Death Note – 1 – Wicked, manipulative and morally deranged

Death Note is a Shounen Jump anime, but forget the generic conventions those two words invoke. Just like Bleach, this is a story that depicts the soul reaping world of “Shinigami” but where Bleach’s version of the afterlife is jammed with pouting pretty boys and nothing else, Death Note’s vision is dark, cold and lifeless. The characters that inhabit this world are surreal, twisted nightmares – imagine a slightly toned down version of Hellraiser’s cenobites.

The shinigami of note is Ryuuku; a permanently smiling, razor toothed man beast. He is growing bored of his job; it seems that these days Shinigami are no longer needed since humans are happy enough killing each other anyway (see: war, murder, terrorism, execution). To spice up his eternal boredom, Ryuuku intentionally drops his Death Note (a book with the power to instantly kill anyone who’s name is scribed inside, including through instructions on usage) into the human world and it’s typically picked up by that worst kind of person, a disaffected and arrogant teenage male (name: Light Yagami) with ideas of grandeur and a clear definition of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Bursting with an obvious social commentary from the very first couple of scenes, Death Note is an involving, elegant and clever supernatural thriller with some stunning gothic artistry. By the end of the episode, Light’s lofty ambitions are bound to crash back to reality. His ideas of creating a better world are admirable but naive and ultimately pointless; to think that he can rid the world of criminals is a denial of (even his) nature, after all he is becoming the very murderous monster he strives to wipe out of society. Star of the show will undoubtedly be Ryuuku – a “wicked”, manipulative and morally deranged personality that represents our (the viewers) presence in the show. Just like Ryuuku, we’re smiling with delight in the knowledge that Death Note is going to get very interesting very quickly.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

12 thoughts on “Death Note – 1 – Wicked, manipulative and morally deranged”

  1. I knew you’d like it! :)

    I was thoroughly impressed with the opening episode too. My expectations were high from reading the manga, but it still didn’t disappoint – Studio Madhouse’s rendering of Ryuuku and the Shinigami world for instance is darker and grimmer than I ever dared hope. It is a bit darker overall though, possibly because it’s easier to invoke the gothic atmosphere with colour and shade than black and white line drawings. Light’s own dark side comes out more readily than I remember from the original too but its sets up the moral side of things right away.

    "Just like Ryuuku, we’re smiling with delight in the knowledge that Death Note is going to get very interesting very quickly."

    You don’t know how right you are! We fans are being really, really, spoilt with this show.

  2. "His ideas of creating a better world are admirable but naive and ultimately pointless; to think that he can rid the world of criminals is a denial of (even his) nature, after all he is becoming the very murderous monster he strives to wipe out of society."

    I dunno how anyone can think its pointless.
    Firstly – its the nature of power. Anyone having recieved great power becomes corrupt. No exceptions.
    Secondly – there is an old chinese proverb about dragon and those who fight the dragon, look it up.
    Thirdly – calling it poitless is the same as calling police and alike pointless.

    "Star of the show will undoubtedly be Ryuuku – a "wicked", manipulative and morally deranged personality that represents our (the viewers) presence in the show."

    If you’d read the manga you’d know that Ryuuku is the total opposite of being manipulative.

  3. The police aren’t out to make a utopia: they’re just out to try and keep the peace. I would imagine the Chinese proverb is akin to Nietzsche’s "When you stare into the abyss, the abyss begins to stare back into you." I still haven’t seen the first episode, and I don’t remember what Light was like before he picked up the death note in the manga, but as he started off killing people indiscriminately, I think it’s safe to say that Light was a sociopath from the get-go.

  4. "I dunno how anyone can think its pointless. "

    Um, your first point kind of argues in favour of it being ultimately pointless. Not to mention I think it’s a little over dramatic, corruption is always a risk and a risk that becomes far greater when dealing with large amounts of power, but I honestly can’t see the argument that ‘power’ itself is inherently corrupting. After all in the pasts there have been rediculous numbers of absolute monarchs, and for every murderous bastard I could point to one that history is entirely indifferent or even favourable to. ‘Power corrupts’ makes a good cautionary tale but I think it’s a little more complex than that.

