Death Note

Sometimes anime can be silly, sometimes convoluted beyond belief, and sometimes creative and compelling. Death Note provides a suspenseful, unpredictable, and intense experience of mass murder, comedy, and cat and mouse.

Light Yagami is a high school senior who is utterly brilliant, utterly bored, and pretty disgusted with the world around him. Things change for him when, one day in class, he sees a notebook fall from the sky outside. Light picks up the notebook -- which has the words "Death Note" written on the cover in English -- and finds that it contains several rules: If the owner of the Death Note writes someone's name in it while picturing that person's face, that person will die. The owner of the Death Note can also specify the time and way the person dies; if that is left blank, the victim will die in 30 seconds of a heart attack.

Disbelieving the supposed powers of the Death Note at first, Light eventually tries it, writing down the name of a criminal on television -- and finds that the Death Note works! Light is soon visited by a winged, grinning god of death (technically, a shinigami) called Ryuk the Death. The Death Note belonged to Ryuk, and he dropped it on Earth due to boredom. Ryuk says he's not on anyone's side, but he'll work with Light. Ryuuku is also invisible to anyone who hasn't touched the Death Note; he also loves apples.

So, what's a bored, angry genius to do with the ultimate weapon of death? Light decides to make the world a better place by killing as many criminals as he can, taking credit for this using the pseudonym "Kira." Light wants to make a better world -- and proclaims that he will be the god of this new utopia.

Mass murders don't go unnoticed, which brings Light/Kira in opposition with his brilliant opposite: L. This famous, mysterious detective only appears at first speaking through a laptop carried by his associate. When we finally see L, he's almost the opposite of Light: L is pale, hunched over, usually barefood, always eating junk food, and completely lacking in any social graces. He's also amazingly intelligent, and soon becomes convinved that Light is Kira. Much of Death Note becomes a game between the two, as L tries to prove his suspicion that Light Yagami is the killer, while Light seeks a way to kill L without implicating himself.

There are a lot of twists and turns along the way. Light's girlfriend Amane Misa is a famous model -- with a shinigami of her own and the ability to see a person's name just by looking at them with "shinigami eyes" (obtained by sacrificing half of one's remaining life). The task force headed by L to catch Kira includes Light's father, the incompetent Matsura, and even Light. And there are several twists -- from the Death Notes being passed to others to a very surprising death -- that keep the series surprising.

Death Note has a few typical, almost stereotypical, elements of anime -- the cool, handsome, brooding antihero, the giggly untra-hot girl -- but these flaws pale compared to the impressive, tense story. This series recently wrapped up airing on U.S. television, and the end was as dramatic and satisfactory as one could hope. Death Note is an impressive animated series, one worth watching from start to finish.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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