it was out and you know you’re late in jumping on to the bandwagon. You finally find the book, and with a sense of triumph, head out to the counter to pay your dues and get on with the book, hoping to finish it in a day. You step out of the store when your friend, who’s driving you back home, notices the book in your hand and goes, “Oh, I love this book. I felt devastated when Gary died in chapter 10.”
All it takes is one spoiler to effectively ruin it. You try to read the book but all you can think of, right from the moment you meet Gary, is how he’s about to die. And you only begin to actually enjoy the book once the event of Gary’s death is over and done with, because hey, you don’t know what’s coming anymore.
That’s what happened with DN. People will tell you that the series is absolutely brilliant before and starts to mellow after the crucial spoiled event, but for me the series could only be truly appreciated once I no longer knew what was about to happen. Knowing the episode number just made it worse, because I’d catch myself counting down the number of episodes to that fateful event, and instead of racing through the show, I let it drag for days, scuffling my feet, unwilling to watch the next. It also took the surprise elements away and resulted in this series ranking far lower in my list of good anime than most people would forgive.
The brilliance of the show though, cannot be denied. The writing is crisp and compelling with characters like Light, L, and M, who’s unparalleled intelligence is to be admired and feared. Their personalities and clashing philosophies are half the reason this show works. Coupled with a masterful soundtrack – special mention to L’s Theme, which is so iconic and unique you’ll always remember it, – the clean direction makes for good viewing. I do dock a few points for Light’s sexist attitude and lack of strong memorable female characters. While Amane Misa is memorable, she is far from capable of holding her own against L and Light. The one character who I thought would hold her own turns out to *spoiler* and I can’t even remember her name (the fact that I’m unwilling to google the name says a lot to0). Even characters supposed to be strong women of society appear to turn into naïve idiots around Light which was positively nauseating to watch. The show is so overpowered by L’s and Light’s personalities that even characters like boy genius M don’t pack the same punch. The gods of death make things fun with their contrasting and unique personalities. Rem is the closest thing to a strong female character, but I’m not even certain she (do shinigamis even have genders?) counts.
Things you should know
The show’s only 37 episodes long and makes for a fast watch. I almost always recommend the subtitled version over dubbed versions, but I cannot stress it more for this one. It makes no sense for our very clearly and obviously Japanese protagonists to talk in English and with this anime in particular, things are lost in translation. Fun fact for everybody: When the killings first start, Light’s character is christened ‘Kira’ by the general public. This is derived from the English word killer as Japanese does not have a syllable for ‘-ll’ thus making Kira a pretty logical name choice for the omnipresent invisible murderer of criminals. Guess what the explanation offered by the dubbed version is for the choice of name. None. I’d give the show a rating PG-15, mostly because it requires a certain maturity to understand the show and its messages, and only partly for its dark themes. Should you watch it? Most definitely. If you like psychological thrillers, crime dramas and good old Sherlock Holmes, this one’s for you. Just don’t let anyone ruin it for you.