Death Note Vol. #1 (also w/Deluxe Edition) (of 9) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, November 19, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2007



What They Say
Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects - and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal... or his life?

This deluxe edition includes a limited figure of the Shinigami Ryuk.

Contains episodes 1-4:
Rebirth
Confrontation
Dealings
Pursuit

The Review!
When a notebook practically falls into his hands that allows him to kill anyone he chooses, Light begins a career that will elevate him to a godlike status on Earth.

Audio:
Death Note is a solid presentation from Viz Media that contains a surprisingly good pair of stereo mixes encoded at 256 kbps. Some shows tend to be a bit flat in their presentation or center channel specific but this stereo mix on both sides does quite a good job with its material. A lot of it is dialogue based alongside some music used to heighten the moment and it's all very well placed with an excellent sense of depth when required. The original mix really handles all of this well by providing some excellent atmosphere and presenting the show in a way that gives it more impact. We skimmed the English language version and listened to the entire Japanese language track throughout which we had no problems with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006 and 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Viz doesn't get too many widescreen shows so I was curious to see how well this would come out. Death Note is done with a rather distinct visual style that will keep it from looking all shiny and new, something that works to its advantage in terms of story. The series is shot somewhat soft and with a filtered look that gives it some additional grain. Many of the scenes really feel like film and that gives it some wonderful depth and realism. Colors are generally quite good looking and without oversaturation but the softness keeps it from looking pristine, which is part of the intent. The main issues that crop up with it are partially source based as there are several scenes in which banding is visible in the backgrounds. This causes some additional noise there which in some cases turns into minor but visible blocking.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but with a touch more flair and color, it's quite the stylish piece as it has Light in a chair with an apple in his hand. His character design is an appealing one in this near black and white format which has the red colors really standing out strongly. The logo is done with a bit of foil which gives it a bit more pop and contrasts well with the dark nature of the artwork overall. The back cover is very nicely done as it utilizes some of the basic iconography of the series with it being laid out using the Death Note instructions. The summary is contained here as is the episode numbers and titles along with basic features listings. The bottom portion has some production credits and a very minor technical grid that contains more logos than anything else. The reverse side of the cover, which can be found underneath the opaque keepcase, has numerous small shots from the show in full color. The included insert features a listing of each episode number and title along with some of the basic rules in both English and Japanese. It opens up to a two panel spread of Light, L and Ryuk.

In addition to the disc only release, there is a disc+limited edition figure release. This is really nice and a rarity for a single volume release from Viz Media. They tend to do LE items on their season sets of some shows so it's not out of the realm of possibility. The limited edition figure is identical to the one that came with the Japanese release as it features Ryuk in great detail. The figure is of good size and the packaging is very secure and stable. The box is done in a theme that fits the show and it has one side that's devoted to talking about the show itself since the back of the keepcase isn't visible with it as they're shrink wrapped together. This package is the only place where it mentions that it's a nine volume series.

Menu:
The menu design for the series is appropriately done but it's extremely annoying as there is a fifty-two second lead-up animation piece with scenes from these episodes that cannot be skipped. I tend to go into shows not knowing much and I absolutely hate ones that show off a lot of the show I'm about to watch just before I even get to the menu. Making it impossible to skip through just makes it all the worse. The main menu itself is decent as it features the series name through the center design while ornate etchings frame the entire thing. Navigation selections are kept to the corners and brief bits of animation "strike" within it as lightning hits. The music and sounds are appropriately creepy and atmospheric which sets the mood perfectly. Navigation is quick and easy but unfortunately the disc did not read our players' language presets. It defaulted to English with no subtitles but it can be changed easily on the fly.

Extras:
Viz is putting their best foot forward with the extras on this volume, but I don't expect it to last across all nine volumes. The first extra is a twelve minute behind the scenes piece which is a US produced piece that showcases the actors hard at work and some of what's gone into the production. It's always interesting to see the differences in how these kinds of extras are approached between the US and Japan. They all have a similarity in how they're really just fluff pieces but the US ones tend to be a bit more freeform and not quite so… polite. Which is to be expected of course but it's always interesting to see it play out. The second extra is a production art galley section which is sixteen pieces long as it shows off both character designs and background concepts. The clean versions of the opening and closing sequences are included here and hopefully we'll get them in other volumes as well when they change. The last extra, another US produced one, is a director commentary with the first episode of the series done by Karl Willems. I couldn't listen to more than a couple minutes of it since it came across more as a narration of the story and events on screen than anything else.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the twelve volume manga series by Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ooba, Death Note is a thirty-seven episode series that is essentially a big game of cat and mouse. The manga series gained critical acclaim worldwide and spawned not only the anime version but also a couple of live action movies and spin-offs. The entire series revolves around death and its application in the form of justice that becomes twisted and perverted. While the series has plenty of areas that merit discussion depending on moral points of view, it can also be enjoyed as a chase between two sides.

