Another week, another hyped anime under my belt. Death Note (2006) belongs in the fantasy genre, which isn't my favorite, but the thriller element still drew me in. Sci-fi anime is farfetched, but is mostly situated in some sort of tangible world, one we can foresee, even if in a very distant future. Fantasy offers no such ground to get our footing, and once various worlds come into play (humans vs. gods and so on) the writing can get away from us. This is precisely why I'm on the fence about Death Note.
The plot revolves around a high school student, Light Yagami, who finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped into the human realm by a bored God of Death, a Shinigami named Ryuk. Light quickly makes use of the notebook's powers, fancying himself as someone who has the potential to lead the human race into a new world, where he will preside over them as God of Justice. There are many rules about using the notebook, such as cause and time of death, both of which can be manipulated. Light plays around with different variations, but the most basic death on the menu is a plain heart attack. Suspicion arises within police forces the world over (as Light's shenanigans expand beyond the borders of Japan), and the mass deaths of mainly criminal individuals lead them to dub the mysterious murderer "Kira" (tee hee). Light embraces his newfound title and the glory and fear that come with it, warning police to stay out of his way. But, he has a nemesis in "L", a recluse young man who is said to be the best detective in the world. He hides behind a computer screen, which prevents Light from entering L's name into the notebook, as he needs a face and a birth name for the trick to work.
And therein lies the problem. The basic rules are spelled out immediately. But, as the series progresses and plot holes arise, everything can be written off by introducing a new rule of the Death Note. It's a "by the way, folks! rule #35 states..." sort of move that cheats the audience and exposes sloppy writing. The show has its highs, and the battle of wits between "Kira" and "L" makes Sherlock and Moriarty look like kids arguing in a sandbox. Yet, the lows are uniformly low, especially when the writing unravels in the last third of the show. The makers were in a race to create twists and turns of grandiose improbability, ones they figured the audience would easily swallow because, hey, here's another neglected rule from the Death Note. Surprise! My other beef with this series is the animation itself. The show relies too much on static during internal monologues of which there are too many. Certain episodes look like a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation. The best art is showcased with the Shinigami and their realm, but that is about all Death Note has to offer in terms of visual creativity.
Coincidentally, The Hollywood Reporter just confirmed the director for a live action American remake, and while I do shake my head at the thought of tinsel town mucking up another Japanese original, I sincerely hope they embark on a vastly opulent cinematic endeavor instead of opting for a low budget, poorly lit, "gritty" adaptation.