We always have this inkling feeling that we can change human nature for the better. That change would be to wipe off all scum and villainy off the face of the earth to ensure that we can protect the ones we love and make the world a better place. Idealistic angst plays a role into it, which fits perfectly with Death Note’s theme. The theme can be characterized in a famous Nietzsche quote: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
The quote signifies the theme in such a way that characterizes the plot involving our protagonist, Light Yagami, who stumbles upon a notebook that is able to kill people by writing their names. At first, he uses it for justice to kill every criminal he sees on the News from their faces, at least what he believes to be justice in his eyes. Then we realize that with his fantastical power, he clearly develops a holier-than-thou attitude and descends into pure madness. That, giving context to the plot, makes Death Note a fascinating character study to behold.
When we first get introduced to Light and the plot in general, we don’t necessarily know how we are supposed to view his intentions at a moral level. The writing does a splendid job of not portraying Light in a glorified stature to his heinous acts. It pieces all of the psychological aspects to his character in a way that makes him a very hateful person, but it feels fitting to how he portrays himself to the audience. Delving into how he manipulates people to do his very bidding gives him an anti-hero status from the halfway point and we see him from a very different angle than before. How it paces this growth in each episode is very subtle but poignant when it reaches the climax and gives it a nice spark of genius to it.
The plot, while not the greatest plot there is, has some nice meat to its subject matter. Its only sufferings are how it skews over insightful commentary into the theme it presents and instead devolves into more extravagant drama. I wouldn’t call it out if the show didn’t bother to actually hint at doing one. The constant narration over Light seems to imply that it wants to add a message to its philosophy, but it doesn’t seem to explain itself any further than derivative narration. This in turn makes it seem like mere preaching than actually trying to convey a message in any meaningful way.
So, with that flaw on point, what does save it is the amount of tension it brings in the dramatic moments in sufficient depth. Direction and writing serve this case nicely where, yes, even a scene of a guy eating a potato chip and him having a monologue about it still makes you sit on the edge of your seat. Death Note essentially comes across as a hard boiled police story with elements of mystery to it. The only difference is that you know who the killer is in plain sight, which adds to a slight problem to the story: it kills the mysterious aspect. It would prove more fruitful on Death Note’s part to have L be the main protagonist and we not know who Kira is specifically and we could then follow Light’s criminal methods later on to add a rich narrative. All that we have here is a simple drama piece with really halfhearted attempts at being a mystery.
L and Light prove to be a welcoming duo near the middle portion of Death Note, whether they are secretly clashing with each other or working together to stop “Kira.” Both are gifted with great intelligence and charisma to their characters that don’t seem like such a bore to experience in either drama or comedy. However, there is the issue of the typical “main protagonists are amazing but the rest pale in comparison” syndrome in Death Note. One character even started off pretty good until she eventually devolved into pure nothingness during the later half of the series, and that is Misa. She’s the antithesis of a character who has a pretty significant tragic edge to her archetype but it seemed as the writers didn’t give her the time of day to really shine and just become another pointless side character.
Others that fall in the supporting cast are really hit or miss. With the exception of Near, who is basically L 2.0 but hey I’m not complaining, I couldn’t really find any connection with any of them. They can all be summed up as having a problem with the lack of having a unique identity and no development to them. And I’m not specifically talking about the typical person in the police force. Yello and Mikami in particular have pretty significant roles in the story but they aren’t given enough depth for me to earn my interest. Nevertheless, some of the people in the police force do have more to offer in terms of actual presence. Light’s father, Soichiro Yagami, does have some nice-needed depth to facilitate the police-side of the issue of things.
With the dark overtones in the colors washed in the background and foreground, the art compliments the tone with supreme efficiency. What is also fitting is the fact that it does not overshadow it to the point where its hard to tell what is going on. Having a grand scope to its animation is pretty astounding with the advents of the fantasy aspect to Death Note in conjunction with the real world.
Everyone has either seen Death Note or at least heard of it. Does it deserve to be called the best anime of all time because of this? Absolutely not. It is most certainly good in its own right in many aspects. An intense and gripping drama are two things that define Death Note and that can be enough to warrant one viewing. Just don’t buy into all the hype that it has gotten, not even a little.