I’ve said this a few times on twitter, but Death Note and I have a history. A very small one compared to my one like Soul Eater, but a history non-the less. I remember when it was airing on toonami forever ago. I also remember that I watched the first episode and decided not to watch it anymore of it. I decided that I needed to revisit it after so many years, like what I did with Soul Eater. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same kind of positive experience I had with Soul Eater. My tastes have changed, but not enough for me to get into this show as much as so many other people that I know have. The first episode of the show tells you exactly the kind of series, which is good in some ways, but negative in some others, because there are not many surprises. Kind of sad in some ways.
Death Note’s premise is incredibly simple. Well, for an anime it is. A notebook called “The Death Note” (name drop) falls from the Shinigami realm. A super intelligent high school student named Light Yagami picks it up, which means it’s his. As you can tell by the name of the note book, it kills people. Whoever’s name is written in it, dies by heart attack in forty seconds. Of course, there are more complicated rules that allow a person’s death to be extremely extravagantly plotted out. Of course, when Light Yagami picks up the notebook and starts killing people, the world takes notice. First, the internet creates their own name of the person who is killing all these people by calling him Kira. Second, the smartest detective in the world, L, starts taking an interest in the case. Thus, an interesting yet kind of thematically empty cat and mouse game starts.
Before I jump into the problems I had with the show, let’s start with some positives. Death Note has some great strengths that make it what it is. Death Note is an incredibly addicting cat and mouse sort of game, is well directed and well-paced, and the animation, art work, and music are fantastic. If you ever wondered why I watched ten episodes of this show in one day, despite not having completely positive feelings for it, it’s because this show has that “I have to see what happens next” quality to it. The cliff hangers are perfectly timed. Light Yagami, the protagonist, and L, the investigator, are at constant odds with each other trying while also making chess movies in this endless game of “haha, got you” and then the episode ends with “see how that one guy deals with this problem next”. The memes “just as planned” and “all according to Keikaku” came from Death Note.
From a character stand point, Death Note is incredibly lacking. For starters, I would say that if this anime series was a city, it would be made of only a few sky scrapers and the rest are slums. Meaning, there are only a few characters that the series focuses on or turns around while everyone else is just a pawn. Whenever the pawns are scene doing something on screen, it’s only the story requires one of the pawns to move into action. Also, the skyscrapers are incredibly dull as well. Light Yagami is just as much of a gary stu or wish fulfillment character as someone like Kirito is from Sword Art Online. He’s handsome, intelligent, is extremely popular, the ladies just fall for him, and he’s perfect. I mean, he can’t even play a simple game of Tennis without someone shouting from the crowd “OMG, is that Light Yagami the junior high tennis champion”. There is also a point where he has the most attractive and young girlfriend that he could ever get, and he didn’t even have to try. From an outsider perspective, besides wanting to kill criminals with a Death Note and wanting to create a new world, he lives as perfect of a life as one can get. Maybe that’s a commentary on something, but I doubt it. I also want to make a brief comment on sexism in this series. I know that the creators behind this series do have some issues, but I’ve seen it worse in Bakuman, their other series. In this story, everybody is treated as a pawn that can die at any moment, so it’s not as bad here. Still…
To me, Death Note isn’t very thematically interesting either. There is no gray in this series, it’s all either black or white. You can be with Light Yagami who kills people indiscriminately for the sake of his own ego or with L who wants to stop Light/Kira, because it’s wrong to kill people. That’s it, there is no middle ground. I don’t care who you are, but killing people for the sake of your own justice is incredibly wrong. It’s what dictators and other terrible authority figures say to justify why they killed so many people. The only difference here is Light Yagami has a notebook that kills whoever he wants whenever he wants however he wants. I do admit that having a villain protagonist does make the show more interesting than a lot of other shows. Witnessing evil first hand and seeing how this character might win the day was intriguing. Most other shows would have L, the sword of justice in this series, stopping a villain from killing more people. If that was what Death Note was like, it would have never stood out like it did.
Talking more about Light, I wish his descent into evil was more than two minutes. You know, something like Walter White Breaking Bad or Will Graham from Hannibal. I really that the series wouldn’t be as much of a cat and mouse game, but what kind of normal person gets used to killing people that quickly? I suppose that he was some sort of psycho path and he didn’t know it yet? Admitedly, he did say that he was bored. Most bored people don’t just start planning to change the world in their image. Then again, I haven’t had a death note drop in front of me recently. Still, after killing two people as a test, he immediately started killing more people. All that tells me is that Light Yagami is just an edge lord. He’s definitely not the first edge lord that has appeared in anime and definitely not the last. I still feel like there were some missed opportunities here. Death Note could have been something greater.
One thing that annoys me as well is how people say “this show is completely different from a shonen battle series”. To me, is it barely a step up from one. I can see how people can say “this is the first series I watched which made me consider watching something other than shonen battle stuff.” To me, this series just trades the energy attacks and randomly power ass pulls for words. The energy the show has is just the same to me. The Ass Pulls are traded with “ah ha, I already knew you would do that, so I did something in advance to prepare for it.” This something that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure does all the time and that’s a shonen battle series. The energy attacks and techniques are traded for Light Yagami tricking someone to find their true name. It gets even worse in the last third when there is no justification for why characters know things. They just do because the plot demands that they do. All of this is why I’m so shocked that so many people didn’t like the latest trailer for Netflix’s Death Note live action trailer. So many people said online “it feels like it’s going to be an action flick”, and to me, that just means they are doing Death Note right.
In the end, I know that I am being picky about Death Note. I’ve been told by many people for years that I should watch this series and I think I let the hype take over. This post has been harsh on Death Note and I freely admit that, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the experience. On a whole, I would say that Death Note is an above average series that could have been so much better with some adjustments here and there. I can see why it became popular though. Death Note definitely appeals to the teenage demographic quite a bit. What teenager didn’t want to change the world back in high school? (Well me obviously, because I decided that one episode was enough.) It just seems like a completely natural sort of thing. The aesthetic with all the goth clothes from what Misa was wearing, L’s eye makeup, and the Shinigami. Everything about it screams teenager. Still, it’s nice to see what everyone was talking about all these years ago. I don’t regret watching the whole thing, just was disappointed in a lot of ways. The intention of this post wasn’t to step on everybody else’s memories of the show, but to spell out why I didn’t have as positive of a reaction that other people did. If I did that, I’m sorry. It’s still a decent watch.