By Jarod Jones
Death Note is the kind of show where you try to watch one episode, but end up losing an entire weekend to its tiringly tense chase, and you aren’t even mad about it. Despite some ill-received plot choices in the middle episodes, it’s an intelligently written, well paced and consistently addictive series that’s being made into a live-action film. This will air on Netflix on August 25, but you should probably watch the anime first, even if you don’t tend to like anime normally.
For those who’ve never heard of it (spoilers ahead), Death Note is a 2006 anime adaptation of a manga made in 2003 that follows the story of Light Yagami, a high school student who happens across a supernatural notebook that grants him the ability to kill anyone, any way he likes, by writing their name in the book. Considering himself a hero, he tries to use the book to cleanse the world of evil, and effectively plays God, which leads an incredibly skilled detective to try to hunt him down. It’s not easy to find someone who can kill someone with natural causes without even being near them, but the book does have some important rules, so things start to complicate themselves.
Aside from its near perfect pacing, one of my favorite things about Death Note is its somewhat strange ability to make me want the bad guy to come out on top – something I haven’t felt quite so strongly since I first watched it, except maybe in Breaking Bad. The subtle character progression keeps you addicted to the chaos, as you watch the series’ main character evolve alongside it. Watching a simple, disengaged student slowly transform into a sociopath is a terrifying reward, and that journey becomes just as much of a plot point as each of the twists are. If you liked Breaking Bad for similar reasons, chances are you’ll like Death Note, despite their differences.
I think by the end, I truly hated Light Yagami and was morally opposed to every decision he made, but I didn’t want him to leave. I can’t tell you why, except that the writers made him such a delight to watch, like a slowly worsening car crash you can’t help but stare at. In that, it’s also a great show to re-watch even if you’ve seen it already. Experiencing the first episode over again does such a good job of showcasing just how much the world changes, which happens too subtly over the series for you to fully realize it.
In Death Note, the unstoppable is stopped. The unstoppable is challenged every step of the way. One step ahead is sometimes actually less than what’s needed, and there’s careful effort to avoid telling you too much about what tricks either side has up their sleeve. You feel like you’re guessing just as much as the protagonists are, and every victory is fleeting. Those moments and the cliffhangers that follow, are hopelessly addictive.