Friday, May 3, 2013

Death Note

Death Note; animated fantasy crime thriller series, Japan, 2006; D: Tetsuro Araki, S: Mamoru Miyano, Kappei Yamaguchi, Shido Nakamura, Naoya Uchida, Noriko Hidaka
High school student Light Yagami finds a 'Death Note', a notebook that was dropped by Shinigami, the gods of death. As soon as someone's name is written in the notebook, that person will die in 40 seconds. Light uses it in order to kill hundreds of criminals, hoping to clean the world of evil. When his intentions are revealed under the pseudonym Kira, the Japanese police decides to stop him, because extrajudicial killing are illegal. One brave teenage detective, known just as L, quickly suspects Light might be Kira. After a lot of ploys, Light is able to outsmart and kill L. Years later, L's successor, Near, continues the investigation and, using a trick, manages to capture Light.

One of the most hyped anime series from the 00s, "Death Note" is one of those rare achievements that justify its reputation. It is the best Agatha Christie crime story ever made. Even though the concept may appear immoral at first (righteous teenager Light writing names of criminals in the notebook in order to kill them), the fantasy segment is just there to be a polygon for the subsequent 'cat-and-mouse' crime thriller, where Light and detective L, who is after him, try to outsmart each other. L is truly one of the greatest anime characters ever created, a seemingly ordinary, albeit eccentric teenager without any superpowers that Light has, who almost seems to have found himself in god's war, but precisely because of that it is even more unbelievable how much he can achieve to counter Light thanks only to his intelligence, which gives the anime spark and unpredictability, since you never know what kind of a clever trick L might use next. One good example is near the beginning: Light sees a man, Lind L. Tailor, presenting himself to be L on TV, who announces that he will stop Kira. Angered, Light takes the Death Note, writes Tailor's name in it and kills him live on TV. However, the viewers quickly find out this was just a bait, because Tailor was the fake L - and the voice of real L is then heard on TV, explaining that thanks to that action, he now knows that Light lives in only one particular neighborhood, because the transmission was broadcast in only that area.

The flaws are rather minimal (the bizarre sado-mazo outfits of the two Shinigami, though they are luckily only marginal characters that are replaced for real human characters; the useless character of Misa, who has a role in the story only once and is then completely unnecessary for the next 20 episodes). However, even when the story takes a questionable turn in episodes 15-16, and you just think to give up on it because the concept seems to have become far fetched (losing memory and all), even that turns out to be a colossal manoeuvre by Light that goes full circle in episodes 23-24 and returns to a purposeful whole. The story also begs some philosophical questions about the death penalty and how absolute power corrupts, i.e. how Light is a semi-antihero: on one hand, by killing criminals, he is seemingly cleansing the world of evil (a few years after Kira's actions, it is mentioned how there are no more wars in the world, and no offences because everyone is afraid to be punished, whereas even nerds warn school bullies to be nice or they will post their names on the Internet and ask Kira to punish them!), but on the other, he does not address the causes of criminal behavior, and by taking the lives of people on such a massive scale, even those of the police who were just doing their job and tried to arrest him, he inevitably became evil himself, creating a world where he would eventually kill everyone because nobody would be good enough for his criteria. Some have complained about the additional detective character of Near, but those complaints hardly take roots since he is almost equally as fascinating with his deductions as L. You can watch "Detective Conan" and similar 'who-dunnit' detective stories, but will probably never find such a juicy example of thoroughbred strategic planning, not even in "Legend of the Galactic Heroes". Unlike many other thrillers that are just a duel of two violences, "Death Note" is a duel of two intelligent minds. This is a masterful thriller, truly unique, with a finale that reaches Hitchcockian intensity of suspense and amends all previous flaws, a storyline assembled like a giant Arukone puzzle which at first seems overcomplicated, but in the end gives an overall virtuoso picture where everything is connected and has its why and because. Just like every masterpiece, it is so absorbing that once it ends, it leaves the viewers back in the "ordinary" world that seems like an empty vacuum after it.


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