Set in the modern day real world, Death Note introduces us to the Shinigami concept as reality as we see the Shinigami world where everyone there is bored. They spend their days doing nothing or gambling, only taking enough time to put in a new name or two to their Death Notes in order to continue extending their existence. One of the more bored Shinigami is a decidedly evil looking creature named Ryuk. With nothing happening in this world, he decides to drop one of his Death Notes down into the Human world in order to find some sort of excitement. This confuses most of the others who can't understand what he's looking for, but for Ryuk it leads him to an unpredictable life that makes him feel alive.

Death Notes have found their way to the Human world in the past, though we don't get to understand any real instances of it just yet. Ryuk's notebook lands, almost quite literally, into the hands of a Japanese high school student named Light. Light is an exceptionally smart student who is in the midst of studying for his college entrance exams. He's the serious and studious type but also one who has a certain level of popularity because of his good looks and general athleticism. While he's not the cream of the campus in social status terms, he's very well liked and is able to do as he pleases for multiple reasons. When he comes across the notebook at the school, he barely gives it a second look considering its first page of rules creates a feeling of a chain letter.

But something about how well written it is, how detailed the rules are of its, has him keeping the notebook. In it he learns of how if he writes someone's name in it, they'll die within forty seconds. If he puts in a reason for their death, it'll happen as he writes it. If he writes nothing, they'll just have a heart attack. Through experimentation and a sense of justice that he has about how to deal with this "rotting world," Light begins a career of offing hard core criminals that are in prison worldwide. It takes time for it to attract the attention of the authorities but that does come to pass. At the same time his efforts are being noticed, efforts he's concocting in order to be noticed, Ryuk reveals himself to Light and starts to explain more of the rules of the Death Note. Light's crafty nature combined with the knowledge he gets from Ryuk, who is rather fascinated with Light, elevates him even higher in his mind and his desire to change the world with him as its god really comes into focus.

Light can't be without an opponent and the one that's slowly introduced is just as much off his nut as Light is, but in a very different way. A famous detective known only as L, he works through Interpol via front men so that his face isn't known. He's helped them solve numerous unsolvable crimes over the years so he's the first one that the ICPO thinks of when they realize the scope of what these mysterious deaths are all about. As Light's role begins take on a new level through the internet as people name him Kira, L takes what's been learned of the murders and starts applying logic to them to determine who Kira really is. In its most basic form, Death Note becomes a series about a chase between two sides. There are many more levels to it, but these core elements are what keeps the series as engaging as it is at the start and works to bring in many more characters with twists and turns along the way.

Having read the manga series as it was released in the US, there's a definite familiarity to the material which led me to enjoying it on an aesthetic level more, particularly since the animation is done by Mad House. The manga series had a very distinctive and appealing look to it and that's carried off rather wonderfully here. With the softer focus and the added grain, it has a film-like feel throughout many scenes which isn't hurt in the slightest by the overall sense of design in backgrounds and characters. This doesn't feel like a typical TV anime series but rather something of an event. Mad House has done a solid job with this in adapting it from the manga and giving it something different as well. The manga had such clean crisp line work that at first the grain and drab look feels a bit off, but in its adaptation to animation it's something that actually works better since it gives a feeling of realism to it. It's not all squeaky clean and neat. Each format works quite though and I'd hesitate to call one better than the other.

I do have to include my general Viz Media nitpick here though. I continue to dislike they way they do their ending credits by listing everyone for all episodes in one scroll. That they list voice actors for episodes that won't air for awhile and list all the episode directors and so forth just feels wrong to me. I want to see translated credits of each individual episode, not one big roll of it. If I wanted that I could just get it online.

In Summary:
Death Note was a surprising series when I read the manga. This anime adaptation so far looks rather faithful but with obvious and necessary changes for pacing and structure in place. The production values are stellar and Viz Media has done quite a good job in the presentation of the release. While there are small things that can be nitpicked over, such as subtitle font and minor translation things, the overall release is quite stellar and something that you can easily introduce to others. What provides the most fun with it after watching it is the kinds of discussions you can get into. Things may be simple in terms of what Light is trying to do, but whether people agree with it or can even understand it has led to some great discussions in the last couple of years. With a lot of new people getting into it, it's only going to get more interesting. These first four episodes lay the foundation for Death Note that will have people coming back for more as quickly as possible. Very highly recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Behind the Scenes,Production Art Gallery,Director's Commentary,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 24.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Death Note