For the past few years my fifteen-year-old daughter, Kali, has been fascinated by anime, manga, and the Japanese culture and language. In an effort to understand why she loves it all so much, I agreed to watch an anime series with her. We decided we’d turn it into a regular column on Project Fandom: Otaku vs. Notaku. Otaku is the Japanese word for someone who has an obsessive interest in anime and manga (Kali). Notaku is a word we made up to describe an anime/manga novice (me).
The first anime we’re covering is Death Note. Death Note is about a Japanese high school student, Light Yagami, who finds a notebook with some pretty messed up instructions: Any human whose name you write in the book will die. Light, at first, dismisses this as a sick joke – like the stupid chain letters you get from friends who don’t know how the internet works. But curiosity gets the best of him and takes the notebook home to investigate further.
The notebook has some simple, but oddly specific rules:
As a live news report gives the details of a hostage situation at a daycare center, Light decides to test out the notebook, not really believing anything would happen. He writes the name of the suspect and sure enough, 45 seconds later, the hostages come running out of the building and the reporter says the suspect had suddenly collapsed. Somewhat convinced, Light tries it again because science. The first time could have been a morbid coincidence! Best to commit murder again to be sure. Fortunately for Light, the streets of Japan are filled with some pretty open criminals. He settles for a guy named Taco who’s about to rape a girl with some of his friends, all out in the open. Forty seconds after Taco’s name is written in the book, he’s hit by a truck.
Shit just got real.
In five days time, Light manages to kill a ton of criminals and this gets the attention of Ryuk, the shinigami (god of death) who dropped the book to Earth. When Ryuk first appears to Light, Light assumes it’s to take his soul. We see that after the first two deaths, Light thought that using the book would come with a price, but the temptation to control the fates of so many bad people was too great.
Ryuk explains that using the book just once means that when Light dies, he will go to neither heaven or hell. He dropped the book out of boredom and once he saw how much Light was using it, he had to come to meet him. But Light is the only one who can see and hear him. By the end of the first episode, Light announces his desire to use the book to rid the world of all the people he deems bad and he will become the god of those who remain.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Observations and Conversations:
- In the montage of all the deaths Light caused over the span of five days, I noticed all of the criminals were men. Not sure if that was a conscious choice of the show and it will mean something later, or if it just happened to be that way. Kali, not wanting to spoil me, wouldn’t confirm either way.
- I was shocked with how fast Light went from, “Maybe I shouldn’t do this” to “KILL ALL THE PEOPLE!” That kid has a dark side. Maybe him finding the book wasn’t as random as Ryuk said.
- I asked Kali if she would use such a book. “Not the way Light is using it.” I’m side-eye’ing her.
- She asked if I would use the book and I admitted that I’d be tempted, but the possibility of screwing it all up would probably keep me from doing it. Like, would I be so set on NOT thinking of the face of someone I didn’t want to kill that their face would pop up in my head anyway? Not sure what it says about me that that was my main concern.
- Kali asked if I had a problem with the way Light was using the book. If you believe there’s a God, then you have to think that using the book is wrong. If you don’t believe in a higher power, then is it safe to think that Light finding the book and using it is just luck? Shit happens?
- When Ryuk asks why Light kills all the well-known criminals by heart attack, but puts specific causes of death for the lesser-known ones, Light points out that he wants people to make a connection between the deaths of the famous criminals. He wants the world to know that he’s responsible. To me, that highlights more of Light’s dark, power hunger, crazy-ass side.
Kali and I will be alternating episodes so for episode 2, she’ll be handling the recap and sharing her thoughts on our observations and conversation. Hope you’ll join us!
Here’s how we rated the episode. Kali’s rating is based on knowing what happens going forward. The fact that she feels like the episodes get so much better really makes me excited to continue this series.
Death Note is available on Netflix Instant viewing. You can also purchase the first season below.