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Occasionally, our humble little shrine is blessed with endowments from other deities. Sometimes those benefactions are wonderful bundles of joy and sometimes they are the equivalent of the red and green sweater your Auntie Gin gave you last Christmas with the giant snowflake across the front.

Here, my dears, I would like to tell you of the former; a tasty little lagniappe from the clouds above San Francisco. Into our keeping fell a round disc of mystery and intrigue featuring the first four episodes of an anime series called Death Note.  

We sat down with our bowl of Orville and were sucked in from the menu page onwards. On a plain black and white background, beneath the Death Note logo the four episode titles were written in a sketchy white font: 1: Rebirth, 2: Confrontation, 3: Dealings, 4: Pursuit. They turned blood red against the stark monochromes when I made my selection. Creepy. Giving it due consideration, I decided to start with Episode 1, thereafter was I engrossed in a world of Shinigami, stationery, high school students, serial killers, secret police, and extreme delusions of grandeur.   

The down low on Death Note goes like this; boredom is a bad thing, especially if you’re a Shinigami, a God who claims life and death over us lowly humans. One such fella feels the doldrums whilst perched for eternity in the vast, ugly wastes of the underworld. We meet Ryuk, rail thin, black clad, raven-winged with yellow bug eyes; he’s like a surrealist vision of what Tommy Lee would look like had he joined Kiss instead of the Cre, and got his head squished in a printing press (- for kicks). Ryuk decides to amp up his fun quotient by tossing his little black book over into the world of the living. Said black book, simply called the Death Note, gives the one holding it the power of life and death; if someone’s name is written on a page, they will cease to be inside of 40 seconds.

The tome of godlike omnipotence falls into the hands of the fetching Light Yagami, high school student of the first brass. Light is experiencing a little ennui of his own what with crime in Japan being reported every day and his life an unending series of day school and prep school, and he reads the book with handy how-to instructions with perfectly sensible disbelief. But curiosity gets the better of him and he scribbles the name of a couple of ne’er do wells and after some evidence of a homicidal stripe is convinced that what he’s got is the real thing. Those first murders brings Ryuk back into the picture who then tags along with Light and tosses him small tidbits of information on the Death Note when it occurs to him, almost always too little too late.  

Light takes to the ownership of the book of death like a duck to water and soon sees it as his right to punish evildoers. Set up with an alter ego called Kira (- Killer, y’all), as a god to be feared and loved. With the newly protected Tokyo populace, this goes over like a ton of bricks, with local law enforcement (- of which Light’s Da is a high-ranking detective) not so much. In their frustration at someone possibly killing the criminals before they get a chance to, the police turn to a mysterious problem solver, completely anonymous and disguised but for a single letter “L”, this forensics genius has already taken a deep interest in the case and uses some extreme tactics to smoke out Kira’s location and discern his next move. Once alerted to the fact that Kira now has a stalker, Light employs his super smarts of his own to suss out L’s identity (- you need the name and the likeness of your intended murderee for the Death Note to work and Light has neither). Death Note is shoring up to be a battle of wits between these two superior intellects, each one-upping the other in their cat and mouse game. Light needs L’s name in his book before L brings Light/Kira in front of a firing squad. 

Colour me sold. I really enjoyed the first three episodes and thought they were pretty flawless, each one adding another layer of intrigue to the story. The fourth episode dragged a little bit and took the focus off the tightening bind between Light/Kira and L, but it still was engrossing because we see how Light’s power has started to corrupt him, and the lengths he will go to in order to protect his secret. We haven't learned much about L yet but I can’t wait to find out more. Light’s total embrace of godhead is compelling; his arrogance and sense of entitlement are not the stuff of a megalomaniac, but of an arrogant, pampered teenager. When told by Ryuk that he wasn’t chosen specifically to own the Death Note - that it just fell to whoever wanted to pick it up - Light has an offended hissy at the thought that he isn’t as special as he imagines, and refuses to believe Ryuk. Light doesn’t understand the reality of the consequences behind jotting down names in the Death Note to the victims or himself, because despite his astronomical IQ, he’s just a kid. His fall down the rabbit hole as he becomes more and more enmeshed in what he feels is his duty dispatching the bad guys of the world is going to be an interesting ride. 

Production wise, Death Note is brought to us by the good folks at Madhouse (- who also brought us the wonderful Paprika, CardCaptor Sakura, X, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and my beloved Tokyo Godfathers) and the art is wonderful. Many frames per second, fluid character movement and great character design. I enjoy the palettes used to represent Light and L, Light is all mediums browns and beiges - a mutable chameleon, and L is a shock of black hair and pale, white skin under a white shirt. L’s symbol, which pops up on computer monitors when he addresses the police force from his hidden location, is a stark Blackletter-font “L” against a white background. Both are designed with the requisite pretty that an anime series need to bring in that elusive Double X demo. Once you clap eyes on the Shinigami, Ryuk, you won’t be able to forget him (- try as you might) he weighs the perfect balance between comic and fright and as a character bring welcome levity to proceedings that can get quite grim – we are watching a show about a well-meaning mass murderer, after all.  

Our San Fran deities have also sent word that Cartoon Network will be running Death Note starting October 20th at midnight on Adult Swim. No clue if they will run a dub version or the original (- and always preferable) Japanese with English subtitles. Either way, I’m hooked, so I’ll certainly be watching.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

Sept. 30th 2007

 

Update - Oct 8, 2007 - Hey Girls and Boys, check our news page, ...and Nonsense, for info about the live action version of Death Note, starring Kenichi Matsuyama from Linda Linda Linda, and Tatsuya Fujiwara from Battle Royale.

Or, click on the Death Note logo!

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Viz Entertainment)

 

 

 

 

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