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Death Note: Re-Light, Vol. 1 - Visions of a God

VIZ // Unrated // June 23, 2009
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted July 4, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Series:
Did you know that there have been more Jimi Hendrix albums released since the musician's death than were released when he was alive?  That's because when his short life was over he still had legions of fans, so practically every demo tape, recorded concert, and jam session that happened to get preserved was released, not because they were recently discovered masterpieces, but because the record would make money. 
I started thinking about Jimi about 15 minutes into Death Note: Re-Light, Vol. 1 - Visions of a God.  Death Note was a fantastic anime series (which started out as a manga and was also turned into a pair of live action films) that had a beginning, middle, and end.  It was very good, and very successful.  But what do you do when you have a popular series that has finished?  Come up with some thing new to release, no matter how lame.  That's what this disc is, a poor man's version of the acclaimed series.  It's basically a spruced up clip show, telling the story of Light Yagami from the beginning, but this time from another character's point of view.    The problems are that it crams a whole season's worth of events into a little over 2 hours, which means A LOT is cut out, and two it's a story fans are already familiar with.
In case you haven't seen it, Death Note is the story of Light Yagami.  He is a brilliant high school student who is at the top of his class and on the practice college entrance exams he routinely places first in the nation.  One afternoon while staring out the window, he sees a notebook fall from the sky.  After class he picks it up and finds some odd instructions on the inside front cover, instructions that tell him how to kill people by simply writing their name down while picturing their face.
A few days after getting the Death Note, Light is in his room when a shinigami, (a Japanese demon,) named Ryuk appears.  Ryuk was the previous owner of the Death Note and dropped it in the human world on purpose because he was bored.  He wanted to see what would happen and is quite surprised by the results:  Light has filled up pages and pages with names.  The young man has decided that he'll craft the perfect world, one without crime.  To do that all he needs to do is let people come to the realization that all criminals will end up dying.  After all, who would rob a gas station if they knew they'd end up dead in a day or two.
With criminals in prison all over the world dropping dead of heart attacks everyday it's not long before the governing bodies, and the public who dub the mysterious killer "Kira", start to take notice.  Obviously outside of their league, the multi-national taskforce that's investigating these crimes agree to let the mysterious figure "L" takes over the investigation.  L communicates only through a laptop computer, and no one knows his real name or what he looks like.  With a razor sharp intellect, L soon starts to track Light down.
The problem is that this disc would be hard to follow if you didn't know the story already.  It zips from confrontation to confrontation only covering the highlights of the series.  It's hard to get to know any of the supporting characters; they're in this movie so briefly.  What's even worse is that the whole cat-and-mouse aspect of the first season, the battle of wits between L and Light is lost.  They cut out most of the parts where Light (and the viewers) struggle to find an answer to the latest problem he has to overcome.  In this move, like a clip show, the problem is presents and that's followed by the solution.  (They skipped the difficulties Light faced when he discovered an FBI agent following him for example.  It jumps from Ryuk telling him that he's being followed to Light employing the solution he finally arrives at.  All of the struggle in between is cut out.
There are some new sections in this movie, but only a few.  The show starts off with a framing device, another shinigami bribes Ryuk to tell him what happened the last time he was on Earth, and from there the story unfolds as it did in the series.  The new bits, clips of extra dialog and a new scene here and there, don't really add that much to the story though.   The biggest of these new sections occurs at the end.  There is a montage of scenes that take place between seasons one and two, and some exposision by Light that makes him seem a bit more psychotic than he did in the series, but that's about it.
The DVD:


This disc comes with both the original Japanese audio track as well as an English dub, both in stereo.  I alternated language tracks with every episode and found them both equally good.  The English voice actors do a good job and don't ham it up as sometimes happens.  Given the nature of the show, mainly dialog based without any big action sequences, the mix is adequate.  There's some use made of the front sound stage, but not a lot.  The voices are mostly anchored on the screen, but that's not really a problem.  A solid sounding show.  One thing I did notice is that there isn't an option for translations of the signs only.  This was a pain when watching the dubbed version since there are notes and such that move the plot forward that are never read aloud.
The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced image looks very good.  A lot of the story takes place in Light's dark room, and the image is intentionally a little soft, but this only serves to enhance the mood of the story.  The colors in the daylight scenes are bright and solid, and the wide range of grey tones are well defined.  There isn't much in the way of aliasing or banding, making this a very nice looking show.
In addition to three Japanese TV promos and some Shonen Jump ads, there's one featurette.  Death Note Rewritten with the Japanese Cast & Crew is a little over 10 minutes and has interviews with the cast and crew.  They mainly talk about what it's like to revisit these characters a year or so after they finished the TV series.  There wasn't much new in that either.  
Final Thoughts:
I loved the series Death Note, but this movie feels like it's just trying to cash in on the show's popularity.  Playing like a glorified clip show, this movie doesn't add anything to the Death Note story, nor does it retell the tale in a satisfying manner.  People who have never seen the TV show will be lost and confused, and even if they aren't they'll miss the tension of the show.  Fans that have already seen the series aren't offered anything new.  It's too bad because I was hoping this would flesh out the Death Note world but it doesn't.  Skip it.
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