A great and wonderful thing has just recently happened. I took a risk and made an attempt to get my wife to watch an anime with me. Normally, this would not work, as I’ve attempted it with Dragonball Z in the past, but to no effect. However this time I found great favor in some sort of God because my wife and I are now entrenched in the world of Death Note. Are you familiar with this anime? Well, you’re about to be, as it’s the subject of today’s Authentically Awesome Anime!
Death Note, like many anime series, is originally based off of a manga of the same name. The two follow each other fairly closely according to what I’ve been told, but we’re only talking about the anime today. My introduction to Death Note came through my good friend Other Chris, last mentioned as the culprit who tricked me into watching the first episode of GTO. This was the first anime he tried to sell me on as he had a fan-subbed original Japanese dub version of the 37 episode series. He was certain that by the end of the first minor plot arc, only two episodes, that I’d be hooked. He, as usual, was right.
The story follows around Light Yagami, a super student of a Japanese school as he goes around dishing out justice. Does this sound like every other anime? Well hold on, I’ve over-simplified everything. In the first episode he finds a notebook on the ground that says “Death Note” across the front, and upon opening it he reads a number of rules, learning that the notebook has the power to kill anyone who’s name is written in it. Pretty simple.
Everything gets tricky when Light tries it out during a hostage situation he sees on TV. Thinking it’s bogus (as most people would), he writes down the hostage-taker’s name in the notebook and waits for something to happen. Roughly 40 seconds later, the situation is over as the criminal dies suddenly of a heart attack. After a few more experiments, Light begins to systematically kill off criminals as he sees fit.
As he goes about his business, he meets Ryuk, a Shinigami (Death God). Ryuk is the actual owner of the Death Note and explains to Light that Shinigamis live very boring lives, so he dropped his Death Note in hopes that a human would do something interesting, which is happening with Light trying to rid the world of all the evils he perceives and then placing himself as the god of this new world. He absolutely believes this plan will work. And don’t forget, he’s still in high school.
While Light does his business, the “good” guy shows up in the form of L, a super detective who’s now made it his goal to track down “Kira” (the name people have given to whoever is killing criminals off). It all sounds very basic, but in execution it gets insanely complicated with variations of the rules from the Death Note and L and Light constantly trying to stay one step ahead of each other.
The way I sold the series on my wife was to say that it was very much like Dexter, the Showtime series about a serial killer who only kills who he decides are bad people. The moral ambiguity is very similar here in Death Note as it gives a pretty deep question for anyone to follow: “If you had the power to kill anyone, would you do it?” And more specifically, “Can you root for a murderer if he’s killing criminals?” It’s a topic that leads to some interesting discussions with friends, and thankfully in Death Note there are two sides well worth fighting for.
On the one hand you have Light, very proper and thought-out in his executions (literally) as he dives deeper and deeper into this twisted little reality of his, joined by the nightmarish Ryuk who just laughs along and downs apples like they’re candy. The longer we stay with Light, the more we learn about the Death Note and the closer he becomes to his goal of a “perfect” world where he judges all.
However on the other side is L, an extremely clever and quirky character who instantly becomes most Death Note fans’ favorite. He’s just strange. Whenever he’s sitting in a chair, he’s actually crouched on the balls of his feet. When he holds a cell phone he does so from the top rather than the bottom, the same when he’s holding a piece of paper. And he loves sweets.
These two go back and forth with one-upping each other, so whenever we’ve been following along and think that, for instance, L has screwed up, we discover that Light only planned for a screw up and not one step ahead where L is waiting to move a bit closer to discovering Kira’s identity. And you never know quite who to cheer on throughout the whole ordeal. You want Light to succeed and get out of every trap, but you also want L to see justice through to the end.
All of this gets heightened with a soundtrack that sets the tone perfectly with lots of Latin chanting and sick guitar riffs. L’s theme, in particular, is one of the greatest things ever to come out of Japan. Whenever L has done something extremely clever and starts piecing things together, his theme will begin playing to the inevitable monologue/montage detailing the events and how they’re playing out favorably to his plan.
For reference, here is L’s theme:
L’s theme has a special significance to me as Other Chris had been learning how to play it on guitar while I was trying again and again to get this one girl to finally go out with me. After a long night and concocting an elaborate plan, I decided to throw it all into motion and ask her out one last time. Finally, she took the bait. Things spiraled quickly from there into a real date where I knew, I had her. As soon as I told Other Chris, he rushed out of the room, grabbed his guitar, and proceeded to play L’s theme as I told him the details of my scheme.
Oh, and I married that girl about a year after that.
Death Note has become a series that I can recommend to anyone, which isn’t true about Dragonball Z whatsoever. I was just disappointed that my sister decided to get addicted to it a year after I had already gone through it with Other Chris. Thankfully though Netflix has all 37 episodes up on Instant Play, and best of all, they’re the Japanese dubs with English subtitles, the way it was meant to be watched. I promise, Death Note does not disappoint, even if you find yourself dumbfounded about half way through the series. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Do it, I command you! I am justice!