I originally intended to spend this weekend catching up on some writing and reading but I made the dire; dire mistake of watching the first episode of Death Note on Friday night. It quickly became narrative crack and so I ended up binging all thirty seven episodes over the course of the weekend. Death Note is incredible and I feel like a dumb ass for not watching it sooner. It has literally become an instant classic for me. Every twist and turn of the show is so compelling that it’s impossible to walk away from the show when you know there are more episodes to come.
The original creators of the manga, writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata, set up a masterpiece with their manga. And then, with director Tetsuro Araki, Madhouse produced the stellar anime. You have to give everybody who worked on the entire process extreme props and respect for this creation. Death Note is amazing to say the least. The premise by itself is just so intense. An extremely intelligent High School student finds the Death Note, a devilish notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in its pages so long as the person in control of the book also knows there face. That student is Light Yagami and once he discovers the power of the book he starts on a crusade to create a peaceful future by killing all criminals. He is not helped necessarily, but somewhat observed by a bored Shinigami (God of Death) named Ryuku who was the original owner of the Death Note. Ryuku actually starts the entire chain of events out of simple boredom. He was so bored in the Shinigami realm that he drops the Death Note in the human world so that he can be entertained by observing how a humans would choose to use the notebook. After much experimentation with the book and its powers Light Yagami starts killing criminals at rate that is noticeable enough to create a bit of a following in society. Those admirers of his effort to kill the wicked in society give him the name KIRA which is a Japanese approximation of the world Killer. He is also noticed by world governments and their police organizations. They try desperately to find the identity of this person known as killer. The problem is that there is little to no evidence of how he is able to kill people remotely on a whim. Because all he has to do is write a name in the Death Note and see a picture of the person’s face Light Yagami is able to kill in complete anonymity. That is until a peculiar and super secret detective with ungodly amounts of monetary resources decides to crack the case on his own and confront KIRA directly. Then shit gets popping.
Let me start off by saying that anyone can at least to some extent sympathize with the idea of ridding the world of evil. Obviously killing any person you deem as bad is extreme but I am sure you can at least get where the main character is coming from. However you will find it extremely difficult to ever see Light Yagami as a protagonist. Light Yagami is a sociopathic, douche bag with delusions of grandeur. Without the Death Note he was just playing the part of a good son, good brother, good citizen and good student. He is extremely intelligent, personable and handsome therefore life generally comes extremely easy to him. And in life he was just playing his role while slowly drowning in nauseating boredom. The same was true for Ryuku in the Shinigami Realm. This brings me to the most important question that the narrative leaves up to the reader. Ryuku plays the fool quite often but is actually a cunning voyeur. Another Shinigami actually makes reference to their being no way that Ryuku could be controlled by a human. Although it seems that he just haplessly drops the book somewhere without thinking while hoping for the best results, it seems odd to me that Light Yagami ends up with the Death Note. I can’t help but to question this part of the story. Personally, I think that Ryuku dropped it in a place that Light would find it. That’s just what I think. I find it so hard to believe that he did it just at random when you take into account the perfect storm of coincidence that drives the story to a great extent. Yes, at times you will see that Ryuku is surprised by Light’s actions and intelligence, however I have a great suspicion that Ryuku is very well atune to the nature of humans. I think he knew that Light would give him a great show.
This manga and anime delivers suspense and crime drama like nothing ever before it. You can’t pull away. You just have to know how everything was done. You find yourself reading something into every second of banter. And they do the banter well. It’s not overdone and annoying as is the case often when people do crime drama or suspense. No conversation is wasted. It all seems natural. In that way I guess it isn’t really banter then is it? Its just what we call dialogue. So I should say that the writing is perfect. But to that point you stay very focused during rants and dialogue between characters because you feel you have to. That’s good writing. In a similar vain, the direction of these scenes is important as well and that likewise is executed in perfection. When the characters flash looks at each other. When they test each other by phrasing their speech in leading directions. When Light Yagami has to focus on not laughing so that he doesn’t give himself away. It’s all so amazingly well done.
And within the narrative of crime and suspense there is this awkward competitiveness that borders on antagonism and friendship that never truly gives itself to a clear understanding of either. It feels natural. It adds to a rich dynamic between the characters. The good guys and the bad guys are in such close proximity that the competitive tension is palpable in every episode. It somewhat reminds me of this television show called the Mentalist towards its final seasons. I in no way mean to compare the two. Death Note is in a class all its own, far and away from anything. There are just some shared elements that made me think of the Mentalist when I watched Death Note.
The animation is precise, symbolic and tone setting. It is dark and edgy while also maintaining room for the honest expression of all moods. This is hard to do. When some manga or anime have a dark theme then they tend to give the honest impression of lighter moments in the narrative. Death Note has no such problem. When you are given slight reprieves in the tension, the viewer is able to experience those other emotions without them being stained in the overarching darkness of the narrative. So you also get to discover attitudes, personalities and relationships among the characters. And in this story, relationships are deep, conflicting and complicated. Emotions, attitudes, personalities, goals and thoughts are all deep, conflicting and complicated.
The final thing goes back to the original point. What would a person light Light Yagami do with a Death Note? How would people truly respond to a person who appeared to have the power of judgement like a god who was seemingly using it justly? I think the great thing about this Death Note is that they answered the “F***” out of their premise. I think that is what a good narrative does. It answers the premise put forth in the world that it has created. And I think that no other narrative could make a greater case for being true to its nature and complete in thought as Death Note. It is objective in nuance and judgmental only to the point of answering its own premise to the truth of the world it has created. Death Note is a must see anime a must read manga and a must experience narrative!!! I didn’t waste my weekend at all. There was nothing better I could have been doing. And now I am going to read the entire manga.