Yagami Light is as perfect a hero as you could imagine–perfect grades, perfect public record, perfect looks–in every facet, his image is squeaky clean.
This all ends one fateful day when the Shinigami known as Ryuk drops his Death Note out of the realm of the afterlife, into Light’s schoolyard. Light stumbles across it and reads the directions: write the name of the person you want dead in the Death Note–with their image in your mind–and they will die in the manner you have specified in this supernatural journal. Otherwise, if the circumstance is not specified in writing, the victim will, within minutes, suffer a fatal heart attack.
Thinking it a stupid prank initially, Light puts it to the test when saving an innocent woman from being assaulted. To his horror, it works. Could ridding the world of criminals be this easy?
Inspired with a new renewed sense of justice, Light indulges himself completely in his newfound power, self-righteously declaring himself the bringer of a new, utopian future—-one name at a time.
Probably the most anticipated anime of the 2006/2007 Winter season, and perhaps of the new year (Nodame Cantabile, maybe?) Death Note carries story elements and an intellectual integrity that is more commonly seen in your collegeate literary classics than your usual Shounen Jump title.
First we have the Platonic “Gyges’ Ring” scenario–in a discourse in Plato’s Republic, the integrity of mortal justice is questions and sequentially deemed fundamentally flawed by sinful, finite capacity of man and their deeply ruooted sense of pride and self-righteousness. The lead character Light is the incarnation of this discourse, a once seemingly flawless character driven to obsession over the notion of becoming like a god. At first his intentions are decent–rapists, child molesters, serial killers–deserve to die, right? The world would be better without them, right? But putting such power into the hands of a mortal–as perfect as Light might be–corrupts, as history proves time and again.
Accompanying the Death Note is its original owner, the Shinigami Ryuk. Rather than being morally bound to Light or serving as a conscience or guide, Ryuk hangs around simply to be a spectator–proclaiming humans to be “interesting.”
While this itself makes for an interesting plot, what really makes Death Note a top caliber series are the characters who cause an obstruction to Light’s mission. Topping the cast is the fan-favorite L, whose character is just beyond description. A shady, mysterious, but somewhat eccentric genius, L is probably the only mind that could match the scheming Light. The cat-and-mouse power-play between the two young men is enticing and riveting, making you laugh (not for comedy’s sake) and keeps you fixed on every frame, soaking in all the details and anticipating the next move. The adorable, yet tragic Misa is another owner of a Death Note, and becomes pathetically infatuated with Light and obediently does his bidding, while at the same time threatening his immunity to the task force tracking him down.
This is just within the first ten episodes or so. This series is simple enough for anyone to understand, but at the same time deep enough and clever enough for those looking for something really meaty to sink their teeth into. Additionally, this series offers something that not many other series do–a moral conundrum. What if we had a Death Note? Would we use it? How would we use it? Is it possible to use it without turning into what Light becomes?
A top-selling series like Death Note, like Nana and other popular manga titles, have an obligation to its fans to give them something that is quality work. The animation is smooth, the character designs are loyal and really bring life to the characters. The music is fantastic, and some of anime’s top seiyuu are among the cast, including Miyano Mamoru (Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club) as Light, Yamaguchi Kappei (Inuyasha from Inuyasha) as L, and Hirano Aya (Haruhi from The Meloncholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as Misa. You really cannot go wrong with this series. It is a fantastic philosophical and theological scenario.
How about looking at this series as social commentary? Any side of the political spectrum or anyone with any kind of religious affiliation can find hot topic issues that make for excellent discussion. This is a series that will make you think. It’s more than just passive entertainment, though it is just what you make it. That’s the beauty of Death Note. And fortunately, it shines bright through the ugliness that is undoubtedly to come to its characters.
Rating: 4 out 5 stars
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