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Death Note Review

by: sothis
November 22, 2009

story 4/10

Death Note screenshot

When it comes to Death Note, the masses have spoken: it's a groundbreaking, gripping tale of deceit and intrigue that will keep you at the edge of your seat from start to end. With one of the highest average ratings on Anime-Planet and a level of hype that treads dangerously close to that of Naruto, Death Note has been deemed a "must-see", a "triumph", and "a series that no anime fan should be without".

Except that it’s not.

I’m not sure if my perception of reality is fatally flawed or if Death Note’s prominent mainstream presence has blinded the masses, but I just don’t get it. Death Note is a good anime, though it’s not the best and has a rash of insidious problems that most reviews tend to miss. Now, I'm aware that the majority of readers likely want to murder me, but put down the butcher knife for a second and hear me out.

Death Note starts out promising a thrilling ride to come. Teenager Light Yagami finds a mysterious book that a shinigami ‘carelessly’ drops into the human world, but it holds a dangerous secret: any person whose name is written within dies. Almost immediately the boy decides to exact his own brand of justice on criminals, thugs and others that are expendable in the name of a better world, quickly catching the attention of the authorities. Meanwhile, the general population both admires and fears this unknown assailant, giving he or she the nickname of Kira. Light's primary antagonist is L, a secretive, genius detective who vows to put a stop to Kira's reign of terror. With intellectual grace and precision the two begin a deadly game of cat and mouse where move after move is calculated, and each attempts to unmask the other first.

I won't deny that fans of psychological warfare will find the above premise engaging and exciting, and had the series ended after this first arc, I would have deemed it a smashing success. However, after building up a great deal of suspense, Death Note stumbles into its second segment with a confusing transition that isn't explained until a dozen episodes later. Almost this entire arc follows Light and the detectives as they investigate a shadowy organization that no viewer will give a shit about, and Light and L's intense dance is tossed by the wayside. Perhaps the only redeeming element of this part of the story is a powerful climax that will leave you saddened yet moved, but any non-delusional anime fan should be disgusted with what comes next: a third arc so offensively bad that I was reminded of Gantz - an otherwise powerful anime that also should have known when to quit. A whole new cast of characters appears, filling copycat roles that bring nothing new to the mix. At this point, those who aren't under the influence of fanboyism should feel any old emotional bonds they had with Death Note evaporating into thin air. By the series' end, I cared almost nothing for any of the characters, and felt relief only when the finale credits rolled; but an acceptable ending couldn't save Death Note's disappointing decline into mediocrity, regardless of how powerful the first arc was.

One other important note is one of the series' most irritating qualities: the ENDLESS, ENDLESS INTERNAL MONOLOGUING which begins almost immediately and doesn’t let up till the final episode. If you think shounen titles such as Naruto and Dragon Ball Z are bad, just wait until you see Death Note. Every single action and reaction is thoroughly analyzed internally or out loud by Light, L and damn near everyone else in the cast, followed by yet another just-as-long diatribe about what the speaker would then do next. AND THIS HAPPENS FOR THIRTY SEVEN EPISODES. Not since Ghost in the Shell: Innocence have I wanted so badly for the characters to shut the fuck up and move on. In a way, it feels like Death Note's creators were pandering to the lowest common denominator of intelligence by so grossly overstating the obvious mental leaps. Were Light and L truly as brilliant as they seem, they shouldn't need five minutes to compose every thought they have.

I'm open to hearing other opinions on why Death Note's plot is awesome enough to deserve a 15 out of 10 score, but with two throwaway, boring, copycat arcs and other problems I can't see how any anime fan in good conscience can say such a thing.

animation 6.5/10

Death Note's animation is hailed as being exceptional in every way; once again, I don't get it. The series' dark imagery provides a pleasing appearance, but the character designs look sloppy (specifically the facial linework and simplicity) and still sequences mar the experience far too often. Furthermore, frequently L and Light change color and deliver a multi-minute monologue as the camera creeps slowly across the screen, and the rest of the series tends to fare just as poorly. Death Note's definition of 'animation' apparently takes a page from the book of lazy.

