Death Note review

Apr 15, 2021
If there's one thought that goes through my brain the same moment I think of Death Note, it is: "If only it were even better to begin with, it'd be even cooler". Its authors go and deliver what they think is the best they can do and sure, that might be true. Ohba and Obata's other work Bakuman alludes to them wanting to end Death Note's story earlier and sure, that also might be true.
Yet if these things are true, DN still makes me scratch my head about some things throughout the series overall.

I want to try and go over my gripes and show my appreciation for DN since at the moment of writing this, spending my time publicizing who-gives-a-shit thoughts sounds like a better pastime than doing nothing or masturbating every time I scratch myself down there out of boredom and random itchiness.

*WARNING: This text will be getting into some SPOILER territory so I'd advise people who don't want to spoil themselves if they haven't watched or read this title to stop here*

Death Note not being perfect is hardly an uncommon opinion in any shape or form, in more concentrated animanga communities or wider. The reasons may somewhat vary, but there is a consensus about the second half of the story just not being on par with the first. I'm not here to argue that.
What I am here to do is tell it like I feel it for DN as a whole in terms of its story. First things first, it doesn't go out of its way to use too many dumb characters so that the main characters seem smarter in comparison. The writer really wants to let you know that it doesn't give easy opponents that lead into a smarter foe for Light by just outright having the hook of the manga be fighting against a person on the same supposed level of intelligence. Just for reference, a series like Legend of the Galactic Heroes often has the two main characters each face a lot of brainless mooks by their actions inbetween facing each other.
Death Note seems to try its best to avoid this. Stuff like that can lead to a crooked picture of what is the actual intelligence of the characters at the forefront of the story. The times Light is faced with a hurdle to overcome besides L in the first half of the story, it is made so he needs to put in at least decent effort with enough back-and-forth with the person he's talking to. It does apply in the second half, too. Characters that aren't exactly the brightest exist in DN very much, but the actions they take and the mistakes they make feel like they're always accounted well enough by the thought processes and actions of its main characters.

That means, however, that the suspension of disbelief and overall quality depend the most on how consistent its main characters come off. It leads me to the point that the story really puts in the effort to be consistent as much as it can... but oversights happen, in character and general plotting. Given its concept and the kind of battle it entails, mishandled minute details or logistical improbabilities and contrivances stick out that much more.
First thing in order is the FBI agents situation. There was no proper reasoning why the info from analysis on Kira's killings being affected by misspelt names really had to arrive late to L or the FBI, it just kinda happened. Those deaths being prevented already would alter the situation to have Light handle that much bigger of challenge. This is just a contrivance that can be easily overlooked, mind you, yet its ripple effect could hardly be negligible.
Another situation really concerns character consistency and it's about Light. Him getting arrested is a result of two events: getting tailed while being on a date with Misa which leads to suspicion from L and the japanese police and the other one being Misa visiting Light's campus, where L nabs Misa's phone working under the suspicion from the first event. The fault here lies on Misa, but only somewhat and given the character it makes sense enough writing wise. The fault also lies on how Light was quite literally written into this spot due to an oversight, that oversight being Light really not making use of the fact that Rem as a Shinigami actually decided to take a side unlike Light's Ryuk, even threatening Light to kill him if something happens to Misa. Where I am getting with this is that given that Rem actually worries for Misa's safety, he could've made use of Rem to actually be on a lookout for anyone following her and inform her. The first event that got Light arrested later could've been avoided or it could've been used to avoid the second one if this happened and it is uncharacteristic of Light's tendency to get mileage out of everything at his disposal.

There are scenarios where he put himself into an awkward position due to his ego, and childishness while still a highschooler as when he got challenged by a fake L on TV which gave the real L insight into Kira's general whereabouts and mentality, but this ain't it, chief. He was very aware that he had to act carefully given that he met up with the second Kira, which is Misa. And it bothered me that in all of the explaining he had for her, he let probably the most useful detail to use in this situation go. Thinking about the fact that there could've been something instead of the very roundabout Yotsuba arc to see Light's plan resolved really gets under my skin a little.
Ironically given its reputation, the second half has less of these problems. The catch though, is that one notable example of the types of issues I first mentioned is in the very ending. Light gets caught because Near switched Mikami's Death Note with a fake one. The fake one was handwritten to be like the real one to a T and what's incredible about this is that between Mikami taking the notebook out of the vault to try and stop Mello and silence Takada and Light getting caught, not even a whole day has passed. And just one person managed to fill up a notebook with precisely and consistently copied handwriting, with every page filled to the brim with names in maybe over half a day worth of time.

