Absolutely Classic: Death Note
(Before I start this article off properly, I would like to clarify something important that may make your reading experience differ based on which of these you watched: I, as a personal choice, do not watch Dubbed anime almost ever. Excluding Studio Ghibli works, which I still watch Subbed given that I have the DVD, almost exclusively watch Subbed anime. This is not some elitist statement I'm making, I would just like to clarify that so you know what you're dealing with when reading this article).
Spoilers: I WILL be discussing critical plot-points that WILL ruin the experience for you if you have not watched this show before. PLEASE understand that you can read this, but if you haven't seen the show already, besides the mountains of critical acclaim it's gotten, this is another reason why you should before reading this article. Thank you.
Anime started for me, unlike a lot of people who really developed a love for it as a kid, in High-School. When I was fourteen, like a lot of my fellow Gen-Y'ers, I was an emotional wreck most of the time, deprived of the attention I wanted, probably didn't need and the stability that I assume, every teenager wants. This is really where my anime journey began. As a person who is not partial to labeling myself as a finite sexuality, I delved into various romance related anime of the time, some straight, some not, mostly popular shows including but not limited to Ah! My Goddess, Love Hina and probably my personal favorite, Gravitation. Looking back on these shows, I can imagine they're pretty terrible. I mean, as a teenager you are hardly the king of educated opinions and to be perfectly honest, a lot of the time you are just looking to somehow unleash your hormonal energy on something, whether you watch media to get it out, play sports, whatever, I feel like teenage-hood is a very emotionally-potent time, a time that you will never get back, nor do you, for the most part, want back.
As adulthood took its toll more and more, critical analysis became more and more apparent in what I listened to, watched, played and read, never had this been more apparent than in anime. No longer was second-rate romance going to cut it... but then, neither was anime for a portion of my life. I just wasn't watching it. Then I decided, circa twenty-eleven that I need to get back on the anime band wagon, I needed to develop a further knowledge of the genre, beyond the simplicity of my romance-anime days and dig into some of the best that it had to offer. Now, the most interesting of these anime's (Found through Top-Ten lists with no real knowledge of their stories before watching) was Death Note, a show that I really started watching purely through aesthetic, I didn't have any knowledge of its story-line, nor did I have any knowledge of its genre. Looking back on that year, I don't think I could have picked a better show as it stands as a shining example of the artistic medium and I would debate, media in general.
Death Note follows the story of Yagami Light, an A-Grade Student who finds himself bored with life and the people around him. One day he notices a Notebook hit the ground outside, seemingly out of no-where as he observes from the class window. After class, when he gets outside, he lethargically picks up the notebook out of blind-curiosity and discovers that it is a Death-Note, a notebook that was lost by one Shinigami called Ryuk, after touching the notebook and Ryuk starts hunting it down, Light finds out that whoever touches the notebook belonging to that certain Shinigami can see him/her. Light decides within a rather short space of time (after tampering with the notebook, trying to find out whether it really works) that he is to rid the world of the vermin and evil that it has become and leave only the righteous. Only this leaves amazingly intricate moral dilemma's and puzzles for the people of the city including pedestrians, the police force and maybe even more importantly, outside of the show, the viewer(s).
The graphical presentation of the show is a rather somber, bleak under-saturation. Most of what you will see is a black, gray, shadow'y aesthetic which really sets the mood of the show. But it isn't just the animation in which the show artistically represents itself, the music goes along perfectly with it. The music throughout most of the show is this moderate tempo, creepy vibe that is only practically perfected because of the very thin layers that they use. Most of the time you could quite easily hear every instrument and every layer of the music perfectly. The only time where this may not be possible is what I like to call Death Note's “Bat-Shit Crazy Music”. This happens every now and then, it is usually when Light is making a statement about the world, the people in it or L (usually at the end of the episode) and probably the most it is used, the opening for every episode, where they explain what happened in the previous. It is the black-sheep of the soundtrack, (although used quite frequently) but it works surprisingly effectively and it does represent a portion of what Death Note is: Over-exaggeration. This show is just over-the-top camp sometimes, the best example is where the camera will do a three-take on one scene just to make sure you understand the seriousness of the situation. Of course another example is just the way Light acts sometimes.
The voice acting for the show has pretty much been described already, bleak in a sense and over-exaggerated every now and then. The voice acting (in the Japanese version, mind) for the two main characters, Yagami Light (Mamoru Miyano) and L (Kappei Yamaguchi) are great, they play their parts with great effect and the personalities of these animated characters shine through because of it. Although I generally watch the Japanese Sub, I have watched the English dub on my DVD's and I can honestly say that for me, the voice acting is a mixed bag. The English voice-actor for L (Alessandro Juliani) is fantastic, his incredibly detailed way of using monotone is a feat in itself, but just how incredible the synthesis of his voice and the animation is... is pretty much something new in itself (Voice actor for English L would go on to win awards for best Voice Acting) and I would debate (although it's a tough one) that the English voice-actor for L is better than his Japanese counterpart. With Yagami (voiced by Brad Swaile), even though the voice acting isn't technically bad, I always felt like he maybe played up the over-exaggeration a little too much, I dunno.
Now I think something of note that has to be discussed is the the twist nearer to the end of the show. With everyone, there's always a different opinion on the death of L and I guess I might actually be in the minority on this one. I agree with this: Neither of the two investigators that come after L have the anti-charisma, personality of quirk to match him, however, I actually really enjoy that the writer decided “Hey, here's an idea, I'm going to kill of one of the most crucial, if not the most crucial, characters that this show has had simply by virtue of the fact that Light was smarter at the end of the day, whether he actually was the more intelligent person or L just messed up for one period in time, Light won”. I think this is such an intriguing idea, does it match up with how these characters would work? Yeah, I think so personally. Light and L were always playing a game of “Who messes up first?” and it was only a matter of time until one or the other did. I think Light and L are very much the same in many ways, it is just a shame that in this life, they were fighting for different causes.
I don't think anything about Death Note's acclaim, whether it be commercially or critically, had to do with luck. Death Note was a concept that was deemed for success as soon as it was written. With a story so incredibly intricate in each characters execution, the intelligence that has to come along with writing something of this caliber, something so detailed and the characterization of Light and L, it reminds me that no matter how good you think you are at your craft, someone is always going to be better than you. On that note, no matter how good of an anime you think you have made, the odds are, Death Note is better than you. Death Note, you are Absolutely Classic.