Death Note – Series Review

This is one of those titles that everyone and their brother have seen. A quick check at ANN shows that it’s still one of the top ranked animes according to fans that have voted there. It wasn’t without it’s problems though and so for me to discuss them in more detail I’m going to remind those that haven’t seen this show: Spoilers in the write-up.

Final Series Score: 7/12 B
Rewatchablity: low
Pros: excellent animation, premise was very orginal and engaging, many great characters, plot took several unexpected turns, L’s investagation was smart and made for compelling anime, great fodder for AMVs – I’m looking at you, AMV Hell 4
Cons: pacing problems, second half was rather weak and unconvincing, not enough Ryuk

Death Note follows Light Yagami, who is a typical bored genius high school student, after he finds the “Death Note” laying on the ground one day. Instead of being a creepy goth-emo kid’s diary – it’s how the Shinigami actually go about killing the people of the world. When Light realizes what he has, he has visions of cleaning up the filth of the world and making the earth a better place to live (with him being the “god” of this new world order). It doesn’t take long for police around the world to realize that their criminals are dieing quite unexpectedly and in large numbers. The killer is dubbed “Kira” by the media.

They decide to call for this generation’s Sherlock Holmes to find out what’s going on and apprehend the person or persons behind this epidemic of killing. His name is L and he’s a bit unorthodox in appearance and methods but very brilliant. Quite possibly the only one that could match wits with Light. The show then shifts to a contest of wills between Light and L. Will Light win and establish his NWO or will L figure out that it’s Light before Light has the chance to kill L?

Let’s start with the greatest problem with this show – the death of L and it’s effect on the plot of the show. There are at least 3 reasons why this hurt the show. The first is that L’s death didn’t seem to serve any purpose to the plot. Compare this death to those in Gurren Lagann, every death in that show felt natural and they served some purpose to the overall plot; whereas, what was the point to L’s death? I got the feeling that the original writer just got to a point and said, frack it, let’s just kill L. The second is that by killing L, they destroyed the prime draw of the show up to that point, the contest between Light and L, and didn’t have anything readily available to replace it. The third is that if you’re going to kill the lead investigator against Kira, you need the replacement to be better and L’s replacements were not. Now maybe Mello and Near we’re more competent in the manga but just watching the anime, Light should never have been caught.

I’m going to give Mello and Near a little slack because they characters suffer from another problem of this show – the pacing. About 2/3rds of the show involved Light and L but suddenly with only about a dozen episodes left, Mello and Near have to take the reins and get Kira. They don’t have enough time and that’s the fault of Madhouse. L should have bowed out sooner so there was enough time for Mello and Near to define themselves as better than L and make their plans seem plausible. It would have helped if Madhouse could have figured out a way to introduce Mello and Near before L’s death.

Beyond these two things, I have only minor nit-picks against the show. Of these, I wish most that Ryuk was in the show more, he disappears for a large amount of the show and his presence is missed. Also, I would have liked if the implications of Kira’s rise and demise on society would have been examined more. One character mentions that all war has stopped because of Kira. So while it’s easy to hate Kira from close up but what would someone living in a country that’s been ravaged by civil war for 20 years think of Kira and his ability to stop war? And I’d’ve love to see how the world would have descended into anarchy after news of Kira’s death was made known. Which reminds me of the movie Minority Report. According to the script, the movie was to end with a short written epilogue. It was to read that the year after they ended the program that caught people before they committed the murder, X people were murdered. X was something like 1400 people. It was decided to give the movie it’s happy ending and remove the epilogue.

Which leads me to the last point I wanted to mention about this show. I realize I shouldn’t want Light to win but I’d be lying if a part of me wanted to see Light win. And if Light was less of an egoist and didn’t seem to enjoy killing so much then I’d have less qualms about him using the Death Note. This leads me to wonder if I had the opportunity to find the Death Note; would I use it? I think I would, even knowing that it’ll probably turn out bad, the temptation would be too great.

So while the concept was first-class and the anime starts off strong, Death Note ultimately falls short because of the seemingly pointless death of L and the anime doesn’t pace itself and give the successors to L enough time to convincingly capture Light or even appear better than L. However, this show is definitely worth a watch and I enjoyed it during a rewatch courtesy of Adult Swim so it might be worth purchasing on DVD by some readers out there.

AMV clips taken from AMV Hell 4 to show how well Death Note is used for funny amvs.

