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Death Note: Manga versus Anime

Nadia's thoughts on the Death Note series.

By Nadia Oxford     April 10, 2008


Death Note
© Viz Media

The Death Note anime is quickly reaching the halfway point of its American run, and it is much-loved. The games of cat and mouse between serial killer Kira and the mysterious detective named L have reached a peak. The anime comes highly recommended: It looks good, it sounds good and it probably won't bore you to tears if you decide to follow it.

On the other hand, it might. Death Note suffers from some flaws that are common to anime adaptations in general; the transition from manga can sometimes prove to be a rough and winding road. Anime, for example, is notorious for filler material: Mostly irrelevant episodes that feature events never seen in the manga. These can prove to be nightmares for canon-conscious fanfic writers, who happen to be the best kind to torment. So maybe filler material isn't so bad.

The Death Note anime doesn't have much in the way of filler material. In fact, certain scenes that dragged in the manga have been trimmed. The anime is rockin', no doubt, but the manga still feels superior. This is a debate that won't pass lightly, so to dwell on a few key points:

Dialog-heavy manga isn't much fun to watch on the screen. Death Note is about two geniuses outwitting each other, so the characters pause for internal monologues often enough to stun Shakespeare. The Death Note manga was on the wordy side; anyone who hates having every character action explained to them won't want to hang out with Kira and L very much. Regardless, a manga that's thick with dialog goes down easier than an anime where the characters stand still and think out loud a lot. The Death Note anime employs a lot of dramatic camera angles to make these inner speeches seem more profound, but it doesn't hide the fact that these dudes aren't moving very often.

The characters are a bit over the top. The Death Note manga leaves a very clear impression that L and Kira are so evenly matched because they're very much alike—even though their ideas of justice are wildly different. True, L is frumpy and has odd habits (most of which revolve around the consumption of sweets), but he's calm and rational. The anime, on the other hand, portrays him as overly-strange with a special emphasis on his obsession for pastries. It's not the most radical character alteration ever performed, but Kira is a different story. He was collected in the manga (which made the end twist so dramatic), but in the anime he seems to fly off the handle and raise his voice about everything. Who can forget his dramatic monologue about potato chips early in the series? It was a terribly silly thing to throw into a scene that was initially calm and quiet.

Religious Symbolism Is escalated 1000%. Japanese anime often touches Judeo-Christian religion in strange places. What's sacred to us isn't necessarily so to them (and vice-versa). Death Note is the story of a boy who doles out God's justice, therefore religious symbolism is unavoidable. This was handled subtly in the manga, often through distinctively gothic cover art. In the anime, Kira won't stop screaming about how he's God. It'll be interesting to see how the Kira-worshiping Teru Mikami is handled.

What's up with the second season's opening animation? Is it supposed to be serious? A parody? The furious System of a Down imitation is pretty entertaining (by the way Viz, everyone knows the singer is screaming the F word over and over, so you may as well use accurate subtitles). At the very least, no one can say it's boring. The second season's closing song and animation fare a little better. Great use of glass elevators.

This list is just for comparison's sake. Basically, if you had to choose between the Death Note manga or anime, the former is recommended above the latter. Still, the ideal solution is to just indulge in both. Death Note is a series that shouldn't be missed in any form.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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peak37pt 4/10/2008 8:10:34 AM
Great comparison! As a lover of ever version of this story (even the movies) I would personally say that the anime is my favorite. You're points on why the manga is stronger I do agree with though, but the artwork and the pacing of the anime is what makes me like it better, due to the cutting of misc parts from the manga, like you said. The only point I disagree with you is on the theme song change in season 2. Though over-the-top, I think the "system of a down" craziness is exactly the point. The personal story of Kira/L becomes the story of the society that they live in, and at that point in the anime the scope of the story becomes more epic. I love that song (even though I'm not into extreme F*ck U heavy metal) because I think the song hits the theme and ideas of the characters/society that the anime is portraying in season 2. All in all....Death Note is amazing, in EVERY version of it. If you haven't read the small spinoff book "Another Note," I highly recommend it. Great noir book.
nadiaoxford 4/10/2008 10:16:18 AM
Great analysis of the second season theme song. :) It still makes me laugh, but it's definitely not a boring thing to watch. I think I heard that Viz is translating Another Note...or maybe it's been translated already? I bet it's worth a look. Thanks for the reminder! Death Note is definitely awesome, no matter what format you choose to enjoy it in.
adamwolkov_home 4/16/2008 7:31:31 AM
Is there enough difference between the anime and manga that a fan of the anime (me) would enjoy it?
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