Death Note: Volume 4
Are there enough exclamation marks there? Just making sure, because if you read past this point without already knowing the story through the manga, or other means, then don't blame me when you find out how a major story arc ends. It goes without saying that if you have enjoyed the series so far through the first six discs, then you will want to know how that arc ends, and this disc will tell you that. So it goes without saying that you're going to buy this disc regardless. Stop reading this now, buy Volume 4, watch it, then come back and read the review.
The second half of 2008 unleashed a Death Note frenzy in the UK, as the manga came to a conclusion, the live action films were released, and the two-disc anime sets continued to be released. We're through the other side now, and are entering wind down mode, and all that is left is the final arc of the anime. With just 13 episodes to go, we get a single disc release for volume 4. It was inevitable with a 37 episode series that two-disc editions with 8 episodes apiece would leave an uneven chunk; it was just a question of when we would get it. However, with the releases almost caught up to the US ones, it seems likely at this point that it will be single disc releases all the way to the end of the series. It's only two more though, and with Manga knocking a fiver off the retail price in comparison to the two-disc sets, it isn't going to be as painful to your wallet as it could have been.
Ryuk is a Shinigami, a Death God. The Shinigami exist to shepherd souls across to the other side, and where convenient give them a helping hand. This is done by means of the Death Note, a book in which the Shinigami write the name of the soon to be deceased, and an optional cause of death, and that prediction duly come to pass. But Ryuk is bored. Light Yagami is a high school student; actually he is an exemplary high school student, fiercely intelligent and regularly scoring the highest grades in Japan. The world could be his oyster, except that with nothing to challenge him, he is bored. That's until the day that the Death Note 'accidentally' falls into his school grounds. Initially sceptical of a prank, or a sick joke, he's about to dismiss it from his mind, but curiosity urges him to pick it up, and try it out. He stunned when it actually works. Soon he has a plan to clean up the criminal, the sick and depraved, and remove them from the world, crafting his ideal society, a society over which he will have the power of a god. But for the authorities, murder is murder, and a sudden rash of unexplained deaths among criminals surely must be connected. The enigmatic L comes to Japan to hunt the ruthless vigilante now come to be known as 'Kira', and he gathers a small group of determined investigators to help, among them Light's own policeman father, Inspector Souichiro Yagami. Soon it is Light who is being hunted.
The hunt reached its climax in the previous volume, as Light's intricate plan unfolded. The rules of the Death Note allowed him to relinquish ownership, and all memories pertaining to it, essentially rendering him an innocent. That innocent Light Yagami became an integral part of the investigation, helping L track down Kira, who by now was a businessman working for the Yotsuba group. But when the Death Note fell into Light's hands once more, he regained all his memories, and found himself a trusted member of L's team, with a winning hand close to his chest. The story continues over four episodes, presented here in Volume 4 by Manga Entertainment.
And once again… SPOILERS!!!!
Light can almost taste his perfect world, just one more step to take, and it's all his. With Misa in possession of the second Death Note, the killings resume, while the investigative team are at a loose end as to who is responsible. But L has been quizzing the Shinigami Rem, and he's put two and two together. He realises that one of the rules of the Death Note may be fake, and if so, he'll know for sure who Kira is. But even as he takes the necessary step to test his theory, he begins to behave very oddly. Light is playing the game like a Grandmaster now, and he's even manoeuvred Rem into a no win situation.
Light is the god of the new world, he's practically the head of the investigation, which means that he gets to deal with L's message to his potential successor detailing every step of the investigation so far. All it takes is a press of the delete button. But the world doesn't need to know that L is gone. From now on Light will be L, and it's a matter of hacking L's computer systems, and using his voiceprint overlay to deceive the world. Years later, Light becomes a qualified police investigator, while the reign of Kira envelops the world. It's gotten to the point where countries that vocally denounce Kira secretly support his actions. But unbeknownst to Light, years previously, a couple of young people in an orphanage set up by Watari received a message from L.
It was 2007 when the message was delivered to Near and Mello. One of them would have been L's successor, but L never actually made a decision as to which. Their guardian suggested they work as a team, an idea that was flatly rejected by Mello. Indeed Mello rejected the idea of succeeding L altogether, left it to Near, and walked out of the orphanage, never to be seen again. In 2012, Near approaches the US president with all his collated information about the Death Note, and his surmise that the Japanese Police have one in their custody. The US could always use a power like that, so a new task force is set up to hunt down Kira, separately from the Japanese. But when one of the task force visits Souichiro Yagami to apply a little diplomatic pressure, the timing couldn't be worse. Director Takimura of the NPA has just been kidnapped, and the ransom demands specify the Death Note. It turns out Mello has been busy the past 5 years, and is looking to become a power in his own right. When Takimura isn't enough, he makes it personal and kidnaps Sayu Yagami, Light's little sister.
With Light's father in possession of the Death Note, and heading to the US to make the exchange, Light's investigation moves to Los Angeles, working together with Near to hunt down Mello. But Souichiro's flight is diverted to a secluded desert location for an underground exchange away from prying satellites. The situation spirals out of Light and Near's control, especially when Near's task force start dropping dead around him. Meanwhile, the shinigami that lost the original Death Note in the first place realises that Ryuk took it, and he heads to Earth to retrieve it.
Death Note gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that is typical of modern anime. It's clear and sharp enough, with only the barest of NTSC-PAL transfer signs worth mentioning. For a series that is some 37 episodes in length, you would expect a few corners to be cut and money be saved when it come to the animation. Not in the case of Death Note though, as the animation courtesy of Madhouse Studios is top notch. The character and world designs are excellent, and the level of detail and fluidity of motion speaks to a high investment in the animation. The look of the show suits the story well, with the Shinigami realm a suitably dark and creepy otherworld, while the city gets a cold impersonal feel, with everything in pastels and understated. As you would expect from a show with such dark themes, there's plenty use of shadows and moody lighting. It makes for a rewarding viewing experience.
