Ever since the manga came out in 2003 Death Note has been making strong impressions with otaku all over the world. In 2006 when the animated version came out, well, I suppose if you're reading this review and you're familiar with anime then you already know how well-received it was. That's not really surprising in all honesty. Death Note is one of the most unique and memorable anime to come along in the last decade and it has easily become one of VIZ's most popular licenses next to Naruto.
For a while now my fellow anime reviewer, John Sinnott, has been tackling the individual volumes of the series. After reading his reviews and hearing all about just how good Death Note is when I heard VIZ was releasing a boxed set with the first 20 episodes I absolutely had to bite. It's worth noting that if you pick up this set then there are only 17 episodes left after this. It isn't exactly the first half per se, but it contains enough of a chunk of the show to please any fan or newcomer.
Before we get started talking about Death Note's characters and plot it's worth discussing some background for the concept and delving into what exactly a "death note" is. Basically in the world this show takes place, which is more or less present day, there is an afterlife where gods rule and souls go when they die. In this place beings known as shinigami, or death gods, reside and kill off humans for sport. Each god has something known as a death note which is a tome they write the names of people they want to kill in. There are many interesting rules surrounding these death notes and the show explores them through the eyes of Light Yagami.
Considering he's a teenage super genius Light is bored with life. His father is a respected police officer and partly due to that sense of justice in the household Light has a strong distaste for criminals and corruption. Boredom and a strong sense of right and wrong are a dangerous combination when the boy genius comes into contact with a death note left behind by the god Ryuk, who was bored himself and looking for some entertainment.
Almost immediately Light puts the notebook to use and tests its powers out on a lightweight criminal he hears about on the news. He sees the perpetrator's face and writes down his name which leads to the crook having a heart attack. Quickly Light realizes the potential of Ryuk's death note and starts putting it to good use. Anyone he sees on TV or reads about in the paper is put to death via heart attack, which is how people die unless you write in specifics surrounding their demise. Eventually Light gets creative with his executions and that's when things start to get really interesting.
Soon enough Light's head is filled with a grandiose vision of changing the world and turning it into a utopia where there is no crime. Naturally the police take notice and all around Japan agents everywhere are perplexed. Light's actions quickly earn him the name Kira, but the thing is considering he's executing people all over the country from the comfort of his own bedroom there's virtually no way he can be caught. That is, at least, until a world famous detective known as L is brought into the mix.
L brings a very interesting dynamic to the mix due to the fact that he's basically a super genius just like Light, or Kira if you will. The two play a very interesting and deadly game of cat and mouse as L realizes early on many of the limitations of Light's powers. Though he doesn't necessarily believe in the existence of shinigami or of the death note, L does suspect that whoever is perpetrating the murders possesses frightening powers. Light uses this to his advantage and attempts to get close to L through his father, which draws him closer to being caught and eventually makes him a suspect in the case.
While the show focuses primarily on Light and L's battle of wits, another death note user is introduced early on in the program. This person in question is actually a goth-lolita fashion model, name Misa, who idolizes Kira and is in infatuated with in an unhealthy way. Like Light, Misa gets involved with the investigation and soon L fully suspects her of being a Kira as well. I don't want to give too much away with regards to this, but let's just say that there are many tense moments and these really bring out the dark elements of Light's character.
From start to finish Death Note is one hell of a trip. Actually, I suppose you could say from start to just a little past half way, because this boxed set is nowhere near the end. That's a good thing really, because this is one of those shows that you simply don't want to end. It's the epitome of a guilty pleasure and even though Light is a mass murderer, you can't help but root for the guy. It really boils down to a battle between two people who will go to whatever extremes, do whatever is necessary, and let whoever stands in their way take the fall in order to see their goals come to fruition.
It's something that's thrown around every now and then, but with regards to Death Note I can honestly say I was on the edge of my seat with every episode. So many twists happen in these 20 episodes that you're never going to feel like you know how things are going to end. If you have never seen the show yet Death Note definitely deserves your hard-earned dollar. This is one of the top series on the market today and VIZ's treatment of the show has been exemplary. Consider this boxed set highly recommended.
Death Note is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The show is rather drab looking and it doesn't feature a robust palette, but what colors it does use are vibrant enough to stand out. Due to the dark, subdued nature of the program there are many moments where the series looks murky, muted, and grainy, but these don't necessarily detract from the picture quality. All around this is a strong looking show with good visuals and though there are some minor nitpicky flaws that crop up from time to time they don't detract from the look of the series.
Considering Death Note is a dialogue driven series it's really no surprise that the only audio presentation comes in the form of 2.0 stereo output. For both language tracks, English and Japanese (obviously), the quality of the presence on the soundstage is very good with some fine clarity. There's nothing in terms of a sense of immersion, but then again for this show there really doesn't have to be. Thankfully the audio is clear and crisp enough with no flaws to speak of other than the somewhat limited presentation. The dubbing quality is fine for both languages as well so thankfully there are no worries there either.
Considering the DVDs included in this boxed set are more or less the ones that have already been released individually, it's worth noting that the set includes bonus features as well. First of all it's worth noting that there are the ubiquitous clean animations, trailers, and production art galleries available across the five discs. Also included are five behind the scenes featurettes with members of the English cast. If you enjoy the dub you'll find these inclusions entertaining as well, and the same can be said regarding the included commentaries. If you're anything like me then you probably feel that English commentaries are a waste more often than not. They tend to be a narration of on screen events and the cast usually just jokes around. Unfortunately the commentary tracks here suffer from those stereotypes, but some viewers may not mind that so much.
Consider me hooked on Death Note. This boxed set by VIZ is packed with twenty amazing episodes and from the beginning to the end you'll be salivating to find out what happens next. Every episode is something different, every event seems bigger than the last, and throughout it all you'll feel guilty rooting for a mass murderer. This is a show that evokes strong emotions from its viewer and keeps you guess, which is something very few shows can actually boast about. I can't recommend the show enough!
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