Light Yagami is brilliant: the best grades, the greatest looking, the most popular with the ladies... everything always seems to just go so right for him. However, this all changes in college, when he ties on the testing with another student who is known by the student body as ‘Ryuuga Hideki’ and by Light as ‘L’. This begins a struggle of titanic proportions as each seeks the highest grade, the greatest note, even if it will result in their own deaths.
Warning: contains spoilers for the entire plot of Death Note.
The greatest part about Death Note is its ability to accurately portray the struggle of try-hard students in an academic setting. This is something evident throughout the school, for while the studies themselves are important, the battle for the best continues just about anywhere, from getting the best girlfriend to being the captain of the tennis team.
Light and L are both very interesting characters, and while Light tends to trend in the darker direction, neither of them are straight forward in determining who ultimately is a better person, much less who deserves to get the highest spot in the class. They also have their own support, such as Light’s emo friend Ryuk, who stays home from school to aid in his late night plots for the best grades, and L’s butler Watari, who safeguards his homework.
Death Note being the name for a show about grades should give you a decent idea about how ridiculous the whole thing is. The literal meaning is Light’s diary that he keeps all of his secrets in, but the implied meaning is that a ‘Note’ represents your grade, and that by getting a bad one, or in this case one worse than your opponent, means ‘Death’. Over-dramatic and silly, if I do say so myself.
It is really, really hard sometimes to be able to justify some of the ridiculous scenarios the students get in in their brawl for the highest grade. L even hires his own investigative unit of police officers to keep an eye on Light and monitor his studying habits, a force that Light himself later attempts to infiltrate in his attempt to defeat L. They make the news, cause violence, and are rude to women. While that last one is slightly less surprising, it nonetheless takes away from the overall school conflict narrative.
About two thirds of the way through the show, there is a transition: L transfers schools after being injured, and two quasi-Ls take his place, called Mello and Near. The show really should have ended at this point, because it just seemed to be prolonged once the initial conflict was wrapped up. Near is very similar to L, and Mello is just psychotic, even attempting to kill Light by burning him alive in a church while he was praying for good grades.
As much as the plot itself veers on the ridiculous side, it is the way characters behave that really seems to be the most strange. Oftentimes, drama is created merely by all of the characters acting with a great sense of chuunibyou, or a delusion of grandeur. While you might be able to imagine this in the classroom setting as they answer a teacher’s questions, it extends to about all facets of their lives. At one point, Light realizes L is watching him study to copy all of his answers, and instead of trying to stop him he instead makes a big deal out of studying, as you can see below:
Light will stop at nothing to become the best student, and his methods border on the disturbing frequently. He manipulates his girlfriend to trick L, and at one point he even convinces a fellow student to commit suicide.
He does it all to become the best student and gain power to change the world, but it still feels wrong, and takes away from the narrative since it is focused on a far different element of story. I guess it would be fair to say that some students in real life do this, though.
Death Note is a very flawed show. Although it can accurately portray the try-hard struggle and has interesting protagonists, the over dramatic moments and flaws in the narrative direction drag the series down, and thanks to the strange final third of the show, I would really have a hard time recommending it to most people outside of the academically obsessed who might be able to sympathize.
Author’s Note: While I did put some actual criticism of Death Note in here, it is worth noting that I really do like the show and would have given it a positive review if this was... an actual review.
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