The writer of the authorial duo seems like he writes around a certain scene he wants in the story at times. It's like he wants something to happen so he will put it in and then sweat the details later to come to that event. And there's a good chance he does since beyond the first three chapters, DN really was written as he went along. Throughout the manga, there are rules about the notebook that come with the chapters and a lot of times, these rules are given way ahead of a scenario which will put how the Death Note works into question, making a certain action with the notebook reasonable in hindsight. At rare times, certain rulings come quite literally in the chapter that puts forward the problem is that even possible or alright to do which is just slightly troublesome.
My main gripe with the fact that these rules exist is that for a decently sized rulebook with some interesting and specific rulings, a lot of them cannot come to fruition in some part of the story. When I factor in the places where the story could've taken a different turn due to some overlooked tidbits, there could've been an even more engaging fight just against L.

I won't make assumptions about why Ohba let some things past his attention, but given how entertaining DN's scenarios are as is some of its slip-ups aside, a part of me wishes I didn't notice them and forever seal Death Note in my head as "hella fun, but short-sighted given its potential" because of those oversights. It's slightly sad since there is a lot of good to talk about it even so.
As I said early on, most of the time it is consistent. While Light's side of the deal is faulty, L's character does not suffer from lack of consistency and therefore is more of a safe spot to grab on to in terms of what to expect. L was kinda always written after Light in response to him, therefore L's character writing avoids mishaps even if he did get struck by a contrivance or two like with the FBI agents, which is something not on him since it was late info for no real reason for everybody, but on Ohba's writing saying that this and that ought to happen like this and then just sort of miss a detail.

I commend Ohba's efforts to try and make Mello and Near worthy successors of L. People may not care since they're so attached to the initial hook of the story and therefore attached to the detective that loves sweets, but they are well done for what purpose they serve. The hook for the second part of the story is these two finding out from a random policeman testimony that there was some kind of notebook on the scene of crime involving the Yotsuba group Kira, something that was part of Light's plan to rid suspicion and take down L. They act on that testimony to locate and face Kira. What instigates the Near and Mello part is very whatever for a lack of a better term to describe it, but in retrospect randomly finding a supernatural notebook is sorta equally so.
I've ran into a number of people who are quick to disregard these two in comparison to L, some chose to do it on basis of wit and line of thinking. And here's the deal, there are things like charisma, poignancy and such that don't resonate equally and in same ways with people that I can understand, but this is somewhat different. For reference, Near's thought process is far more detailed than L as part of Ohba's efforts to let the reader know "yes, this is how they inferred where to look for Kira and pin him him down with nothing more than a testimony that could've been a weird rumor/lie". His deduction process during the notebook machinations with Mikami in the mix in the second part was decently articulated. More than my review, in any case. Obviously, I said that it is Near's thoughts that are explained in great detail, Mello isn't handled in the same way. However, his behavior always throws a monkey wrench into Light's plans and is presented as understanding Near's thought process in general and for the final plan to bring Kira down. L showed glimpses of morally concerning thoughts when he was in the story that were kept in check by those around him at the time, but with Mello, he isn't restrained by anybody considering that he went to the other side of the law to take Kira down. For a guy relayed to the more brutish role in the story, to just straightforwardly push Light's buttons early on in his appearance was at least somewhat refreshing to see.

