Geek Highs & Lows of 2014: Death Note

death-note coverMade in 2011, but a find for me in 2014. In Death Note, the animated series, the shinigami are a race of death gods who extend their own life by prematurely ending the lives of others. They do this by writing the name of their victim in their books, the titular Death Note. Ryuk is one such god, who has become bored and decides to leave the book on Earth for a human to find. Just for kicks.

Light Yagami, a genius student who is also bored, finds the book and learns of the rules that govern the use of the book–primarily that you must know the name and face of the person you wish to kill. Touching the book also enables you to see and interact with the shinigami that accompanies it. Light sets out on a moral campaign to rid the world of criminals–but quickly descends into a psychopathic madness and has ambitions of godhood over the utopia that he believes he can create.

Light adopts the alias of Kira to communicate his terms to the criminal and to reassure the innocent. First the Japanese, and then the world’s authorities come to realise the threat Kira poses to civilised justice and tasks L, a young eccentric genius detective whose secret identity protects him, to find out the real identity of Kira and to bring him down. And so begins an epic cat and mouse struggle between Light trying to discover L’s identity so he can kill him via the Death Note, and L trying to find Kira aka Light to bring him to justice.

I had known about the comic source material for this and knew enough that it was well thought of and I wanted to read them. Then, not having much reading time, I saw that the animated series was on Netflix and read that it was a faithful adaptation right down to the artwork, so I decided to check it out. I’m so glad I did. It was addictive watching. The premise of the show is actually quite simplistic, but as each story unfolds, more rules for the Death Note are revealed, and Light and L both make more and more complex moves to trap one another. Also, a copycat Kira becomes active, another Death Note is in play, and the Death Note is passed around, all playing their parts within the plots within plots that makes up the whole run of this series.

It’s a curious show as it is certainly dark, with Light able to make people kill themselves, and he does so with a psychopathic detachment–no matter who his logic dictates the victim should be. Yet, it also has a Twin Peaks oddball humour that runs through it, from L who doesn’t sit down but squats everywhere and holds everything as though it is contaminated, and is obsessed with desserts, to Ryuk, who does summersaults and has a crack-like addiction to apples, and another genius who plays with toys while he plots, and a female character who is crazy head over heels in love with Light. And I mean CRAZY. In fact, the only criticism I would level at Death Note is that female characters don’t come across that strongly. That’s a little unfair of me since L and Light outsmart most of the people they are with, but the two main female characters, Misa Amena and Kiyomi Takada are devoted to Kira. Misa through that crazy crazy immature love I mentioned, and Kiyomi through her more mature love for Kira and the sense of justice she shares with him. I can easily overlook this though, as not every female character has to be a strong one, and there are plenty of weak men who fall foul to Kira in the show to go around. It’s just as women are underepresented it seemed a bit more noticeable to me.

This is a show that I expect would be up there with ’24’ and ‘Walking Dead’ if it were live action and be weekly event TV. But sadly it’s a show a lot of people will overlook because it’s animated. This isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon for the kiddies though, and has plots twistier than an octopus playing a squid at, well, Twister, and has some real edge of seat moments in the cat and mouse game being played out, with a ‘Game of Thrones’ irreverence towards who is expendable within the storytelling. There was one series of deaths I refused to believe for a number of episodes.

Another geek high of 2014, that if you haven’t seen for yourself, you really should.

If you did watch it then it’d be great to hear what you thought and your favourite moments–especially if you have any recommendations for more anime I could watch on Netlfix.

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