Still, most viewers will likely appreciate Death Note's animation and consider it perfectly acceptable for a modern anime. Movement - when it actually occurs - flows wonderfully, and the shinigami world is depicted with a perfect combination of desolation and intrigue. Other visually impressive elements include the 'life counters' floating above people's heads, and the eerie red glow of 'shinigami eyes.'

sound 8/10

Death Note's first opening track is forgettable, but the second shines - well actually, it growls and screams. I think this is the first time I've heard a thrash metal track used as an anime's intro, and in this case it works perfectly. Combined with frantic, crazed shots of Light, this intro truly is a herald of things to come, and helps accentuate his madness. Overall the background score perfectly complements the suspense and intrigue, delivering a handful of orchestral, church-like tracks that grow on you throughout the series. While Death Note doesn't have much going for it, the music is hands down awesome.

characters 6/10

Love him or hate him, Light is one evil dude. From the get-go he's painted as a teen with a god complex who teeters between reality and insanity, and this persona rings true for the entirety of the series. Light is not a saint, nor does he have any hope of redemption; each move he makes is manipulating, sinister and self-serving to the core, justifying him as the ultimate anti-hero. You'll generally both cheer along as he executes the scum of the world and cringe as you watch people get stepped on along the way. Light's twisted, deranged view of his utopia damages everyone around him and in general, his personality is one of the best aspects of Death Note.

Counterpart to Light is L, a fiendish, quirky detective whose bizarre mannerisms and actions provide some of the series' (perhaps unintentional) comic relief. L wasn't developed as much as I'd hoped, and only near the end of the anime do you learn about his history. Still, his character comes across as a bit one-dimensional and should have been more fully fleshed out. Then again, he exists mostly as the protagonist - or antagonist - against Light, and their battle of wits is enjoyable to watch. One thing's for sure, not since Evangelion has there been such a firm division in fanboyism between those who swear by Light, and others who pledge their allegiance to L.

Last but not least there's Ryuk, a shinigami (death god) who quietly tags along with Light as he inflicts his wrath on the world. Ryuk doesn't judge, and he doesn't stop Light's actions, no matter how ill-conveived. In fact, the shinigami often chuckles creepily when the boy unknowingly makes a mistake or does something exceptionally evil; the supernatural being bides his time until he gets what he wants: Light's soul. Unfortunately Ryuk only stays in the spotlight strongly in the first arc; during the second he is out of the picture, returning in the third as a minor actor. It's too bad, as he provides the only other source of comic relief with his obsession with apples.

Several secondary characters also take the limelight at times, evoking a variety of emotions. Light's father, refusing to believe his son could be the killer, made me angry out of empathy. Misa, one of Light's admirers, is whiny and ditzy to the point that I wanted to punch her in the face. And Mello, one of the later characters in the series, prompted more anger - this time at the series' creators for not coming up with someone more original. While each of these and more grace the screen and take hold of the conversation at times, none are developed enough to really care about.

overall 5.8/10

Originally I planned on giving Death Note an overall rating of 6 to 6.5, but after carefully thinking about all of its faults versus strengths, I can't in good conscience award such a high score. A good first dozen episodes (flaws aside) does not a groundbreaking series make, and the consistent and escalating flaws ultimately condemn Death Note to being a good, but not great, anime. I understand that the masses are unable or unwilling to find fault with such a highly-revered title, but in my opinion that's a dishonest stance. There's no denying that the second arc is poorly tacked onto the first, that the third is nothing but a bad carbon copy, and that the thrill level wildly oscillates between high-octane and boredom; so why is Death Note constantly referred to as the best thing on the planet?

To each their own I suppose, I just know that Death Note - even without the hype - was a big time disappointment for me. I wish the creators had done the humane thing by euthanizing it sooner, rather than insulting the viewers' intelligence with endless, overdone 'intellectual analyzing.'

Important note: feel free to respond with your own feelings about the series, but given how volitile I know this review will be I need to remind each reader to keep this thread in mind. Personal attacks on any reviews or reviewers (rather than one's own opinion of the anime) will be removed, and may result in the removal of commenting ability.

Anime Info

Have you ever felt like the world would be a better place if certain people weren’t around? Such grim daydreams might occur when watching the dismal daily news, but on one fateful day, Light Yagami finds that these daydreams can become reality. By pure happenstance, he comes across a black notebook entitled "Death Note", whose text within states that whoever's name is written on its pages will die. With the aid of the death god Ryuk, Light takes it upon himself to rid the world of its corruption, ushering in a new era of purity one death at a time. But as Ryuk foretells, Light's actions will not go unchallenged...