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6 thoughts on “Death Note – Series Review”

  1. Excellent series throughout except the end! In only a few episodes did I noticed any minor flaws especially with “L” and “Near” and their incredible insight with exact deductions with very limited evidence to go on! Even CSI experts would need to examine on site for those predictions! Lights strategy in the end was perfect. Their was no flaw in it.

    But “No”, we find out a surprise revealing of Mikami’s straying from procedure and his regular routine (Strange, why?) allowing Near to access the Death Note (How convenient)? How bizarre and incredibly preposterous! It just wouldn’t happen to this kind of perfectionists. This was the Hail Mary of all times for this strategy to help Near! It was unbelievable, but of course this was how they ended the series and killed Kira.

    Too bad, Kira living would bring many more interesting stories to the mind!

    And of course many Japanese movie’s and anime they usually kill the hero!

  2. The first time I watched the series I’ll admit it – I was sucked in. Literally enthralled with the anime. Then it got slow around the middle half and never got back to the amazing suspense you feel in the early episodes when Light and L are in their battle of wits, which is a shame really. I was quite annoyed at how Misa more got in Light’s way than anything, and ultimately the last half of the series dragged on, leaving me wanting to watch the early episodes. Oh well, the ending was fun.

    Unfortunately I decided to watch it a second time through and I’ve realized it’s not nearly as good an anime as first impressions would imply – Light is unbelievably sloppy throughout the series! It’s a wonder he’s not caught earlier considering things like putting gasoline in a plastic bag (which would have dissolved the bag) or killing the fake L on tv. He truly was impulsive and immature, but also hugely egotistical. For all intents and purposes, Naomi should not have died the way she did. I would have imagined her far too strong and determined for the Death Note to allow her to just drop the search for Kira and commit suicide (especially with Kira in front of her) although she still would have died of a heart attack as a result of her name being in the book (which would have gotten Light caught really early). Essentially, he’s far from the uber-genius some people portray him as, instead being a fairly sloppy killer (although just smart enough not to let his mistakes cost him until later).

  3. L’s death was more like a tragedy. The anti-hero, in killing his nemesis, ended up losing part of the reason for his existence. So it was both an accomplishment as well as a major blunder for L.

    There’s too many people to kill in the world with too many ways to avoid one’s identity being known or spread through the news. If the details of the Death Note were made available, it would lose much of deterrence. In point of fact, it would not be wars that would stop but wars that were waged to control communication and transmission. Because if an enemy can produce the right propaganda on a foe and broadcast it, then Kira will see it and kill. Death Note does not tell the truth. So there’s no real way for Kira to know what’s true or not from where’s he sitting. He has No Human intelligence to tell him fact from fiction.

    Instead of people fighting each other directly, they’ll just fight a propaganda war. The loser dies to Kira’s indefensible attack.

  4. My only complaint was mello and near. I think the anime would have been better id L hadn’t died. I wanted light to win. I don’t think he would have turned out so bad if it hadn’t been for L going after him. He was trying to get rid of criminals but i think the stress of being figured out got to him as he had to kill innocent people. But I would like to have seen how the world turned out too, but maybe that would have been too depressing.
    Personally i think death note was the best anime ihad ever watched. I started watching because I was bored not expecting much as someone who only likes shojo but i totally turned around.

  5. Light Yagami is too megalomaniacal, meaning how he treats subordinates doesn’t really inspire trust. That’s not someone you can trust with power.

    If a person can’t handle stress and scrutiny that comes from using power, then he isn’t responsible enough to be trusted with that power. Doesn’t matter who is chasing him. It was his choice to start this route into the darkness, and thus it’s his fault if he stumbles. Not anyone else’s.

  6. Love this show and I agree with you that the ending was not as good as the earlier episodes. L’s death was sad and it was not the same afterwards.
    About your comment that Mello and Near didn’t seem as good as L…and thats because they weren’t. If they were, theyd be the # 1 detective and not L.
    The pace can be forgiven since Near had all of L’s info on Kira at that point. Even with all that info, however, Near needed a “miracle” as you stated to win. He was helped by Mello UNINTENTIONALLY in finding the real book. Clearly Mello and Near are not up to par with L.

    Also, Light’s plan was far better that Near’s. He knew exactly what near planned and should have won…the reason he did not was simply because Mikami did not follow Light’s plan. If lights plan had been followed…Light would and should have won. Too many times did near have to get lucky in order to defeat Light.

    I used to be amazed and surprised as the battle of wits between Light and L and it did not feel the same after L’s death. I did not care for Mello or Near because they were nowhere near L’s cunning in my opinion and much less engaging.

    Still, overall my favorite manga and I was pretty sad when it ended.

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