If the master of deduction, Sherlock Holmes, ever had a whole anime series devoted just to the cat and mouse game with his arch-nemesis, the master web-spinner of crime, Professor Moriarty, I imagine it would be quite similar to Death Note.
When I sat down to watch Death Note, it was around 1:30 AM, and I kid you not, I didn’t go to sleep until I finished the whole 37-epsiode series that same day evening at around 3:30 or 4:00 PM. I was hooked on to it like a moth to a light bulb.
It’s a compelling psychological thriller in which we witness a battle of minds between two characters on the opposite sides of the law, the highly intelligent but narcissistic Light Yagami or Kira and the aloof but calculative detective known as L.
Ever heard the adage, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop? That is exactly how this roller coaster ride begins, with a bored Shinigami (a death god) dropping a book called a Death Note on earth just for entertainment. A Death Note is a supernatural black notebook with ruled white pages and some basic instructions inside on how to use it. The Shinigamis use Death Notes to kill humans, thereby extending their own lives.
Genius high school student Light Yagami, son of a senior police officer, is bored with school and life in general until he finds a Death Note dropped by the Shinigami known as Ryuk. A human possessing a Death Note has the ability to kill anybody by merely writing their real name and keeping the person’s face in his/her mind while doing so. Also, the Shinigami which owns the book will attach itself to the human until they die or vanquish the right to the Death Note. They alone will be able to see the Shinigami. So the apple gorging Ryuk follows Light everywhere and amuses himself with the antics of us puny humans.
Empowered with the ability to kill anybody in the world from the comfort of his home just by merely writing a name, Light decides to put the book to good use by killing criminals who have escaped punishment. But like they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we witness Light transform from initially a punisher of evildoers to someone with a god complex, Kira.
This mysterious trend of assassinations, however, is noticed by the police and intrigues the famous and mysterious detective, L, whose face has never been seen and is initially just a voice from afar. L quickly sets a trap to get a better understanding of Kira’s abilities. While L does not know anything about Death Notes or Shinigamis, he does discover how Kira functions and even manages to narrow Kira’s location to a particular district of Japan.
As the story moves further, we watch Light insert himself into the Kira investigation, keeping close tabs on police movements and especially an eye on L, who already suspects Light of being Kira.
What follows is a veiled battle between the two characters to outsmart each other and the formation of an unlikely relationship similar to Sherlock and Moriarty or Batman and Joker. The irresistible force paradox, or as the Joker quotes, “when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” Unfortunately, there’s a lot of collateral damage when they bump heads.
There are a bunch of other characters in the series that play crucial roles like Light’s father Soichiro Yagami who leads the Kira investigation with L and remains unwilling to believe his son is Kira till his death, Misa Amane who is fanatically in love with Kira and is manipulated by him, Mello and Near who get introduced much later in the series, and many others.
However, Kira and L remain the core reason to watch this show, at least for me. The two characters could not be any more opposites in personality and physical appearance, and yet have an underlying similarity. While Light/Kira is narcissistic, manipulative, smart looking and remorseless, L is a more aloof, hunched over, and hands-in-pockets-shabby-looking character.
However, just as the escalation in the plot reaches its peak, the story takes an unexpected turn in what should have been an epic episode number 25. The twist in this episode is surprising, but not very fun. Despite the disappointing surprise and minor slowdown in the story, it does catch pace again and arguably gets better. So, I’d recommend staying the course till the end, which although is tense and suspense-filled, did not go down well with some fans of the show.
If nothing else, this anime series is worth watching for the mind games between Kira and L. There’s a speed bump in the story that causes the race car to skid off track, and while it does eventually get back on the road and accelerates to the end, it does take effort to regain lost interest. All-in-all, there’s little to complain about here. It’s an excellent anime that takes you on a thrilling ride, but watch out for that speed bump.