Death Note was adapted into an anime just three years after its original publication in Weekly Shounen Jump in the year 2003. The series follows Light Yagami as he attempts to promote his personal sense of justice under the guise of his criminal name, Kira. Parallel to this, Death Note looks at the side of the police and their attempts to capture uncover the identity of the super criminal Kira and put Light Yagami behind bars. L in particular, considered the best detective in the world, has his interest piqued by the situation with Light and dedicates his time and effort to uncovering Kira’s identity and methods.
The premise of the series is immediately one of the most noticeably unique aspects of the show. The concept of the Death Note and the rules surrounding its use are a trademark of the series. The rules are well thought of and perform the role of limiting Light’s seemingly overwhelming power when in possession of the Death Note. Following this idea, the note also served as an interesting tool particularly in the hands of a genius like Light Yagami who explored its properties more thoroughly than most viewers would think of. His use of the Death Note was so unique that he discovered properties that were previously unknown to the death god or shinigami, Ryuk who was the original owner of Light’s note.
The genius level intellect of not just Light Yagami but also L are made apparent very early in the anime putting them a tier above the rest and setting the two up as inevitable rivals. The battle between the two not only shows a challenge of brains but also serves as a clash between the beliefs of the two. While L serves as an advocate of the law and the processes related to dealing with criminals, Light takes on the more radical approach choosing instead to personally punish all criminals by ending their lives.
The relationship between the two is an odd one to say the least. L, suspecting Light of being Kira, decides to befriend him as a test. He eventually cultivates this relationship eventually calling Light his only friend. Light on the other hand is forced into a position wherein he is prevented from killing L. Light’s attempt to feign innocence goes so far as to have him join L’s team specifically designed and dedicated to the capture of the former’s criminal identity, Kira.
L serves as the perfect foil to Light by matching him in terms of intellect but challenging his moral reasoning. It is this disconnect between their matched cognitive levels and their mismatched moral values that increases the strain between the two while simultaneously bringing the two closer together.
The series is a psychological thriller and really does an amazing job of keeping the tension up. The set up between Light and L allows the show to sustain a high level of tension. The viewer is left in a perpetual state of concern. What is also quite impressive about this set up is that either side never has the upper hand for too long. The facts that are given to the characters are just short of what is necessary to secure any permanent advantage. Meanwhile, the viewer is given all the information necessary leaving them to wonder if either of the two will manage to figure out the truth and outwit the other.
The weakness of the show is that it finishes very weakly with a final arc that simply pales in comparison to the first. The series spends so much time getting the viewers invested in many of its characters only to change the pace by introducing a new set of characters towards the end of the series. The chemistry that was developed early on lost its balance and threw off the show’s pacing.
Despite this flaw however, Death Note still remains as a staple favorite of many. It is an anime that will entertain long time anime fans while also serving as a great entry level series that will grab the interest of audiences that aren’t as well versed or invested in anime.