The side characters don't jump out of their necessary roles in the story, at worst they are underutilized like Misa for reasons I have mentioned before. There's no harm in her existence being just another weapon for Light given how simple it is to string her along since the time she meets up with him, as she also had enough brains in her to be careful up to the meet-up and it was his responsibility to make better use of her while he was still being watched. Misa fucked it up for him, but only because in the first place he wasn't more careful about how useful a character with her cirumstances can be.
But let's talk about these characters as people, since narrative roles and personalities and character detail are different stories. The characters that matter most are worked out by the way they think and the way they act across the events of the narrative. Knowing the way these characters think does stack up a few adjectives that can be used to describe each and every one of them, but they're still used in a limited space, by which I mean always as a part of a moving plot. The idiosyncrasies of certain characters don't prove insightful into any facet of their personality that can be seen in the way they act in the story, and how they behave in the progressing plot doesn't pour over into the little bits of the series that don't concern this cat-and-mouse game between galaxy brains. There's really not that much beyond the plot events to Death Note, if we're talking about character pasts playing a pivotal role, how characters behave around families or those they deem close and things like that. DN sorta separates business and pleasure in how its characters are conceived and used, and then just forgoes pleasure for the most part, since most characters are all about business. Which is fine by me, I don't take it against the series, but criticisms of lack of characterization are a bit misguided whenever I manage to see some.
Light steals the show since he's the one character followed the most and his downward spiral has some subtleties to notice throughout the series' run. It's not necessarily as simple as breaking bad for him and that's where it ends as far as talking about character progression. Things like L's challenge towards Light as Kira and their subsequent meetings leave an ever increasing mark on his ego and humanity. I mean, sure, he doesn't wrestle with any conflicting feelings with what he does beyond the beginning, but other things take a toll and noticing his attitude changing, even if just subtly sometimes in places has its own charm.

Death Note has quite the nihilistic mood to it, from the unconcerned world of the Shinigami to the apathy of the detective foes Light faces. There is no care for executing justice among L, Near or Mello especially, it is either about the challenge a case presents, or finishing what someone started out of a crooked sense of respect as the two kids do, one of them not caring how low he stoops for it.
If DN has a choice to present either the better, humane sides of some characters in the story or the worse parts of humanity, the latter would sound like a better idea to write about as far as Ohba is concerned. From orphanages that raise jaded, apathetic super-detectives to power hungry corporates that organise killings of their competition to rising two-faced cult leaders that take advantage of people's fear and respect towards Kira, there is a lot cynicism, sinister thought and so on. And there is the protagonist that wants to sit on top of it all, who is nothing more than a murderer excusing his initial blunder to not have his ego and life crash.
In short, Death Note does not give a flying fuck and it wants you to come along for the ride, mull a bit over some points it presents and hope you got some fun out of it with a ridiculously achieved lesson on why any ambition doesn't excuse the means to achieve it if it was even an honest ambition in the first place. Its biting cynicism and nihilism perhaps comes from the writer's priority to just write what he deems interesting and that is alright, since there are some very entertaining individual scenarios to take away from the series.

As far as the art goes, Takeshi Obata's human designs are always very nice to look at and the designs of the Shinigami are fairly eye-catching. The real-life referenced backgrounds and objects don't exactly scream creatively distinct, but there isn't a real need for that.
The manga doesn't lack a good sense for camera angles, but it lacks engaging panel composition. There is a lack of sparking, sharp and diagonal panels to accentuate the intensity of certain scenes at times. If there's an action scene, it either goes wide or it feels cramped and lacking in energy, signalling some limited capabilities of Obata as a comic artist at the time whom since had improved incomparably. It's hard to argue that not needing intense and creative panneling is that necessary given the nature of the conflicts in the story considering how the anime adaptation was able to go about it.

And that is that pretty much. Death Note is not a tale of peaks and valleys in quality, but little disappointments here and there that could've led to more. It is also a tale of a story which, while too comfortable in its own skin, executes what's there with extreme confidence that I can't help being fairly entertained anyway. A lot of its situations on their own are very engaging and my gripes with it can't take that away enough, I guess. Still, I'm gonna have to carry the good feelings along with the spectres of criticism looming over my shoulder like a god of death.

It ain't a heavier weight than the one that comes with living with a humongous dick though, believe me.
Faire un don


Death Note
Death Note
Auteur Obata, Takeshi