DVD of the Month - November 2007

Death Note

Volume 1

SCREEN

I had one thought after finishing the first volume of the Death Note manga two years ago: This is going to make an awesome anime series. And boy, was I right.

For those unfamiliar, Death Note is one big game of cat and mouse between high school antihero Light Yagami and the eccentric genius detective L. The match begins when Light picks up the Death Note�a notebook purposely dropped to Earth by shinigami death god Ryuk. The book holds the terrifying power to kill anyone whose name is written in it, as long as a few ground rules are followed. Light, being a bored high school kid with an ever-increasing god complex, uses the notebook to play judge, jury and executioner to rid the world of crime and shape a utopian society in his own image. When he first came upon the notebook, he was naturally skeptical. His initial tests of its power will shock the viewer as much as they do Light with their outcomes�the first a hostage situation and the second the dramatic offing of a delinquent student. Once he proves its legitimacy, he goes on a spree.

As one might imagine, it isn�t long before Light�s extracurricular activities attract the attention of the police and media, who give the anonymous killer a new public moniker: �Kira.� That�s when Interpol and mysterious master sleuth L get involved, and the race is on like Donkey Kong. But they�re not the only ones watching Kira�s actions: Ryuk shows up to shadow Light, offering up some golden lines of commentary and�occasionally�a new rule about the Death Note.

Part of what makes the show so intense is the viewer�s ability to see the action unfold on both sides�L and the police�s attempts to set a trap for Kira, and Light�s careful precautions to make sure he slips through their fingers and off the list of possible suspects. There are two amazing examples of these in the first four episodes. In Episode 2, L sets a trap for Light based on his theory that Kira is located in Japan and can kill without direct contact. It�s a message televised worldwide from L to Kira�or so Light thinks. The second example comes in the fourth episode. When Light finds himself under FBI surveillance, he comes up with an ingenious plan to find out his pursuer�s name and eliminate him without arousing any further suspicion. In each case you�re given basic information but aren�t let in on the big reveal, leaving the final outcome in each situation a surprise until the end. It will keep you glued to the set�spoiling it here would be a disservice to the show, so you�ll just have to watch it for yourself.

The other interesting ingredient in Death Note�s bubbling cauldron is the police�s role in all this. Light�s got an upper hand since his father is the chief inspector, but for the most part, the police are helplessly caught in the middle of the situation, and some of the officers quit, fearing retaliation from Kira. The relationship of the police to L will come into play even more in later volumes, but you can already see the seeds planted here.

Thankfully, despite Death Note�s intense popularity across the Pacific, the anime doesn�t drag things out artificially. Each episode is perfectly paced and the series wraps up in just 37 episodes, something you�ll be thankful for when you start collecting it. With VIZ releasing new volumes every month, it also means you won�t have to wait very long to see it through, either.

Kudos to director Tetsuro Araki and his team at Madhouse for translating Death Note so perfectly to the small screen. The tone of the original manga and the detail of its artwork survive the transition unscathed, and new flourishes, like the dramatic shots of Light writing entries into the book as if the pen is a sword, fit right in. A great series destined to join shows like Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist and Cowboy Bebop as an anime classic.

�Chris Johnston

COVER

  • Available: November 2007
  • Publisher: VIZ Media
  • Running time: 100 min.
  • Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
DEATH NOTE based on the comic �DEATH NOTE� by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata originally serialized in �WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP� published by SHUEISHA Inc. � Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata/Shueisha � DNDP, VAP, Shueisha, Madhouse