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About the Author

sothis's avatar

sothis

My fav genres include sci fi and horror, but you'll find a lot of obscure reviews from me too, given I watch a ton to add to the database. My new reviews are written a lot better than my old ones, so when in doubt, sort by date! ^_^ Enjoy, and I welcome any and all feedback.

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comments

Skygryphon avatar Skygryphon
Oct 1, 2011

Excellent review; you hit the nail on the head. I absolutely loved the first arc, but once the second arc took over I began to lose interest. By the time the third arc came rolling around I simply couldn't take anymore and stopped watching. Even my brother (who is obsessed with Death Note and owns tons upon tons of Death Note merchandise) despises the third arc with a passion and pretends it doesn't exist. It's really quite sad, considering how great this show could have been. That being said, I will say the manga is much better--Light is portrayed in a more equal light (as opposed to the anime where he's written off as a villian from the start). That being said, the manga still falls to pieces later on, but at least it holds out longer than the anime. Either way, I'd recommend just watching the first arc and dropping it afterward. You won't be missing out on much. If you really are in the need for a pyschological series, I'd pick up Code Geass instead.

zonkiethegreat avatar zonkiethegreat
Sep 20, 2011

I loved Death Note, and yet I agree with your review overall. I agree that the music in the second opening act is perfection,and melded perfectly with the OP animation. I also agree that the animation was lazy, with the constant still shots with a camera panning slowly as they monologue. I also hated the tons and tons of internal monologuing. However, the manga also had TONS of internal monologuing so this was expected.

However, I disagree on your assesment that L is one-dimensional, and that characters are drawn too simply. Compared to several other animes each character has a distinct look (like in FMA) and I appreciated that. I don't see where you find L to be one-dimensional, if anything Light's character is the one which lacks the most depth. I found that even Misa Amane had more depth then Light. Light is portrayed as almost pure diabolical evil throughout, without a hint of mercy. I never quite understood that, as most protagonists should have a little more to them. I mean hey, L. is still the #1 most loved character on this site. There must have been something to his character that people got attached to. Overrated or not, its a fact.

I also agree with you on the last arc. They really should have quit while they were ahead.

 

 

 

Pyrie avatar Pyrie
Sep 9, 2011

I have to agree with this >_>

Even though I own A LOT of Death Note merchandise and I have rated Death Note five stars, I never liked the story line. It's only a couple of characters I watched it and that I kind of enjoyed watching this series.... and then~t

Of course, kill of the most popular character :/ It could've been my imagination but I think they first wanted to end it after L died but they decided to continue and Tsugumi Ohba wanted to make Mello the one who defeated Light but they changed their minds afterwards and made Near win or somehting like that.... I don't remember (Hell if Mello won I'd rate this anime 10 stars)

The introduction of Mikami and Takada were really unnecessary in my opinion. And If you don't like my oppinion, go die and burn in hell <3

sothis avatar sothis
Aug 19, 2011

Just sayin, you've seen an entire 14 anime ever. Might be a good idea to branch out before judging others for their opinions ;)

Osiummaster avatar Osiummaster
Aug 18, 2011

Hell, you must be crazy.

Death note is the best anime I EVER watched.

If you cannot see that death note is like the only anime out there without filler episodes that do not relevate to the story, and that is has such an amazing progressing rate, i mean, in one episode of death note there happens so much, Naruto could make 50 episodes out of one episode of info.

L is supposed to be a very misterious character, you can see that by his way of doing things and his actions, The way L handles things is amazing, I'd call it all out offensive.

Saying that Ryuuk didn't add much isn't a surprise. Ryuuk said in the beginning he was only there to watch light, so you didn't have to expect him for a lot.

Misa is in love because he killed the murderer of her parents and light does ofcourse manage to hold onto her because he is a master of the human mind. As for Lights father, I do not think that you could not bare his emotions, I mean, Light hasn't been proven to be Kira, so ofcourse he wouldn't suspect his own son.

I do agree that after the huge time jump, the story got way worse. Though I see that not as part of the story anymore, For me death note ended after the second arc, but still, I do not manage to understand how you could dislike arc one and two...

 

As an enourmous mainstream deathnote fanboy let me say it as we people do:

Your review sucks

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