Death Note vol 1

UK distributor: Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate: 12

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):

Episodes: 1 - 8 (of 37)

Audio Options: English 2.0; Japanese 2.0

Subtitles: English

Reviewer:  Tom (Webmaster)

One of the most successful and original anime of recent years, Death Note finally gets a UK release on DVD. Many have already dubbed it a modern classic of anime, so it has a lot of hype to live up to for those who have yet to experience it. 

The story opens in the shinigami ('Death God') realm which reveals a bored array of shinigami gambling and lazing around rather then causing death as they should be. Bored of this, the shinigami Ryuk decides to drop his Death Note - a book into which the name of a person is written will die - into the human world. The Death Note is found by a brilliant 16 year old student by the name of Light Yagami. Light is noticeably finds his school work unchallenging and is very aware of all the crime that takes place in his native Japan and across the world. This awareness makes him feel understandably disillusioned but now, with a Death Note in his hands, he has the opportunity to punish those who commit heinous crimes.

When Light sees a news report on a hostage situation involving children, Light takes the opportunity to test the Death Note, not expecting it to work. To his amazement the hostage taker dies forty seconds later of a heart attack, which the rules of the Death Note state will happen if no cause of death is specified. Uncertain if it was coincidence Light decides to test it again. Worryingly Light puts more thought into choosing the next victim, he pays much more attention to people in the street and states that once you start looking around it makes you wonder if you would be doing society a favour by getting rid of unworthy people. He states this whilst walking past a teen bemoaning that his mother is late to pick him up, hardly a crime worthy death. Eventually Light witnesses an attempted rape and uses the Death Note to kill the attacker. This confirms that the book is genuine and Light beings noting down several names of criminals in it.

Five days after picking up the book, the shinigami Ryuk appears and reiterates some of the basic Death Note rules (the most important being that you must have seen the victims face and know their real name in order for writing their name in the book to be successful) and that he will follow Light for as long as he uses the book. Ryuk will not help Light however and merely wishes to see how successful Light is in his use of the book, purely for his own entertainment. After this Light informs Ryuk of his desire to wipe out all the crime in the world and that, once a large number of people have died, the world will notice that someone is taking 'righteous judgement' over criminals. He wishes to become a God of the new world he plans to create.

Before long the authorities take notice of the global string of heart attacks striking criminals and, uncertain how to treat the heart attacks as mass murder, have the world's top detective, known only under the alias L, investigate the case. L cleverly deduces that the killer is based in Japan and, by doing so, proves that he is more then a match for Light.

Once L is introduced, Death Note quickly goes from what could have been an average anime to something much more. Before L appeared I assumed the plot would be a case of several

Death Note owners appearing and battling each other to obtain more books, which could easily have been the case. Once L does appear the show becomes more grounded in the real world, with Light being pursued by the authorities and having to think his every move. The dialogue between Light & L is gripping throughout as well, providing intense action through battles of wills of these equal geniuses. 

Now L has thrown down the gauntlet, it becomes clear that Light will allow no-one to prevent his vision of a crime-free utopia and will use the Death Note on anybody who stands in his way.  Despite Light's willingness to kill anyone who does not agree with him, he is not completely unlikeable as both he & L are a voice of reason.  Light kills criminals, those who make life miserable for decent living folk.  Whereas L sees Light just as he sees any other murderer and a coward, since his nemesis kills from afar and calmly dispatches anyone investigating him.  L however only takes on cases which interest him and admits that the ones he chooses he only does so for the challenge, rather then to help others.  They are two perfect opposing characters, both obsessed with their goals.  Although at first L may be the more resourceful of the two Light does very quickly become his rival, even though he could so easily have became too cocky after being given the title 'Kira' by the public, who see 'Kira' as the saviour of modern society. 

Due to this intellectual battle, both adversaries have to resort to utmost cunning in attempts to achieve their goals.  Throughout this volume are a huge number of clever tactics and plot twists which make for an excellent thriller.  Despite little happening other then L surveying Light and Light attempting to continue his Death Note activities, the show never feels slow-paced and constantly makes the viewer think who is going to act next.  The use of hand-held style cameras, split screen and dramatic Death Note writing makes for exciting viewing, couple that with an excellent score full of suspense and gothic chanting and you have cinematography and music which compliment a great story. 

By the end of this DVD I wanted to see the next episode straight away.  Although I have yet to side with either Light or L over who is correct, it is exactly this which makes Death Note so compelling for me.  The questions it raises as well as the entertainment it provides through dialogue, not physical fighting making different to almost every other anime out there.  The viewer can never be certain what could happen next, given that anyone could drop dead at any point and the constant twist and turns. 

Death Note then is unique in its approach and execution.  With a different feel to almost every other anime out there and relying heavily on story rather then visuals, it is unsurprising some have already hailed it as a classic.  I await volume 2 with baited breath. 


 As well as being excellent value for money by containing a total of eight episodes, volume 1 of Death Note also contains a decent array of extras. 

There is a behind-the-scenes featurette of the English voice actors, an interview of with the Japanese character and animation designers, audio commentary on episode 7 and a production art gallery.  There is also clean opening and closing sequences, as well as a trailer for Bleach 



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