The world isn’t always a rosy place to live in. It can beat you down, drag you into the mud, and leave you feeling shattered. Dangers can lurk in any corner and stepping outside your house each day can be a risk in and of itself. But what if you stumbled upon the power to eliminate any wicked or despicable person (murderers, rapists, and the corrupt) from this earth by simply writing their name in a notebook and dictating the nature of their death as an accident or suicide? It’s a situation high school student Light Yagami encounters in the anime Death Note.
Death Note, based on the manga by Tsugumi Ohba, follows main protagonist Light Yagami as he wields the power of the Death Note by writing the names of every single criminal he finds by watching the nightly news. The notebook’s original owner Ryuk, a shinigami with a love for apples, partners with Light to watch and help Light achieve his goal to rid the world of all that is evil until only the kind and honest remain. With the Death Note in Light’s possession, he has big plans to deem himself “God of the new world,” that is if a mysterious detective who goes by the name “L” doesn’t stand in his way.
At 37 episodes, Death Note is an adrenaline ride of an anime to watch from start to finish. I’d compare the series to watching a chess match between two people––Light and L are constantly battling each other wit for wit, each move measured and calculated as they try to outsmart and outmaneuver each other. Being mental equals in every way, it’s a nail biting experience to see who gains the upper hand in each episode. Throw in the threat of death hovering over L like a lion ready to strike at its prey, the stakes just get higher as the series progresses.
The anime is filled with plenty of twists and turns you often don’t see coming. Light being a brilliant but apathetic guy, he always has to be one step ahead of everyone who would try to stop him from ridding the earth of people he deems to be a cancer to society and a threat to the utopian world he envisions. Light takes pretty bold risks, which somehow always play out exactly as he wants it to. However, L also doesn’t shy away from making risky moves himself, even if it means exposing who he really is to Light or “Kira,” the nickname the police and public give to the elusive person who has the power to kill criminals or anyone interfering in accomplishing his endgame.
The strength of the show is the interaction between Light and L. As intellectual equals, their brains tend to function beyond the usual mental capacities most regular people couldn’t begin to comprehend. Their deductive reasoning and their ability to somehow successfully pinpoint the measure of success or failure of each possible plan or scenario can almost be too perfect. Admittedly, suspension of disbelief is required when watching the anime. I often found myself finding it nearly impossible to believe Light or L are that good at knowing how something would play out as they have constructed it in their heads. I can believe someone can be extremely intelligent, but not THAT much. It starts venturing into superhuman abilities kind of territory. It also got increasingly annoying when Light seems so good at evading his captors that it almost felt like Light will remain undefeated. It takes the final episode to get to the point where Light finally gets the justice he deserves, but the buildup to get there kind of made me impatient. Still, Light’s fall was sweet to witness when his days finally became outnumbered.
What I especially like about the anime is exploring the themes behind what we may define as good or bad, right from wrong. Light is convinced his intention is good, wanting to have a world where there are no bad people in it––a perfect world. However, his good intention no longer seems so good when the power to determine someone’s death devolves into a selfish and arrogant play to become God and killing criminals eventually stretches into killing innocents who will oppose or threaten his position. It’s also expressed by both L and Light’s chief of police father Soichiro Yagami that despite the despicable acts a criminal has done, taking a life and having the power to play God is wrong no matter what the intention is. As the series does well to show and will always ring true is power corrupts. Light’s lust for power and control will make him far too dangerous to allow him to run freely in the world.
Death Note is an enjoyable psychological thriller type of anime which will make you think about the themes and messages the series explores. It’s smart, dark, and an unforgettable anime watching experience.
Reviewer Rating: 9/10