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Death Note - Anime (Araki Tetsuro 2006)


Death Note
[Desu Noto]

Genre: Supernaturally-Fueled Crime Thriller

review in one breath

This highly involved and plot-twisting anime series revolves around a supernatural "Death Notebook" which falls into the hands of an over-zealous young man intent on bringing about a new, more "just" world order. Those whose names are written in the Death Note promptly die in a highly untraceable manner, creating the ultimate weapon against Japan's rising crime rate and ineffective judicial system. But the new found tool comes at a price, as soon the deadly line is blurred between justifiable corporal punishment and sheer Utopian ideology. This is the anime version of the highly popular manga and subsequent live-action film versions.


Death Note is based on the popular manga by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata which ran from 2003 to 2006 in Weekly Shonen Jump. In 2006 it was adapted into a two part live-action movie and later that same year into THIS 37 episode anime series. A third live-action film is on its way, depicting a sequel of sorts to the current two-part live-action storyline.

The tale revolves around a "Death Note(book)" which a traditional Shinto Shinigamii> ("Death God") misplaces, ending up in the hands of a contemplative and socially-minded college student named Yagami Light. Anyone's whose name is written in the Death Note, whether by the Death God or a human, dies of natural causes after a mere 40 seconds. If a specific time, day and circumstance are written beside the name, that individual is fated to such a precise demise. This tale belongs only ever-so-slightly in the horror genre, solely due to the frequent role and appearance of the Death Gods. It is predominantly a Supernatural Crime Thriller which raises questions about Ultimate Justice and the classic ethical conundrum of whether an idealistic End can possibly justify a murderous Means.

I've written in some detail regarding the basic storyline and manga background in my reviews of the two-part live-action films which preceded this anime version. You can read those here:

Death Note (director: Shusuke Kaneko 2006)
Death Note 2: The Last Name (director: Shusuke Kaneko 2006)

I'll focus here predominantly on aspects of the anime version which is now available in part in Region 1 English subtitled DVDs.

The original manga series ran three years and consisted of 108 chapters (later divided into 12 chapters). Neither the live-action films nor this anime version encompass that entire tale or its complexity, which may indeed be a good thing. But in relation to the live-action films, which have a cumulative running time of 4.5 hours, this 15+ hour-long anime series brings you much closer to the full range of the original complexity, making for a riveting immersion into a very unique and engaging tale.

This anime series first aired on Japanese television in late 2006, containing 37 episodes covering the first 7 of the original 12 "chapters". One year later, in October of 2007, the entire series aired on both U.S. and Canadian anime channels, though only very late at night (11:30pm in the U.S.) due to its adult-themed (violent, non-sexual) content.

This 37-episode series is being gradually released in several DVD "volumes" each containing 4 episodes. That would seem to suggest a little over NINE such volumes when all is said and done. Volume 1 (episodes 1-4) released in November, 2007 and the fifth volume (episodes 17-20) released as recently as June, 2008. Volume 6 (episodes 21 - 24) is scheduled for release next month (Aug, 2008), etc. The frequency of release seems to be one volume every two months which suggest the entire 9-volume series should be available around February 2009, after which time they may be released in a single collection. Until then, they are available for purchase only as single volumes.

[UPDATE - July 15, 2008] - VIZ Media just announced the availability of all 37 episodes at the iTunes Store. Each episode is selling for $1.99.


I confess I've seen the anime series in its entirety and wholly recommend it. The favorable buzz surrounding a limited release in US theaters of the first live action films has prompted me to write up this review as well, despite the entire series being unavailable as of yet. But even in saying that, the 6 volumes which you can current get a hold of will provide you with 10 hours of viewing pleasure, which is plenty to get you started and hooked.

The primary characters and emotional momentum of the storyline seems aimed at an adolescent or young adult audience, but the philosophical questions it raises and the complexity of the plot twists will certainly also appeal to an older crowd. There's plenty of death and mayhem depicted here, which makes it unsuitable for too young a viewer. The tale easily packs as much intellectual challenge as it does action.

This is a good one for you to keep an eye on. The live action versions will undoubtedly make their formal debut in Western formats soon and my guess is that they will be well-received. This anime version offers an even more complex and true-to-the-original retelling and will be available in its entirety well before its live action counterpart. Definitely check this one out if you can. Its a fun, addictive watch.

Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (includes English dub)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Unique and intricate anime in the crime thriller genre. This manga and both its anime and live-action versions made a big splash in Japan, and the ripples are now headed this way. Plenty of depicted deaths by heart attacks, accidents and strange events. Given that "Death" appears so prominently in the title, that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. One cute Goth Lolita, but no sex. Not even a bOObie doodle in the Notebook of Death. Definitely a unique tale involving classic Japanese supernaturalism and rather complex contemporary questions on social justice and the meaning of a Utopian Society.

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