Death Note: a journey from good into pure evil

16 Aug

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started watching the series, Death Note. It’s the first time I’ve ventured into anime and manga territory. A good friend promised I’d like it so I took the plunge and I’m glad I did, although I’ve got to say I was exhausted by the end of the series. Not in a bad way, but I felt as if I’d battled all the bad forces myself.

The TV series Death Note is based on the manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata.  It begins as a simple story.  Light Yagami, a high school student discovers a notebook dropped by a god of death (known as a shinigami) on Earth.  The notebook has supernatural powers and a set of rules.  The person who finds the notebook, in this case, Light, has the power to kill anyone he wants, by picturing his victim in his mind then writing his name down in the notebook.  First, Light hesitates to use the notebook but slowly he decides it is his destiny to use the notebook for ‘good’ and to cleanse the evil from the world.  Did I mention his father is head of the police?

Light’s killing spree first is only targeted at criminals but the mysterious deaths attract international law enforcement to the case and a nemesis, L, comes into Light’s life.  By this time Light is enrolled in university and has managed to attract the interest of two different girls; one girl, his stalker, is given her own death notebook by another shinigami and she manages to get Light’s attention.  At the same time, he flirts with a successful journalism student who also likes him.  While Light has obvious psychopathic delusions of greatness, the one thing that I found upsetting was he ruthlessly used both these women who loved him.  And while I believe it could be argued that was part of the power derived from all the killing from his notebook, I would have liked to have seen a glimmer of decency in his character.

The story moves at a fast enough pace that if you are in the US and streaming it on Netflix where it is available, it will be hard to stop watching.  Watching Light go from a decent person to a deadly psychopath is at once fascinating, exciting and disheartening.  Because you realize early on, there cannot be a happy ending for Light.  In fact, you have to wonder if there can be a happy ending for anyone crossing Light’s path.  Ultimately, this story is about good turning to evil.  But more importantly, it asks the question:  what is any one person’s moral compass?  How can they seem good, been raised by a good, loving family, and have one thing happen, make the wrong choice and have their lives spiral out of control?  Because that’s what happens with Light.  Although if you asked him, he was in complete control.  He just never realized he lost it when he made the ill-fated decision of writing in the notebook and assuming a power he never should have had.  I like to think of this as a thriller that’s also a cautionary tale to anyone starting out in life, making decisions they think will only affect them, but really, they effect everyone in their lives, for better or worse.  In Light’s case, it’s much worse.  Lucky for us his spiral into evil is so entertaining.  I just wish he’d had a bit more capacity to actually love, because I think if he had, things might not have gotten so bleak for the world with him in it.

There are 37 episodes in the series.  I watched the whole thing over a week.  I’ve got to say I was sad when it ended.  And… I secretly liked the opening song, “The World”, by the 7th or 8th episode, apparently by a Japanese rock group called Nightmare .  That’s what I like about watching genres you might never try, they might surprise you and you might discover a whole new world of entertainment out there that you’d never consider.  So, I strongly recommended giving this series a try.

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