Death Note – Complete Series and OVA Collection (Cert 15)
6 discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 845 minutes approx.
I must open this review by admitting it might seem a little biased as Death Note is my favourite anime and manga of all time; however it has been close to a decade since I last watched it, so this new Blu-ray release has given me the opportunity to reappraise it through a relatively fresh pair of eyes.
Created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata in 2003, this anime adaptation from studio Madhouse arrived in late 2006, just months after the final manga volume had been published. Despite passing similarities to a 1973 one-off strip The Miraculous Notebook by Shigeru Mizuki, this psychological and supernatural crime thriller caught on quickly and a new franchise was born.
Quickly becoming a global phenomenon through its chimerical concept, iconic characters and copycat controversies, Death Note should need little introduction to any self-respecting anime fan, but for an uninitiated readers I shall indulge you with a brief (as such as it can be) recap of the central plot.
Told over a six-year period, a brilliant and bored high school student Light Yagami discovers a black notebook on the school grounds and, curiosity getting the better of him, takes it home. Complete with instructions of the notebook’s apparent power to kill humans, light decides to demonstrate it on a criminal shown on the TV news. True enough the man dies as per the instructions and Light’s interest is fully piqued.
Watched impassively by the Shinigami (death god) Ryuk, the grotesque otherworldly owner of the notebook, Light begins a crusade to wipe out evil in the world and create a peaceful existence for everyone. While this unique vigilante act creates a public anti-hero named Kira, it also attracts the attention of the police, Light’s own father being a high ranking police detective, and Interpol who enlist the aid of reclusive detective L to solve this mystery.
That may be the story in a nutshell but it is vastly more complex than that, its sinuous twists and turns, impressively crafted web of deceit, betrayal and moral ambiguity not to mention the intellectual game of cat and mouse between two superior masterminds, make this one of the most engaging and addictive stories ever told. And that barely touches the surface of Death Note’s appeal.
One of the stronger aspects of the story is how nothing is as black and white as it initially appears and in Light Yagami, we have a character who is a protagonist and antagonist – at one point both at the same time. This is down to the supernatural element pertaining to the rules and conditions of the notebook, all of which Light must decipher and employ to use if he wants to keep his identity as Kira hidden.
This becomes a problem when Light and L eventually work together to bring down Kira, but since L suspects Light IS Kira, both geniuses are forced to outthink each other, predicting their moves and reactions and adjusting their actions accordingly. Such focus on cerebral stratagems may lend itself to many lengthy internal monologues and prolix passages of intense calculations but the visual presentation compensates for this.
And let’s not forget the supporting cast whose presence provides the moral centre and represent the laymen lost to the machinations of Light and L’s busy brains – capricious teen idol, Misa Amane, the members of the select Kira investigation team and L’s enigmatic assistant Watari, not to mention more unpleasant Shinigami!
Spanning 37 taut and intense episodes, this provocative morality tale covers many themes – abuse and corruption of power, playing God, actions and consequence, the hubris of misplaced idol worship and the cult of personality, and the value of human life. Light may begin his campaign with good intentions, targeting convicted criminals but when the net closes in on him the innocent also become victims.
If you are already familiar with this series you will know of the shocking development ten episodes from the end that changes the entire landscape and complexity of the story. Many have felt this leads to a poor concluding act tantamount to a half baked reboot of the first half but revisiting it here via binge watch, it proves itself as fitting within the remit of the power struggle over the notebooks and in delivering justice.
Directed by Tetsurō Araki and written by Toshiki Inoue, the anime is rigidly faithful to the manga aside from the coda which for this writer, is preferable to the overloaded denouement of the manga. What is noticeable after a decade is how static a lot of the animation appears, clouded at the time by the simple joy of seeing the characters – especially Ryuk – come to life.
Yet this detracts nothing from the enjoyment or immersive qualities of the show; with a penchant for creating a rich atmosphere and protean moods using sharp colour, shadows and camera tricks, this apparent inertia makes the occasional action scenes all the more exciting when they occur. In terms of visual representation, the end of episode 7 is one of the most chillingly beautiful moments in anime.
So, does Death Note still hold up a decade on from its original release? Absolutely, proving itself to be an evergreen show that reveals something new upon each rewatch. Modern viewers should find it suitably engrossing and hopefully living up to its venerated status, although it may require patience compared to the gory, faster moving shows it directly influenced such as Future Diary.
One thing about this good-looking Blu-ray release that may see existing fans hesitate over double dipping is the absence of the original DVD extras, replaced instead by the two OVAs retelling the series from a different perspective with some additional footage.
A bona fide modern classic that has not only stood the test of time but reveals how ahead of its time it was, Death Note remains scarily relevant today. Unequivocally essential to any anime collection.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 6 Only:
OVA 1 – Relight: Visions Of A God
OVA 2 – Relight 2: L’s Successors
Rating – *****
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