What would you do if you could kill anyone in the world just by writing their name in a notebook?
That is the premise of Death Note, an anime series that essentially pits the Punisher vs. Sherlock Holmes in an epic battle of wits. Light Yagami, the bearer of the Death Note, is determined to make the world a better place by killing all the criminals he can. A mysterious genius detective named L is equally determined to stop him at any cost.
Despite its low-key music and the general lack of actual action scenes, Death Note often manages to be more surprising suspenseful than your average Hollywood thriller. Some of the things that happen are so unanticipated they make your jaw drop. The complexity of its plot may be a little much at first, and the episodes generally tend to be very exposition-heavy. Seriously, the first few episodes primarily consist of people standing around in rooms and explainin gther celver plans to the audience in great detail. The great detail is necessary, because their plans are so friggin’ complicated. Yet the premise of the series is so intersting, and the battle between the two differing ideals of justice so juicy, that the exposition doesn’t drag things down as much as they should.
For a while, Death Note is essentailly like the first hour-and-a-half of the Departed, except with magic. Clever plan after clever plan follow one another in quick succession, and it’s anyone’s guess who will finally come out on top. And the whole time, the audience members are wondering who they actually want to win, and what they would do with a Death Note if they had one.
See, the beauty of Death Note is that it manages to get you to simultaneously root for two opposing characters whose greatest wish is to destroy each other. Every time Light is in danger, you desperately hope he’ll get out of it. Every time L is in danger, you cross your fingers and hope he’ll figure out something to save his neck before it’s too late. And it’s not entirely clear who you’re supposed to root for, if anyone. Death Note lets you make your own decisions and draw your own conclusions.
It’s a very serious, dark, and breathless show that, like the film The Dark Knight, seems to exist in a state of constant climax. It’s exhausting, but also exhilarating.
Seriously, even potato-chip eating is an epic event.
Until, towards the 15th episode mark, Death Note changes its tone completely and takes a leap into the pool of self-parody.
Don’t get me wrong. These episodes aren’t bad. They’re just very radically different from the first 15 episodes. It’s sort of like hot chocolate and iced lemonade. Both are yummy. But if you’re in the mood for one and someone suddenly turns around and gives you the other, you’re bound to be a bit confused.
One moment, Light is swearing to kill L. A few episodes later, due to some plot conrivances I’ll get into later, the two are best buddies and are dancing around in a circle singing Let’s All Be Friends Together. No, I am not making that up.
I mean, seriously, what? Am I still supposed to be taking this seriously? Cause a minute ago everyone was dying and now they’re dancing in a circle and it’s a little bit weird now.
But even while changing from serious to thriller to buddy comedy, Death Note remains good. It really only has two problems. Those two problems have names. And faces.
These faces, to be precise
I am forced to come to the conclusion that Death Note, despite its many virtues, is one of the most sexist shows I’ve ever seen. How else do you explain the fact that the two female characters are the most odious characters ever to curse the screen since Jar Jar Binks?
Firstly, we have Misa Amane (that’s the blond one up there). She’s an annoying brat who is apparently mentally retarded, made more annoying by the fact that her character is inconsistent and unbeleivable. When she first appears, she’s a fairly competent assassin who adds a lot of complexity to a plot already about as complex as as vector calculus textbook. But that’s only until she meets Light and falls in love with him. At first sight. Without even talking to him. And I mean REALLY in love with him. We’re talking, like, so in love that she is willing to die for him, but not, apparently, willing to leave him alone for five minutes.
Remind you of anyone?
See, the thing is, because of complicated plot stuff, Misa’s presence is really a very bad thing for Light. In fact, if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to get him killed, it’s her hanging around him. He tries to explain why having her around whilst under police surveillance is a bad idea, but she is apparently too stupid to understand human speech because she continues to hang around, much to Light’s (and the audience’s) annoyance.
Then she gets captured (because she’s a dumbass) and is tied up in a creepy dungeon. She believes she is being stalked because she is pretty and famous. Her response to the fact taht she is probably about to be raped and possibly murdered? One might expect terror or helpless rage, because those are natural responses to being tied up and blindfolded in a creepy dungeon. Misa seems to be mildly annoyed by the whole situation.
WHO ACTS LIKE THIS? The obvious answer, of course, is no one. Misa Amane has to be the most unbelievable, ridiculous character ever created. And she’s the most major character there is. Ugh.
Then there’s Rem, that creepy white monster-thing from the picture above. She’s actually a death god who watches over Misa, the bearer of a second death note. And she’s a whole nother ball of stupid ready to roll down and squash plot integrity, tension, and whatever else she can. This walking plot contrivance makes so little sense that your brain cells may die if you look at her for extended periods of time. At the end of one episode, Light asks her to kill L for him. She agrees, thus removing all the tension from the story, since L vs. Kira was sort of the whole point of the entire show. Luckily for the plot, by the beginning of the next episode, Rem has apparently forgotten that she was about to kill L, because she proceeds to not kill him for the next 20 minutes, even whilst her beloved Misa is being tortured by L in a creepy dungeon.
Oh did I mention that Rem, like Misa, is hopelessly in love? With Misa, no less. How anyone could possibly harbor any emotion towards Misa besides soul-crushing loathing, I’m not entirely sure, but Rem, for some reason, is willing to die for Misa, just as Misa is willing to die for Light. Is it just me, or are all the female characters in this show suicidal weirdos?
Luckily, the brain-cell killing stupidity of these two is off-set by the awesomeness of L, who, in addition to being a brilliant detective, is also a skilled comedy-artist and master of the deadpan. When not solving crimes, he is busy injecting a healthy dose of shits and giggles into what was dangerous close to turning into a grim tale of death and destruction.
Dub vs. Subtitles
Death Note is available in two formats–dubbed and subtitled. No doubt YouTube is filled iwth a depressingly vast number of heated arguments with regards to the topic of which of the two formats is superior. I have a friend who insists that the dub is inferior because the voice acting is not as good as in the Japanese original. If you are a stickler for the original voice acting, then perhaps you sould stick with the subtitles, so long as you don’t care whether or not anything makes any sense.
See, the thing is, whoever wrote the subtitles for this show really didn’t have a very good grasp of the English language. The subtitles are so awkwardly translated as to be distracting. They are so irritating that even I have to say that the dubbed version is superior. See, all the problems I usually have with dubbing (poor voice acting, bad lip-synching) don’t really apply here. So far as I can tell, when people talk in this show, their mouths open and close regardless of what they are saying, meaning that lip-synching is largely irrelevant. And as for the voice-acting, well, I honestly can’t say it was even better in Japanese. The only character whose voice I really hate is Misa, and believe me, her voice is ***ing tedious no matter what language it’s in.
Yes, I realize how controversial statement this is. But in a show with a plot so complex, the details really do matter, and I’m gonna go with the translation that is clear, and, in all honesty, more dramatic.
1. To Conclude
Death Note is a pretty cool show, all things considered. It’s definitely entering a downward spiral, though, but the process may yet be reversible. It all depends on whether Misa and Rem, the forces of lameness, are able to win the war against Light and L, who are valiantly struggling to keep the series from becoming dumb. The battle for the quality of Death Note hangs in the balance.
Even if Misa and Rem win, the first 16 episodes or so are still great fun for anyone who enjoys detective stories, thrillers, or mind games.