When it comes to a series that ages gracefully with its fan base, Death Note seems to be near the top of the list. It’s still talked about and beloved to this day. There has been a live-action T.V series as well as multiple film adaptations of the popular title (with Netflix picking up the distribution rights for the latest film in the making). So in comes VIZ Media, who released the series on Blu-ray for the first time. Funny thing about Death Note was that I don’t remember much of it back when it aired on Adult Swim action. I recall being bored while watching it, and I quietly moved on to watch series that matched my tastes. But over the years my tastes have evolved, so I looked forward to the opportunity to watch Death Note with a different viewpoint to see why fans still love this series.
Here’s a quick synopsis of Death Note: The series follows Light Yagami, who is a brilliant student. He stumbles upon a notebook that can kill anyone if you write their name in it and have the target’s face memorized (hence why it is called a Death Note). It was dropped by a Shinigami (Japanese folklore for grim reaper), who becomes bored with writing names and killing people. Light, seizing this power, decides to kill criminals to create a paradise of which he would become the ruler. However, there are those in the police department who do not share Light’s way of thinking, labeling him a mass murderer. The people in this world dub these killings the works of “Kira” which begins the legend of a grim reaper patrolling the streets of Japan and possibly the world. Thus, we watch as Light takes on the police, who try to track him down and figure out the who, what, why, and how of these killings.
By this synopsis, you can immediately see the type of debates that was sparked by watching this series. Was Light doing the right thing being judge, jury, and executioner of these criminals? Even if the crime were a minor offense such as littering, people would be scared to do anything that might invoke the wrath of Kira. Later in the series, we learn how crime rates and even global conflicts dramatically decreased during this time of Kira’s killings, which would make some believe Light was doing the world some good. Or were the actions taken by the police correct, considering Light/Kira was still murdering people who deserved their time in court? I may not be a philosophy professor, but I can imagine the type of talk that could be brought up from this series.
What made this series enjoyable to watch was the exciting “catch me if you can” game Light played during the earlier episodes. You clearly see how well thought out his plans were to avoid detection from the police. His methodical approach of hiding the Death Note, avoiding suspicion with police, as well as eliminating threats without anyone noticing, was remarkable. Plus it was believable how he booby-trapped his drawer and hid markers in his room to tell if someone had searched it. It made the police’s job (which included his father on the task force) a lot harder to find out who Kira was.
Not to be outdone, the character L, who is a super genius as well (and has solved many unsolvable cases in his young life), made the game a lot more enjoyable. It would be boring if Light were able to outmaneuver the police over and over, so it was fun seeing L get the upper hand at times. Without L the series would have been too predictable, as we watch a young adolescent abuse the power of the Death Note and create a new world order without any resistance. So adding L to be the foil to Light/Kira was fun and exciting (especially near the beginning where he deduced what region of Japan the killer was in). His quick wits were equal to Light’s and made it all the more satisfying to watch. The drama of who would win this game of chess between the two was the best part of this series.
That being said, I was crushed that L ended up dying to the powers of the Death Note, not because he was my favorite character, but because there was still a huge chunk of Death Note left to watch. I thought that the series should have ended with either L dying or Light getting caught as the game of cat and mouse ended there. It didn’t, and the new “detectives” (Mello and Near) didn’t seem like they belonged in the story. It was a huge letdown and made the final part of the series seem less meaningful, including the ending (which I’ll get to later).
Besides the original game between Light and L, the music in this series was a huge plus, as it fit well in nearly every scene. I had heard how the soundtrack to Death Note is one of the best an anime can offer and It did not disappoint. While I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite soundtrack, it easily fit the mold for a thriller series.
