Welcome back to First Time Classics! (It has been far too long.) This week we finally get to that one show that EVERYONE seems to have watched, and the one that everyone seemed shocked I had never seen. Well it’s time to remedy that, as we explore the 2006-7 hit anime, from director Tetsurō Araki and Studio Madhouse, Death Note.
First Time Classics, is an Impressions Series (not a review). Throughout my first viewing I will periodically write my impressions, with this article serving as a cumulative collection of said impressions, as well as a documentation of my ongoing and possibly changing opinions.
What I know Going In,
- L dies.
- People are disappointed with L’s replacements.
- What a death note is…. Write in it people die.
- Something about a Potato Chip…
So yes, I know probably the biggest spoiler going in, but really at this point its almost hard for anyone who hasn’t heard of the series to know that one. I don’t know how it happens, I just know it does. Also it seems very common to dislike the part of the series following L’s death, so I’ll have to see if it’s really as bad as everyone says. Let’s start this thing!
Murder He Wrote - Episodes 1-17
Well, if there’s one thing that definitely wasn’t undersold to me, it was Death Note’s ability to captivate and grip an audience. A very enthralling original hook, mixed with ideas whose grandeur and scale expand far beyond that hook’s immediate repercussions. I mean when you hear “a notebook which kills anyone whose name is written in it” feels upon first glance to be the perfect fit for petty crime and revenge, and yet Death Note’s focus on Light’s grandeur ambitions and the massive scale of his crimes even makes it clear to me, as an audience member, how much of a larger picture he sees. The comparison image linking Light to Lucifer in the OP feels really well earned.
Speaking of the first opening, it’s definitely grown on me. I didn’t like the song itself at first (I felt it lacked a certain oomph, probably bass notes or something. I’ve come around and begun to really love the opening, especially the direction and renaissance art motifs, even the song (though it still could use some oomph.) The rest of the soundtrack is great too, the choir that come in on Light’s killing spree is masterfully epic piece that amps up the tension and excitement, especially since those sequences are some of the most stylishly animated scenes too. It’s a blast to watch.
The plot helps with the excitement too, it’s very marathonable, with new surprises coming every episode to keep up the tension. It is almost the perfect netflix anime (sad to say they dropped Aug 30. I guess it’s good they’re making their own version) .
The main conflict between Light and L is very good, even when they were distant and even now face to face, it feels very Holmes vs Moriarty. Though I’m probably enjoying Light more than I have any other depiction of Moriarty I’ve seen. As for the others, Ryuk feels like Heath Ledger’s Joker who just doesn’t do anything himself. Mr. Yagami I feel very sorry for, though I commend his actions so much. And Mira, well shes okay, a good wrench in the works for Light, and her transformation into “cute, lovey dovey ditz mode” in episode 17 was hilarious!
Well that’s good for now, be back once I’m done!
Good Men Die Hard - Episodes 18-37
So, I ran into Netflix’s takedown of Death Note halfway through my marathon… Thankfully I found another legal site that carried it, so I could finish properly (without succumbing to Kira’s wrath :P) The one point that changed though was that I was made to watch the 2nd half in sub form, whereas the first half of the series I had stuck with the admittedly excellent Dub. Voice wise I thought the english nailed it, and had voices that were surprisingly close to the Japanese. I did notice though that more than other series, Death Note’s intense dialogue really gains something from being spoken in a language you can comprehend, not that the japanese dub was poor, far from it, but If I had the chance to rewatch in English I certainly would.
But anyways, back to the show. Where I Cut off last time was a few episodes right before L’s death, which (if I must speak so morbidly) was a high point of the series for me. The confusion and defeat he feels is palpable in that rooftop scene, and the incredibly biblical “foot massage” right before his execution really struck a chord with me. The show has used such imagery before, but that one episode was incredibly symbolic, so much so I’ve come to describe it as “The Passion of L” in my own head.
After that we hit the infamous 2nd half. Now definitely Mello and Near are nowhere close to as likable as L himself, Mello definitely I had a personal dislike for, and Near’s quirks just weren’t as endearing nor as forgivable as L’s own foibles. There also seemed to be a lot more logic jumps required for Mello and Near than L ever took. More often it seems they disregard other possibilities because the “plot” determined they had to guess the right conclusion.
However while the characters weren’t as likable, the actual direction the story took, seemed to me to be an almost necessary direction assuming that L lost the battle over the false rules. The “next generation” storyline had an almost Tolkien-esque quality to it, where the greater generation dies at a the hand at the enemy, only for the enemy to unravel itself as it spreads it’s power to its minions before the lesser generation deals the final blow. In this sense Light, in his attempt at controlling both the Kira Taskforce, the Death Note, and 2 girlfriends dooms himself as control slowly slips from his fingers. The ultimate failing for the finite trying to obtain godhood. So while I didn’t enjoy everything about the ending arc, it had a thematic through line I could gel with.
Some Random thoughts:
Did Matsuda kind of become a weird fanboy of the Light Yagami Soap Opera? I mean he was never the one with the most tact, but he seemed to be stooping to some new lows there.
Mr. Yagamis death was a great scene.
L and Watari are the closest thing I’ve seen yet to Artemis Fowl and Butler on screen, and I’d love more of that.
I guess that’s that. Death Note was an Exciting rollercoaster thrill ride, and while definitely rockier near the end, I don’t envy the writers for having to follow up L’s death with a good conclusion. I mean extending L’s life with him still alive and searching for Kira wouldn’t have worked, it was do or die time then and sadly (at least in this incarnation) it was die time. It was a fun ride, and one I’d definitely recommend to all interested. It’s still worth it.