Updated: Aug 10, 2021
Death Note is a psychological thriller anime that branches into supernatural elements as well. It is a 37 episode long thought-provoking show with remarkable characters, unusual themes, witty storytelling, and unforeseen twists that are bound to keep you engaged.
The series follows high school student Light Yagami, who is as brilliant as he is bored. Almost miraculously, a Shinigami (Japanese gods of death) happens to drop his notebook (i.e. the tool for taking lives) outside Light’s classroom. Light manages to get a hold of this ‘Death Note’, whose instructions state that if the owner writes someone's name down on its pages with the person’s face in mind, that person will die. After testing out the Death Note and confirming its power, Light decides to be the beacon of justice and rid the world of whoever he considers evil. He begins a campaign to kill off the world’s criminals and anyone who stands in his way. Inevitably, the unnatural number of deaths of criminals catches the attention of Interpol who takes the help of an eccentric but equally brilliant detective who calls himself ‘L’ to find the culprit. Both men go head-to-head in a cat and mouse game to prevent each other from accomplishing their goals.
Death note is unique in its storytelling and asks questions about the perception of justice and morality. The art style is quite dark and can almost feel suffocating. It also has little to no dynamic action. But it works well for the mature and heavy subjects it deals with. There is a lot more emphasis on dialogue and suspense than adrenaline-pumping scenes. While lots of shows portray ‘genius’ characters that are often disappointing in terms of their actual cunning, you will be perfectly satisfied with the charismatic and casually psychotic character of Yagami Light and the bizarre, reclusive character of L. The show is not afraid to take drastic turns in its story-it has merciless plot twists that are often polarising in their outcomes (some of the choices made in the story can be a hit or a miss).
Where Death Note is most successful is in creating one of the most intriguing protagonists ever. Yagami Light is essentially an antihero. He is narcissistic, ruthless, deceptive, and megalomaniacal with a huge god-complex and virtually no empathy. But he is also misguided. One might argue that the power of the Death Note corrupted him, or that his initial intentions were of making the world a better place. And who couldn’t sympathize with that? Although the way he went about it was definitely awful. You can never fully root for him, but it is fascinating to watch his journey and how it shapes him.
I personally appreciate how the series ended as it portrays the inevitability of death and reinforces the idea that no human should have the power to pass judgment on another or have the ability to play God. Light had become a monster by the end drowning in obsession and mania. He didn’t care about justice anymore; he just wanted to become a God and outsmart and kill the people against him no matter what stood in his way.
I also think that in terms of the mystery elements of the show, the last third of the series wasn’t as good as Near was not able to fill L’s shoes. He wasn’t nearly as complex and compelling a character and seemed to arrive at solutions almost instantaneously. The final parts lacked the thoughtful detective reasoning that made me go “Wow, that was brilliant!” with L’s character in the beginning. The final arc seems more about the destination than the journey, which could have been avoided and left a more satisfying ending had it been different. In fact, Mello was by far a more interesting and memorable addition to the cast. Although, it is also important to consider how L was arguably the most likable character in the show, so his absence was felt a lot more.
The last third of the series is not as good as the first due to some of the characters not making an appearance, and depending on whether or not you like Light, you could end up getting disappointed with the end.
Finally, I think that Death Note could have done with a shorter run time as some parts feel extremely stretched out; the series could have been at least 5 episodes shorter. I would have personally liked to have seen more independent and strong female characters, as the women in this anime had a lot of potential but were relegated to being unimportant or inconsequential in their power.
While Death Note has valid criticisms, it will most definitely leave a deep impression on viewing whether you loved it or not. I would also highly recommend not watching the live-action and watch the anime instead. Anyone who loves suspense, rivalries with high stakes, and morally ambiguous characters should surely give this anime a try. The concept is extremely compelling and absolutely deserves a watch.
Check out the trailer to Death Note below,
-By Annapoorna Narayan