This show doesn’t waste time. The conceit is that the titular Death Note is a book where if you write a person’s name in it, they will die within 40 seconds. Both the power and distance the book presents gives the show a great setup to explore the morality of whether or not you use this book to kill someone who deserves it. And this could be such an evolving, constant struggle, except the book falls into the hands of Light.
Light is a high-school kids, but he’s extremely smart, top of his class and, above all else, very jaded. He constantly sees the evil in the world and once he gets the book, he quickly gets over the moral conundrum and writes hundreds of names in the book. He thinks that even if his conscious suffers, it’s worth it to rid the evil of the world and he thinks he’s strong enough to do it. He’s arrogant, cocky and flat-out declares Death Note will be his pathway to achieving godhood in a new society. Like I said, this show doesn’t waste time.
This allows the show to leap over the entire personal ethical struggle into a larger thought about the implications of mercilessly stomping out evil. What makes it interesting is that this is not a societal work, but the act of one man granted superhuman abilities. Ideas of power and corruption immediately emerge, as well as thoughts of men who must exist outside morality to the betterment of the world.
I’m not sure what to make of the Shinigami realm stuff or Ryuk, the owner of the Death Note. It’s interesting, but so far the connection between the two worlds is ambiguous. Also, the narration in this show is a bit over the top, sort of in an endearing way. Oh yea, and the opening and closing songs are terrible.
It’s funny to me that Light is trying to balance using the Death Note with keeping up good grades and getting enough sleep. He lives this normal life while aspiring to a grand vision of ushering in a new world. There’s a strange disconnect there. He is able to get a bit of anonymous notoriety as he becomes a legend called Kira. Light sees this as an affirmation of his work, that people deep down believe in what he’s doing even though they’ll reject him in public.
The emergence of this new legend brings back an old legend. L is this mysterious, anonymous detective who works seemingly unsolvable cases around the world. He begins working with Japanese law enforcement to hunt down Kira. L sets up a quite clever trap for Kira and discovers that Light can kill people without physically being present. The game’s afoot!
This episode demonstrates how smart the story is so far. Not only is it moving at a breakneck speed, but it also is hitting a lot of legitimately clever twists and demonstrating how smart both Light and L are as characters. A lot of twists in fiction rely on shock value, but here, the twists are well-thought out and involve a bit of forethought in how they’re set up and what the aftermath will be.
It seems like the Death Note would be untraceable but L has already figured out a lot. This episode he narrows it down even more, figuring it must be a student because of the times of death and the idealistic sense of justice of only killing criminals. We also find out that Light’s Dad is one of the detectives hunting Kira. It’s crazy how many twists this show is going through already. This one, once again, feels smart as it gives Light an in to the police and he’s able to trace what they are doing.
There are several rules attached to the Death Note that give the show a bit of leg-room to make the book be a bit more creative. So far, Light has just been writing names and causes of death and watching the bodies drop. But this time, he starts toying with how he can set a specific time of death, which means criminals can die while he’s at school, making his behavior less suspicious, although L doesn’t seem to be deterred from his hypothesis by the change in schedule.
Ryuk has spent a lot of time in the background, but this episode he gives Light an interesting offer. He says he can give Light Shinigami eyes which will let him see the name of any person he can see. The price for these eyes is half of Light’s remaining life-span. It finally seems like a way the show might begin to bridge the two worlds, but the episode ends before we get Light’s answer.
Light doesn’t take the deal. He’s thinking long term and doesn’t think the gamble is worth it. Light starts toying with whether or not he can control the events leading up to a person’s death. The book allows him to control the circumstances of death, but he begins discovering limitations. Light is doing all this because he discovers that he has a tail and he wants to get the name of his tale so he can kill him. The plan is super elaborate, and quite smart.
What I wonder at this juncture is if the show is ever going to burn out because each episode seems to come up with something more elaborate and impressive than the last episode. I’m liking it, but I wonder if it’s setting the pacing of the show to eventually plateau, at the least. The irony of Light’s impressive plan is that his tail is about to back off anyway for lack of seeing anything suspicious and if Light did nothing, his problem would disappear on its own. His drive to do something might be his undoing.
First of all, Light’s plan in this episode is dark and crazy. What he does this episode is really dark. It’s one thing for him to kill criminals, but in this episode he wipes out a whole crew of FBI agents and he does it by making his tail, Ray Pembler, unknowingly write in the Death Note. This brings up all kinds of questions. First of all, does Light have any guilt about doing this at all? He’s been about wiping out evil men, to this point, but now he’s killing law enforcement agents. Although, he has tried to kill L before, this is the first time he’s crossed a clear-cut moral line of killing someone he has no proof of evildoing.
How many pages does this Death Note have? Is there something about it being endless, because the body count is crazy in this show. Also, is the the pages itself that have the power and not so much the actual book? I’m hoping the show deals with these issues because as good as this episode is, it seems like the show has a lot to answer for now and, at the speed the show is going, I’m worried it will glaze over some of these.
Turning to L for a bit, I’ve felt like he’s been on the backfoot for the last few episodes. The first episode with L set up this great back and forth, but now L seems really passive. He’s even been getting these messages from the victims Light has been killing and while they seem gibberish, he gets this message that seems to be an insult. Is it from Light or is it from someone else?
At this point, I think the fatal flaw of the show is I don’t have a strong desire to see one character triumph. The enjoyment of the show is just watching the game unfold and see how each side plays the other. It’s a bit ambiguous because while Light/Kira is doing something bad, he’s a kid and we can see that sense of skewed justice making some sense.
The show hasn’t given us a character to invest in emotionally. I feel like Ryuk, indifferent to who wins, but just interested in seeing how it unfolds. I hope that changes though, with both the FBI agent’s fiancé having a personal vendetta and L finally deciding to work face-to-face with a small group of Japanese police, the show might finally give us characters to care about.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing