Thursday, April 19, 2007

Death Note 1

Death Note - Desu Noto in Japan - is, like many anime, adapted from the manga of the same name. It's a cute name. "Desu Noto." Pronounced like death, but with a soft s in place of the t, and a cooing u at the end. There's a parody on YouTube called Debu Note, a pun on the untranslated title; debu means fat or fat person in Japanese. Good times.

In the first episode of the less-cute-than-it-sounds Desu Noto, we find our premise and our protagonist. High school student Yagami Light is the protagonist, or more accurately the point of view character. We see things as he does more often than not, but it's hard to root for him given the premise. In merely five days, Light goes from straight-A model student to straight-A model student and mass murderer. See, Light accidentally on purpose happens across a "Death Note," the notebook a Death God uses to kill humans, and quickly decides it's his duty to use this book of death to improve the world by wiping out the criminal element. He'll kill them all, he decides, or enough so the rest are too afraid to commit crimes. And while he's at it, he'll install himself as supreme ruler of the world. A logical train of thought if ever I saw one.

Light at first believes the Note to be a prank, likely perpetrated by some other student with a sick sense of humor. He's not far wrong. After verifying that the book does what it claims to - there are detailed instructions inside - Light is confronted by its owner, one Ryuk, a bored Death God with a weakness for apples. Ryuk and Light trade rationalizations, apparently trying to see who can come off as creepier, and Ryuk drops a hint about Light's final fate, the first of many times Ryuk will happily obfuscate the truth. Ryuk is the show's wild card, potentially far more manipulative than he lets on. He repeatedly claims to be little more than an observer, yet he interferes when the mood strikes him, and there are numerous hints that supposed coincidences are anything but. Or it could be sloppy writing. I prefer to assume the former until proven otherwise.

The anime differs from the manga in a few ways, some minor, some significant. Light's journey from skeptical to fearful to embracing his power doesn't take long however you show it, but we get more of it in linear fashion in the anime, whereas the manga tells the bulk of the first chapter in flashback. The other notable difference is the dramatization of mundane events, such as opening a drawer or biting into a potato chip. Quick cuts and well-placed effects turn a chore into an action sequence. When Light writes someone's name in the Note, condemning them to death, we often see his pen flash as it leaves the paper. It adds a sort of macabre humor to the show and gives the impression the writer doesn't take himself too seriously, which is always good.

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