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Death Note: Complete Series
From Viz Media comes yet another printing of the fan favorite series in a much more affordable, yet less appealing packaging, Death Note, a 37 episode anime series that raises the question that if you had the power of a god, what would you do with it? Would you use your newfound power for good? For Justice? Or would you use it for evil and punish those you feel deserve it??
At the start of our story, we're introduced to Light Yagami (voiced by Brad Swaile), a quiet genius who aspires to do something great with his life though feels like he's stuck in a boring rut. He finds the goings of the everyday person middling and doesn't find school challenging, always ranking the top exam scores in the nation. One day while sitting in class he spots out of the corner of his eye something falling from the sky. As soon as class lets out he runs to the object and finds a notebook titled the "Death Note." Piquing his curiosity, Light begins to flips through the pages, and scribbled into the pages are various ways to use the Death Note...
1. The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
2. This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person's face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
3. If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person's name, it will happen.
4. If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
5. After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
Another stipulation of the Death Note is "The Owner of this note can recognize the image and voice of the original owner I.E. the God of Death" With that, we meet Ryuk, a Shinigami (a soul reaper), and the original owner of this particular note. Ryuk explains to Light the various rules of the note, that he is to stick with him and that he'll be the one to eventually take his life when Light's time comes.
Light curiosity is once again piqued, thinking this is nothing but a joke and that he's deluded himself into believing it, so to debunk this, he decides to give it a try. During an intense hostage situation at a day care center that is being broadcasted live, Light writes down the name of the hostage taker and waits... After the allotted time had passed the hostages begin scrambling out, the man who was holding them hostage had suddenly died. With that, Light convinces himself that he has been chosen for a higher purpose, to bring peace to the world by ridding of it of its evil.
As he begins his crusade against evil by killing nearly every inmate that is currently incarcerated all over the world, he finds out through his police chief father that "Kira", the name given to him by the people of Japan, is being investigated by the governing forces of Japan and the UN. Knowing he's untouchable executing people from the confines of his bedroom, he continues his vision of his new world, that is, until the task force that is leading the charge against Kira aka Light, led by Light's father, bring out their trump card, "L" (voiced by Alessandro Juliani), a world famous detective who has solved every single case he's ever worked on. After a clever plan is executed perfectly, L, within mere seconds is able to deduce what region of the country Kira is located, what kind of person he is and that he has a power that allows him to kill in the shadows. Light realizes he's in legitimate danger of being discovered but through his sheer arrogance, welcomes the challenge. It's a race against the clock. The walls are closing in, and Light must find out the secret identity of L before L himself finds out he is Kira.
While Light vs L dominates the majority of the 37 episode run time, Throughout the series there are various intriguing subplots including; A lone FBI agent from the US that begins to tail Light; A second "Kira" emerging into the spotlight, confusing both L and Light; Misa, a famous model who idolizes Kira; and the worst part of the series, which I'll tackle in the next paragraph, Near.
Now to get something off of my chest which is probably going to be a bit biased, despite as a reviewer having to be objective when looking at a show, but this absolutely infuriated me. Around episode 25 there is a radical shift in the show, we're introduced to a new character named Near, L's prodigy that decides to help out with the investigation, taking the focus off of L and pushing his character to the side. Giving this punk the focus was the absolute biggest mistake this show could have possibly made. The back and forth chess game between Light and L was simply one of the most compelling things I've ever seen in anime, hell on TV PERIOD! but then to have the writers say "Hey! Lets scrap one of the best storylines in anime history for the sake of shock value, just so we can bring in an emo kid who doesn't talk to anyone but himself to be Light's true adversary" is just damned downright insulting. I can only assume after coming up with this gem of a 3rd act twist that said writers preceded to high five each other knowing full well they screwed the fans. That's honestly what watching the final 10 episodes of this show felt like.
+ Excellent English dub, the standouts being Brad Swaile and Brian Drummond, both of whom I feel deliver their best work to date. The other standout is Alessandro Juliani, who I've never heard in an anime before but nails the role of L perfectly.
+ One of the most thought provoking anime ever made.
+ The first 25 or so episodes are some of the best anime I've ever watched.
+ The cat and mouse game between Light and L is compelling.
+ The series soundtrack is stellar.
- I know he has his fans, but Near and his entire plotline to me never hit the heights of the rivalry between Light and L. When he's introduced, the series takes a nosedive, dropping from a full 5 star anime to barely 4.
- Misa gets annoying pretty quickly.
Video and Audio
Death Note's animation quality is great. The series is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The artwork is intentionally designed to fit the darker mood and it works excellently with the series. The majority of Death Note use the darker palette, but when it does utilize its full color spectrum, the series can be quite vibrant.
Death Note comes with 2 different language tracks, the first is the original Japanese audio track and the second is an English dub, both presented with a 2.0 stereo mix. The audio and dialogue is clear and crisp throughout, the dub and sub tracks are wonderful, and the soundtrack is excellent, matching the moody series perfectly.
Death Note could have been one of the best anime on the market, it had all of the ingredients to be an amazing show... it had a compelling protagonist/antagonist, a terrific and unique storyline, breathtaking visuals, however the final 10 or so episodes sent every bit of momentum it had built up straight down the toilet. Though based on how incredibly strong the first 25 episodes and the finale are, which are honestly some of the best anime you can possibly watch, Death Note comes highly recommended.