Death Note: The Complete Series DVD Review
I can say without hesitation that Death Note (created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata) is unlike any anime I have ever seen. This thought-provoking series shines a light on questions of morality, and the dark corners that reside inside our souls. If you had the power to change the world for the better by eliminating all of the criminals and evil corporate entities from the earth, would you do it? What consequences would come of this? Would the threat of divine justice ward off would-be evildoers from straying to the dark side? And what would become of this person playing judge, jury and executioner? As they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. If this premise sounds intriguing to you, it’s worth checking out Viz Media’s Death Note: The Complete Series DVD collection, which contains all 37 episodes and over three hours of supplemental material across 10 discs.
At the outset of the series, we’re introduced to Light Yagami, a 17-year-old student with a bright future ahead of him. Though Light has a genius-level intellect, he feels bored and unmotivated in his current situation. One day while daydreaming and staring out the window during class, a black notebook seemingly falls from the heavens. Intrigued by this development, Light feels obligated to see what it is. Scrawled across its cover are the words “Death Note”, with a list of instructions inside. Chiefly among them: “The human whose name is written in this note shall die.” Surely it must be a prank, Light thinks to himself.
Soon, however, curiosity takes hold of Light’s mind. As he watches a hostage situation taking place on the news, he decides to test out the Death Note. According to the rules, the owner of the Death Note must have the person’s face in mind while writing their name in the book, and they will die of a heart attack in the next 40 seconds if no cause of death is specified. Light writes the name of the hostage taker on the first page of the notebook, and waits. Just as he convinces himself that the book is a joke, and reaches for the remote to turn off the television, the news reporters exclaim that the criminal has just collapsed from what looked like a heart attack. Now Light is convinced that he must have been chosen by some divine power to bring justice to the world, by punishing those who he deems unworthy to continue living.
Light begins rapidly crossing off names from his evil checklist, wiping out entire crime syndicates and corrupt organizations overnight. The news goes crazy with reports of all the world’s criminals suddenly dying by heart attack, and Light smiles to himself, knowing that there is no chance of his murderous plot being discovered from the confines of his bedroom. That is, until a brilliant detective known only as L discovers, through a carefully executed plan, what country the killer is located in as well as some incriminating details regarding his identity. Still, Light is undeterred, and welcomes what he sees as a challenge from a lesser mind. Surely Light, or “Kira” as the United Nations and local law enforcement begin calling him, can outsmart L when there is no physical evidence to tie him to the murders. Or can he? From here, Death Note becomes a very interesting game of cat and mouse, with Kira attempting to discover L’s true identity and kill him before he’s able to solve this riddle.
Most of Death Note’s 37-episode run time is dominated by the engaging battle of wits between Light and L. As the series continues it becomes more of a nail-biting thriller, with a race against the clock on both sides as the arrogant Light begins to think of himself as the new god of his world. It’s revealed that Light’s father is a police chief, which becomes a fascinating wrinkle in the plot as it gives Kira access to the names and faces of the world’s most vile and wicked; at the same time, however, L quickly realizes that Kira must have some sort of connection to the police task force to know this information. Soon Light begins using the Death Note for his own personal gain, scratching off names of government officials who are hot on his trail instead of focusing on bringing justice to criminals. Its around this point that viewers will likely begin to feel morally conflicted about who to root for. Should criminals be prosecuted through the confines of the law, or is the Death Note the only path to true peace?
Around episode 25 of Death Note, viewers will very likely be split on choices made by the writers. The intriguing back-and-forth between Kira and L is pushed aside to make room for a new character named Near, who many will likely see as nothing more than a pale imitation of L. The final 10 or so episodes, unfortunately, don’t quite live up to the stellar opening 2/3 of the series. That said, it’s only disappointing because the bar was set so high by the previous episodes. Up to the very end, Death Note is among the absolute best, most though-provoking series that anime has to offer. And the final episode is indeed a satisfying conclusion, with no cop out or ending open to interpretation. There is a clear winner in this battle, which I appreciated. As a side note, I really enjoyed Light’s interactions with his death god, or Shinigami, Ryuk. Their scenes together often provided not only some much needed levity to the proceedings, but also some insight as to Light’s internal thought processes and motivations.
While some might say that Death Note dropped the ball on the final episodes, there’s no question that this is a must-watch anime for any fan of the genre. The characters, dialogue, and voice acting are all top-quality, which kept me invested in the story until the very end. For fans who have already seen the entire series, Death Note: The Complete Series packs a large selection of special features including commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes with both the English voice dub team and Japanese crew, production artwork, and trailers. I highly recommend this set to anyone who enjoys a good crime drama.