Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Based on the manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note is an anime series that explores what happens when this power of the gods ends up in the hands of the human. It leaves no stone unturned. At times, Death Note is fantasy horror, morality tale, police procedural, coming of age saga, family drama, teen romance, and an examination of the nature of power and corruption, with a few dashes of whimsical and dark humor thrown in for good measure.
Death Note centers on Light Yagami, a bright high school student in Japan who comes across a "Death Note," a notebook from the world of the Shinigami, the Gods of Death. Anyone whose name is written in the notebook will die, and after trying the notebook out and meeting its original owner, a Loki-like Shinigami named Ryuk who dropped the notebook into the human mostly out of boredom, Light decides he will cleanse the world of evil by eliminating those he deems morally unfit to live.
Fantasy movies, especially ones involving devices, often lay a groundwork of rules for how the device or scenario must work, and observant viewers can tear a movie apart if it violates the rules it establishes or derail it by raising hypothetical questions the story never addresses. For example, in Gremlins, when does the after-midnight rule stop taking effect? Aren't we always after the previous midnight?.
Death Note is the most thorough, stringent, and observant follower of its own rules I've ever seen in a work of fiction. The series goes to great lengths spelling out what can and cannot be done with the notebook and dramatizing it through Light's experiments. The notebook itself contains rules and Ryuk, when he feels like it, will offer some explanation, but he admits even he doesn't know the full nature of the book. The early part of the series is built on Light figuring out just what this notebook is capable of.
When the world becomes aware of Kira and L. begins his investigation, the series becomes centered on the battle between Light and L. It isn't long before L. suspects Light, and he tells him to his face and brings him on board the investigating team. L. works to provoke Light and gauge his reactions to his hypotheses, ideas, and plans while Light works to cover his tracks and learn L.'s real name so he can eliminate him, although if he takes him out at the wrong time, he'll be exposed. Each player is working to stay three steps ahead of the other.
There are other characters, and the series, to its credit, gives time to them and their stories without losing track of the main plot. Light's father becomes torn between duty and family, especially when it really looks like Light is Kira; Matsuda, a young detective on the team, is regarded as a bit of a nuisance by the others and becomes to determined to be useful; and Aizawa, another detective, wavers on his choice between doing what he thinks is right - staying on the case - and protecting his family -when the Japanese police force stops supporting the team financially.
Things get even more complicated when another Death Note turns up in the hands of Misa, a model who idolizes Kira and falls in love with him from afar. She's guided by Rem, another Shinigami with more of a moral code than Ryuk; she wants to protect Misa.
Death Note is an imaginative and thoughtful series, exploring the nature of life and death with right and wrong. The visuals are strong, and the plot is layered and full of twists and surprises. It covers a lot of ground but rarely loses focus.