[My thoughts on Death Note (anime)… with serious Spoilers (but I’m guessing that most people have watched/ read Death Note by now…)]
Death Note is one of those anime that I have watched again and again and enjoyed every single time. I don’t think I love this story, but I certainly admire everything about it – from the absurd and exaggerated actions involved in something as simple as writing a name (or eating a chip), to the evil-asshole-glint-in-the-eye that our protagonist sports from time to time.
Watching Death Note for the first time was one of the most exciting anime experiences of my life. It’s a gripping story about one man’s vendetta against crime and the irony is not lost on anyone that he is probably the biggest criminal of all time. Possessed of a supernatural murder weapon (the Death Note) Light, our clever protagonist, goes on a killing spree to rid the world of lawbreakers and install himself as the unofficial God of the universe. Altogether, it’s a very complete and well done story which doesn’t digress or lose track of anything that’s happening. It moves steadily from point to point, employing cliff-hangers, and carving out new characters to drive the plot. Almost every episode or chapter is accompanied by the thrill of seeing whether Light can outmanoeuvre his opponents and live to kill another day. It’s a dangerous game he plays, with many lives on the line.
One thing I really grew to appreciate about Death Note was Yagami Light. Light is one of the best anime characters I have ever seen (not in terms of his morals or any such virtues, of course). He’s a villainous protagonist who is so well crafted that I found myself rooting for him even though he is an evil serial killer. His character development is seamless, and intricately tied to the plot. Light’s degeneration from an idealist to a deranged murderer is so naturally done that it may not hit the audience until much later. I can recall that the first time I watched this show, I only truly realised how far Light had fallen when at the end, he was faced with an illusion of his teenage self (from before he became the killer) while fleeing from facing the consequences of his actions.
Light’s life is as much a tragedy as those he has taken, because in the brief period of time in the story when he had forgotten the Death Note, it’s made clear that he has the capacity to be a very decent human being. If only he had not found such power, perhaps he would have done some good for the world. His character is a testament to how power corrupts. I think part of what made Light so convincing as a character was the voice acting. Mamoru Miyano did a spectacular job with this mass murderer, right down to the maniacal laughter at the end (I absolutely adore the laughter). I hate Yagami Light, but he is such a fantastic character that I love him as well. I suppose Light complicates everything.
While Death Note never got boring at any point, I did find the first half of the show far more enjoyable than the second half, and the reason is quite patent – the ‘antagonist’ L.
L is crucial to the success of Death Note. He functions as the perfect foil for Light, and at the same time, they are so very similar. It’s an unusual and fascinating dynamic that was well-executed, and the conflict that emerged from it was intense and thrilling. I’ve rarely felt simultaneously disappointed and excited, but L’s death managed to do that to me. It was disappointing because that meant the end of their conflict – let’s face it, L managed to grate on Light’s nerves at a level that no one else did. Losing L was a blow because the rival was dead and the match was over. Post L, Death Note felt rather hollow – like it had lost its spirit and was just being carried forward by the inertia of the narrative.
But L’s death also got me excited because it meant that Light won their match. It was such a satisfying victory too, with L spending the final moments of his life in the arms of the killer he had failed to outwit. The comprehension in L’s eyes as he died and the smirk in Light’s as he watched his rival die were so well done. It was a moment that seemed to stretch on for a long while, building up the anticipation to what Light would do next, now that he was finally free of his enemy.
Watching Death Note made me think about what I would have done if I had found such power. I always say that I wouldn’t have used it, or even believed in it. I would have put it back or buried it. Perhaps it’s human nature to think that we are better than we are. Light certainly thought so.
Death Note tells an interesting story while commenting not so subtly on human nature and ego. It’s a warning as well that power is a terrible thing with the potential to twist us into the monsters we fear and loathe. It’s certainly worth watching a few times, at least.
If you have watched/ read Death Note and have any thoughts to share, feel free to leave them here.