Friday, October 07, 2011

Death Note


Catfreeek intrigued me with her review last year and that new girl Crystal Math inspired me to check out the animated series a few months back. Now I’m not a “manga guy” by any means but let me tell you something, mister: I fell in love with Death Note during the very first episode and very quickly became a rabid, foaming at the mouth, obsessive fan, burning through all 37 (20 minute) episodes in a glorious two week haze. Like being hooked on a great book, I couldn’t wait to get home to see what would happen next. I was completely entranced by arch nemeses Light and L and I found myself caring more for these cartoon characters than I did for my own cats and friends. (Ok I’m exaggerating slightly but you catch my drift.)

As much as I enjoyed this movie (and it does an adequate job of capturing the essence), I feel that it is sacrilegious to watch the live action version before the animated series. I’m asking a lot and I'll understand if you’re not willing to commit but I implore you to at least watch the first couple of episodes and allow it work its magic on you.

The story centers around a high school student named Light who stumbles upon a notebook that was accidentally dropped by Ryuk, a shinigami, or God of Death. The instructions in the notebook are chillingly basic:

- The human whose name is written in this note will die.
- This note will not take effect unless the writer has the subject's face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
- If the cause of death is written within 40 seconds of writing the subject's name, it will happen.
- If the cause of death is not specified, the subject will simply die of a heart attack.

Out of curiosity Light tests the notebook and discovers that he is in control of a great power. Now let's pause for a minute. Ask yourself what you would do if had the power to kill anyone simply by writing down their name while picturing their face. Would you burn the notebook? Hand it over to the authorities? Hide it and never speak of it again? Or would you consider punishing brutal dictators like Kim Jong-Il by having them crushed by flaming pianos? What about unrepentant rapist/murderers who add nothing but hatred and misery to the world? In a dark mood could you be tempted to quietly pencil in Sarah Palin being mauled by a real mama grizzly bear during a hunting trip publicity stunt gone awry? These were my initial thoughts.

The scope and ambition of the world of Death Note continues to expand at a breakneck pace. Light wastes no time plotting world domination and he imagines a utopia where violence and crime are eradicated. He gets his feet wet by killing prisoners convicted of violent crimes around the world and then moves onto those who got away with their crimes. It's interesting to note how quickly this intelligent, shy student morphs into a cold, calculating mastermind. Because Light discovered the notebook, he is its rightful owner and is now able to see Ryuk, the crazy mofo in the back of the top picture. Here's a better look:

Ryuk is a slightly evil but mostly neutral shinigami who enjoys watching the mayhem unfold. Ryuk explains the rules of the Death Note to Light but instead of advising him what to do, he's more content to sit back and play the role of devil's advocate. Incidentally, the shinigami can see the lifespans of all humans and they are able to kill without a name. Light has the option of exchanging half of his own lifespan for those powers but he declines.

Enter L, a clandestine, brilliant detective responsible for cracking unsolved cases across the globe. Disheveled and constantly crouching, L always appears as though he's deep in thought. Without knowing the identity of one another, the two engage in a virtual chess match of moves and counter moves, forming an unlikely friendship and a deadly rivalry in the process. Death Note (the movie) ends in fiendishly clever cliffhanger fashion. I can't adequately judge this film without viewing the conclusion in Death Note: The Last Game but I approve of how the first half was handled.


Catfreeek said...

I'm so glad you dove into this series. The whole concept is gripping, looking forward to your review of the second film.

DCD said...

This does sound really interesting - the anime is available on Netflix as well.

Trevor (Tami's friend) said...

YES! The Sarah Palin Grizzly Bear scenario - I would totally do that!

Crystal Math said...

It would appear that that new girl, Crystal Math, might just have good taste in entertainment.

(Actually, I'd like to thank my 12th grade students last year for recommending it.)

I'm glad you tackled watching & reviewing this because the images of a poorly CGI'ed shinigami was enough for me to avoid it :-P

Johnny Sweatpants said...

The shinigami was distractingly CGI but I was pleased that they modeled Ryuk (nearly perfectly) after the animated version. He has the same evil laugh too!

Landshark said...

Aweswome, I've got a couple students in my graphic novel class who are big manga nerds, and they said I had to see this one.

On the down side, I blew my nerd street cred by pronouncing it without a hard g in manga.

Crystal Math said...

Landshark, YOU teach a graphic novel class?!?? That's so amazing! We'll have to talk 'cause like any other high school I have a HUGE following of manga fanatics (some of whom are pretty amazing artists)!

Crystal Math said...

Also the shinigami are totally badass and I wish I could see them in reality. Is that too much to ask for????

Octopunk said...

I am extrememly intrigued by this simply because the stills of that freaky Ryuk are so cool -- photorealistic (sort of) anime critters, yes!

However, being a fan of anime I'm going to watch the series first, as recommended.

50PageMcGee said...

whoa -- that's cgi? it looks like a puppet, like it's actually there. frigging great look.