Released back in 2006, Death Note is an incredible animated supernatural thriller. Although the art style and animation itself is what you’d expect from this genre and doesn’t particularly stand out, the way this 37 episode story unfolds with its many twists and turns whilst sustaining impressively rounded characters make this one heck of a series and one of the best in its respective genre.
The story, with its many twists and turns, begins with Light Yagami (voiced by Mamoru Miyano/ Brad Swaile), a cynical student at school who happens upon a mysterious book called Death Note. Claiming to kill anyone whose name is written in the book within 40 seconds, Light decides to take it upon himself to cleanse Japan of crime by killing every criminal in the country. Accompanied by a Shinigami (A supernatural entity from a shadow realm) named Ryuk (voiced by Shidô Nakamura/ Brian Drummond), Light decides to craft a new world for himself, free of crime. As the death count continues to grow and Light begins to lose his humanity to the book, an eccentric private detective called L (voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi/ Alessandro Juliani) stands up and opposes Light’s murderous rampage.
What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse as Light (now under the alias of Kira) and L slowly begin to figure out who the other is whilst maintaining their own identities in secret. It’s a great formula for the most part and as the episodes progress, Death Note subverts expectations with a few well worked plot twists that turns the entire narrative upside down. After so much plot development across a vast number of episodes, one particular episode called “Renewal” wisely acts as a recap, showing everything leading up to that moment, before plunging into the final breathtaking act of this epic anime.
Every episode feels significant and despite the predominantly dark, moody tone hanging over most of the series, Death Note still manages to alleviate this suffocating tension with some well worked bursts of humour to break up the episodes a little. It’s not overpowering either and thankfully doesn’t detract from the series but there’s just enough of it to prevent this anime falling too heavily into melodramatic tones.
The characters are ultimately what make this such an endearing series though. Light Yagami is such an interesting choice for the focal character with his cynical thoughts projected over stretches of the series. Although his motives become increasingly erratic and antagonistic the longer the series wears on, there’s still an element of understanding for his cause, despite the despicable actions he takes. L begins as an alienating figure when we’re first introduced to him but he too quickly becomes an endearing character the longer the series wears on, with his mental duels with Light fascinating to watch as their rivalry encapsulates most of the series.
The supporting cast are equally as appealing too and with a series relying so heavily on the concept of death, there’s a fair amount of major and minor players wrapped up in the Death Note that meet their demise. This maturely written series certainly tackles some very intriguing concepts around death and morality and while this runs central to the main plot line of the series, it never feels like it overpowers the overall tone of the show.
Death Note might be quite the epic watch, clocking it at 37 episodes, but the excellent characterisation and well worked plot makes the ride well worth taking. The animation and art style is generally consistent through and although there isn’t necessarily anything aesthetically outstanding that hasn’t been done elsewhere, the maturely written story full of twists and turns should be enough to keep you engrossed through to its satisfying conclusion.