Anime as a medium is booming right now, with shows like “Sword Art Online,” “Attack on Titan,” and “My Hero Academia” expanding into the mainstream media. As a society, we are not far off from anime being considered a normal interest. However, lost in all of this is that “Death Note” almost accomplished this same feat back in the late 2000s when it soared into popularity. As of today, it’s the most-watched anime of all time according to MyAnimeList.
Meet Light Yagami, a high school prodigy. He gets elite test scores in Japan and is set to join the police force like his father. The story gets complicated when one day he discovers a notebook in his school courtyard with the words “Death Note” on the cover. According to the rules written inside, writing someone’s name and picturing their face is enough to kill someone. Not believing it, he tests it twice on two criminals who then die. With this newfound power, he sets out to kill criminals and become the god of a new world free of crime.
The near systematic killing of criminals attracts the attention of “L,” the absolute greatest detective in the world. He had never lost a case and almost immediately manages to narrow down his search. He keeps his true identity and appearance a secret so Light has no means of easily eliminating him.
The two clash in a battle of wits that open up the door to what can be considered epic. Each move Light makes is thoughtfully crafted, making full use of the semantics of the Death Note rules to throw L off his trail. Meanwhile, L follows the trends and tries to understand what’s going through the mind of this killer, “Kira” as the public calls him. The two are both geniuses, so he manages to keep up.
“Death Note” sheds a light on an interesting bit of morality. If you could kill people at will, would you? Would you use that power for good, or would you use it for your own selfish reasons? By killing bad people, are you good or evil? These are sensible hypotheticals that people face, especially in their teenage years of development. Everyone fantasizes about world peace or about how the world would be better without certain people in it. “Death Note” tackles this head on. People take sides and question their decisions. Kira is a god to some, a terrorist to others. The line between good and bad blurs constantly and it makes for one of the most unique stories ever told.
The attempted adaptations speak to the gravity of the impact “Death Note” had. Three games were made for the Nintendo DS and two movies were released to summarize the anime. It was adapted as a Japanese live-action in 2006, then again in 2008, then again in 2015. There was a “Death Note” musical in 2015, a miniseries in 2016, and yet another movie that same year. The Western World finally got a hold of it in 2017 to produce their own film which was praised by the original creators, despite being somewhat unsuccessful.
It’s a truly special show. It’s not the most delicate, with a few of the characters hard to care about. The age of the 2006-era animation definitely shows at times. But it’s worth a watch by everyone. It’s an all-time classic and will be remembered for years to come. It’s on Netflix in its entirety, so it’s easily accessible and I can assure that it’s worth the time.