There is an odd horizontal glitch on this disc though, 41:00 into the programme.
You have a choice of DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs track. You won't get any complaints from me when it comes to the English dub, which is cast very well. All the voices suit their characters, and the performances live up to the hype surrounding the anime. Of course my preference as always is for the original language track, and there were no problems here either. There are new themes from episode 20 onwards in this set, although by giving into temptation and going for the full Death Metal treatment, they've made me wear out my skip button a little more quickly. The incidental music on the other hand is really quite notable, taking a leaf from Danny Elfman when it comes to spooky and quirky, and certainly suits the bizarre Ryuk character down to a T.
The subtitles could have used a little proofreading, although this is probably a message to Viz in Region 1 rather than Manga in the UK. I was a little confused at Light preparing to 'steal the system' while he was typing away at L's computer, when 'hack the system' would have been more appropriate.
The English Voice Actor Interviews last 11 minutes, and this time focus on Alessandro Juliani (L) and French Tickner who voiced Watari. It's something of a tribute to their characters and a retrospective appreciation of the show up to episode 25
The commentary on episode 25 sees Karl Willems joined by Alessandro Juliani (L), and Colleen Wheeler (Rem). Once again it starts off as one of those 'state the obvious' commentaries, but when it gets to the show's key scenes, then there is some analysis and interpretation that's well worth listening to. There's also a brief comparison with the live action movies.
The Production Art Gallery contains 10 images.
I guess I better start off with the bad news. Much as I've raved about this series, I haven't been looking forward to this volume, and it's mostly because of the second arc. I've read all but the final manga volume, and I really felt that the final arc, moving the action forward in time and introducing two new nemeses for Light to deal with, was over-egging the pudding. Death Note with Light and L going head to head was exciting, enthralling and nigh on addictive, and the end of that arc, coming at episode 25 in the anime, seems like a natural, if somewhat inconclusive place to end the series. But the addition of two new characters, and the direction that the story subsequently takes seems to me like a case of having your cake and eating it. It's just like those Hollywood franchises that I lament, where they always take it a sequel too far, to universal derision. The problem here is that the anime has followed the manga very faithfully to this point. If it were to do the same in the final arc, then I can foresee my interest waning dramatically for the final volumes.
Of course this disc is absolutely essential if you have been following the series thus far, as the first episode resolves the battle of wits between Light and L. Also, if you have just seen the live action films, then you should understand that the anime and the manga take the story in a completely different direction. It's a hell of a climax, one that takes the series to new levels, both in terms of animation and production value, but also in terms of actor performances, and sheer elegance of script. It's almost easy to forget that this is actually not an action show, it's not about gunplay and explosive combat, it's about the locking of minds, and the clash of personalities. It's truly a clash of titans, with all the edge of the seat tension and drama that it deserves. Watching the final confrontation between Light and L on a storm-swept rooftop, with both characters feeling the foreshadowing of death, I was taken with the operatic epic nature of it. But then this is followed by a more personal, intimate conversation between the two, a couple of biblical references, and I realised that this was one of those rare television moments that will stay with me no matter how much time passes. It's the anime equivalent of Who Shot JR, a moment that's bigger than the series that spawned it, and one that will certainly enter the anime Zeitgeist, if not pop culture in general.
But then what I feared does happen, the anime sticks closely to the manga. Episode 26 can be dismissed as a recap episode, although the last ten minutes are devoted to setting the scene for the final arc, moving the story forward by five years, and giving us a quick update as to how Kira's ideal world has come to pass. Light's pretty much heartless and irredeemable at this point, and unchallenged by L, he's also pretty bored. Rather than give him a new challenge, the creator gave him an old one, times two. He now finds that he's facing L's would be successors, and also cheating in terms of character development, L's character traits have been split across the two. Near is the tousled mess of a genius, who also perches at the edge of his chair, and obsessively plays with puzzles and games, while Mello inherits L's sweet tooth, with a particular preference for chocolate. Everyone's after the Death Note again, and everyone's extending the lateral thinking and convoluted machinations to achieve their aims. Light's been out of practice for five years, so he's caught on the back foot when first the Chief of the NPA, and then his own sister are kidnapped. He heartlessly deals with the first kidnap by just killing the hostage, but when it comes to his sister, he has to think about it first.
Of course you're not supposed to ask questions of the plot. Five years have gone by in which Kira has been ruthlessly mopping up the criminal fraternity. Yet Mello manages to become the head of a major criminal group, take it underground and keep it secret, and amass a fair amount of resources in the meantime. When he reveals a stealth cruise missile as part of his plan, my suspension of disbelief shatters. Death Note is a series that pushes the bounds of fantasy anyway, but there are limits. It's like when you were playing Cowboys and Indians at school, and one kid would cheat by pulling out a pretend phaser.
Also, there are no longer any characters to root for. I've already mentioned that Light is in my opinion irredeemable, but Mello is wholly criminal is his actions, while Near is working for the US, who want the Death Note as a weapon of sneaky destruction. Death Note's second arc for me is just a matter of seeing it through to the end, a dry un-involving experience that's purely academic at this point, not a patch on the brilliant first arc. Still not having read the final volume of the manga, I'd be lying if I said I could live without seeing the end. This disc is essential just for the brilliant conclusion of Light versus L, but the rest of it will depend on what you think of the second arc.