25 Days of Anime - #18: Death Note

This modern detective story - one intense game of cat and mouse - has some very high stakes. The Death Note, a mythical notebook which allows users to kill any individual whose name and face they know, has fallen into the world of mortals. Ryuk, a Shinigami (God of death) grew bored with his life in the dying otherworldly realm of his kin, and sent the Death Note on its way. It is picked up by one Light Yagami, a high school student who believes he can use it to carry out his own vision of justice (which becomes arguably more twisted as the series progresses).

Every person and every event in the anime plays by a set of rules. The Death Note requires the user know both the actual name and the physical appearance of a victim, otherwise it will not work. Should the user not specify a means of death, the victim will simply die of a heart attack shortly after their name has been recorded. The user can bargain with their Shinigami partner to gain use of eyes which allow them to see the names of every person on Earth as well as their remaining lifespan, but the cost is steep - they must sacrifice half of their own remaining life, regardless of whether that period is measured in years or days. And when all is said and done, a Death Note user will not be allowed to die - instead, their name will be recorded in the Shinigami's own Death Note and said human will cease to exist on any plane of reality.

Rules are also in place for each character. While Light does make use of the Death Note, his initial plan is to only kill criminals, starting off with those that commit serious crimes. Once people begin to take notice of this trend, suspicions arise from both the public and police forces as to who might be the individual responsible for these deaths. Now widely referred to as 'Kira', Light takes extra precautions to hide the Death Note in a safe location, carries spare pages with him whenever he leaves home, and times his killings according to his daily schedule. All of this presents an intriguing prospect for L, the world's greatest detective. L too plays by a specific set of rules - he can never entirely trust anyone but himself, but he does use simple processes of elimination to hunt down Kira and hopefully smoke him out of hiding. As one of his first actions in challenging Kira's reign of terror, L dupes him into believing a localized broadcast is happening worldwide, leading Light to kill a man posing as L and immediately narrowing the search radius down to the Tokyo area based on the previous information L had gathered on Kira's killings.

Light and L are very similar, and at the same time strikingly different characters. Light believes he is exacting justice, but L believes he is in fact a mass murderer. Light is willing to manipulate others - not just through use of the Death Note, but also by toying with their emotions - whereas L makes it clear to his loyal task force members just what sort of dangers lie ahead should they choose to stick with him for the remainder of the investigation. Both plan every course of action a few steps ahead, though it seems L has many alternative plans prepared early on, whereas Light has a learning curve to overcome with regards to his familiarities with the Death Note. The rest of the cast is thoroughly entertaining in their involvement in the Kira investigation, but really Light and L are the two who make this series as enjoyable as it is. The combination of modern-day detective tale and a few mythical elements makes for a dark and tense case that throws many twists before it is resolved.

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