    Um, anyway back to topic, I can’t be bothered to look up the proverb in your second but if it’s anything like Nietzsche’s abyss proverb it would again enforce tht point. Your third point is far more relevent, however I’d argue that the difference between Light and the police is that a police force exists to keep society stable, Light on the other hand seems to have much grander ideals. It’ll be interesting to see how the world reacts to mass extermination of criminals, but something as simple as a Death Note won’t bring about a utopia, and IMHO what will be really interesting is seeing how Light will react when this becomes apparent.

    "If you’d read the manga you’d know that Ryuuku is the total opposite of being manipulative."

    Yes well I think it’s quite obvious that 90% of us haven’t so can it wth the spoilers okay?

  5. Hehe, Uzumaki beat me to it… with practically the exact same reply! I call shenanigans! Uzu’s spying on me! =D

  6. >> "I dunno how anyone can think its pointless."

    It’s pointless because there has never been a human society without crime. If Light decides to wipe out a yakuza boss, someone else will just pop up in his place. You can’t change man’s nature simply by wiping out the bad people when such a quality is ingrained within everyone – hence Light becoming a murder to stop murderers. Someone will always stand against him. It’s never ending because no one human is perfect.

    >> "Ryuuku is the total opposite of being manipulative"

    My manipulative comment comes from Ryuuku dropping his Death Note in the human world. He dropped it in there because he got bored; so he knows the havoc it is likely to cause. In other words, Ryuuku is manipulating the human race as a way to pass time!

  7. i have noticed you tend to read a lot into an anime after only a few episodes or even just 1 episode.

    You cannot really say "Death Note is an involving, elegant and clever supernatural thriller with some stunning gothic artistry" with any real meaning after only 1 episode.

    You tend to drop blogging a series fairly quickly as well, maybe the two things are related. :P

    Dont take this post too hard, im just trying to offer constructive criticism; tone down on the hyerbole after only 1 or 2 episodes a bit. Most Anime are after all are at least 26 episodes long.

  8. hi2u; you shouldn’t judge my viewing habbits based on what I blog. I’m not really someone who reviews every episode of a series, I simply write when I feel compelled to convey my feelings. For example, take a look at my reviews of NHK!, there are several episode gaps between entries. It’s not that I’ve dropped watching it, sometimes I’ve just got nothing to say. Although I’m trying to change my style, my reviews often float around impressions and feelings rather than direct discussion of what an episode contains. Writing summaries just isn’t for me.

    Thanks for your critisism. It’s priceless advice. As far as hyperbole goes – I tend to write reviews perhaps half an hour after watching an episode; so perhaps I’m still on a high from something I’ve enjoyed and this sticks me firmly in fanboy rant mode!

  9. Again, nice review!

    It wasn’t until a bit later after watching episode 1 when I realized Ryuuku is passing the time away by being in the human world and watching the things Light Yagami is doing with his Death Note.

    I also agree with the statement that it’s pointless becoming a murderer to stop murderers because it’s like a cycle. It’s something that’s going to keep going on and on, and Light Yagami’s become probably the biggest criminal of them all, too.

  10. I think Death Note’s great. Ryuk would be my favorite character. I especially love how in the manga, he’s watching Boxing and says "Wow, they’re really tryin’ to kill each other. Humans are hilarious!"

    I think it’s thrilling and the characters are interesting and diverse. Good Review and I think your interpretation of Bleach’s ‘Shinigami’ realm is hilarious.

  11. Death Note was indeed the best anime I’ve seen in a long time. The suspense captivates you, until your drawn in, noticing little else. Your reviews of it hit the mark time and time again.

    I’ve noticed several times you’ve stated the worst thing is when you write and write and you feel like no one reads it. In my personal opinion, this is the best anime blog on the internet. I’ve read almost everything on the site, yet this is the first time I’ve commented. This time I felt inclined to say something.

    By the way, the number one thing that got me reading your blogs are the pictures you include. You always seem to pick some of the best scenes from the episode/anime and put it in the right place. I actually found this site googling an image of Sasuke (from when he fought Haku). (By the way your earlier Naruto reviews are some of the best)

    Anyway, I thought I’d comment you on your technique as an anime blog writer. Keep up the good work =]

  12. Thanks for the nice compliments. I can’t really say much else except that I’m really flattered by your feedback – reading the message gave me a real boost and honestly, it inspires me to keep going. Most of all it’s great to know that you’ve been reading this blog for a while; sometimes people will browse through an article, leave a comment and then never return, so I’m really pleased to know that you’ve been a regular reader.

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