The voice cast sounded perfect and was truly a treat to sit down and listen to a dub done by Ocean Productions. Besides InuYasha and Black Lagoon (among a few other titles) I’m not too familiar with their regular actors. I’ve always been a fan of Brad Swaileand his performance as Light did not disappoint. His over the top lines were masterfully done and made me feel the emotion the Light was exuding. However, the whole cast honestly did a phenomenal job. I was really impressed with Alessandro Julianias L. While it sounded reserved and possibly stiff at points, I found his voice to match perfectly with what I’d expect from L. Other notable performances for me came from Brian Drummond (Ryuk), Shannon Chan Kent (Misa), Trevor Devall (Aizawa), and Chris Britton (Soichiro Yagami). You could tell how much the cast cared about this franchise and wanted to give it their best, which always adds to the appeal of a series.
But this series isn’t immune to criticism. As I mentioned before, I thought it extended itself a little too much after L died. It should have ended right there, and while that ending wouldn’t have been my favorite (Light ruling the new world he dreamed of), I’d have liked that better than having a new cast of detectives finally catching him. Light winning, in the end, would have felt more satisfying than the weak buildup to the last episode. The arc after L died was too dull to hold my attention as well as the earlier arcs did. The new characters that were introduced didn’t resonate with me like the previous cast. Near, Mello, and to a lesser extent Kiyomi Takada, did not hold my interest. Now this next point might be nitpicking, but the second opening for this series was also a huge negative. I cringed as that opening played out, especially with all of the Light faces and whoring off Misa (or at least looking like that in the second opening). This became bothersome, because after L had died, Misa became less of an accomplice and just became a symbol of fan service. The second opening was just a precursor to how her character would be handled, and it was disappointing after all the twists and turns she provided in earlier arcs. Now this has nothing to do with the genre of music, just how it was presented. Death Note is a thriller, not a comedy and this was too silly for this series.
There were other arcs in this series that I found annoying, like when the new Kira happened to be Kyosuke Higuchi. The other arc, involving the eventual capture of Light, also didn’t keep my attention. When Kyosuke was Kira, it was brilliant on Light’s part to be able to erase his memories and end up grabbing the Death Note once again, so in that instance, I thought it was awesome to see it play out. Light is brilliant, and he was able to fool L, retrieve the Death Note, and kill a shinigami all in the shadows (masterfully done). However, with all the best characters dying extremely early, it made these other characters harder to deal with, since I found them annoying.
The ending of the series was okay, as the police finally triumph over Light. What made it funny to me was how it played out like the classic Boston movie The Departed. In the later arcs, Light ends up running the task force to capture Kira (becoming a Leonardo DiCaprio-type character). So for a while, he purposefully kept the police off the real trail of Kira. It was a cop (Matsuda) who ended up shooting Light (such as Mark Wahlberg’s character at the end of the movie). I enjoyed that, but the build up did not meet the expectations the previous arcs had set up. So in a sense, the series was saved in my eyes with how it ended, but it could have had a better lead-up.
The overall product itself was handled wonderfully. It’s a standard Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover that doesn’t take a lot of space. What sets this release apart is the inclusion of over three hours of extras added to the five discs. Fans get episode commentaries, as well as behind the scene videos of the voice actors behind the booth. Hearing the voice actors thoughts about the series as well as voice acting was a treat. Those who like seeing the voice actors behind the booth will get a kick out of these interviews. But what made it even better for me was observing the older equipment used to edit these projects. Thank goodness for non-linear editing systems getting upgraded.
So while the story of Death Note didn’t quite capture me as it has with its ardent fans, the extras released by VIZ Media propelled the score higher than if I was just rating the anime itself. I enjoy when a home media release provides a ton of behind the scene extras (which this version does). If this were the Omega Edition version of Death Note, this score would be even higher, since it came with the piolet chapter and one shot story (in manga form). Nevertheless, I see why this series has such devoted fans, as well as another movie in the works to be released.
Pros: Earlier arcs were compelling; wonderful music in the entire series; the cast felt perfect; all the extras added to the release
Cons: Some story arcs felt dull; should have ended after L died; the second opening
C.J Maffris is an editorial writer for Toonamifaithful.com and GeekEInc.com. He’s hoping he’ll stay alive so he can continue reviewing anime. Feel free to talk all things Toonami and anime with him on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris