Death Note Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • Running time: 200
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Death Note

Death Note Vol. #1

By Dani Moure     May 19, 2008
Release Date: April 28, 2008

Death Note Vol. #1
© Manga UK

What They Say
The human whose name is written in this note shall die.

Brilliant but bored high school student Light Yagami suddenly finds himself holding the power of life and death in his hands, the power of the the Death Note! He decides to rid the world of evil, by killing off criminals one by one. When the murders start to pile up, genius detective L is on the case, and an epic battle of wits unfolds.

The Review!
A new series kicks off, that blurs the lines between good and evil, as a young man discovers the power to kill people at will by writing their name in a book called the Death Note.

I listened to the English language track primarily for my main review, and noticed no dropouts, distortions or other technical problems. Since the show is so dialogue heavy, most of the output comes from the centre channel. The same can be said of the Japanese track from the areas I spot-checked.

The English dub is excellent and very well produced. The veteran Brad Swaile does a brilliant job on Light's rather schizophrenic character, and Alessandro Juliani (of Battlestar Galactica fame) is great as L. In general all the characters in this first volume were well cast and none sounded out of place.

Death Note aired from October 2006 to June 2007 in Japan, and as such looks really good. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the show looks great. I noticed no artifacting or any other problems while watching; in fact this was one of the best looking anime DVDs I've seen upscaled so far. The colour palette for the show is really fitting, and brings the manga to life exactly how you'd expect.

Subtitles are in a yellow font which is easily readable, and I didn't notice any obvious spelling errors this time out. These appear to be the same subtitles that appear on the US DVDs from Viz Media, and this set is also the first I believe that Manga has produced that contain a separate signs-only subtitle track.

No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

The menus look really good. Both discs feature some moving imagery in the background with the show's logo and the selections down the left hand side. Disc 1 is in a blue hue, with an image of Light on the right, while Disc 2 features L on the right and is in green. Some dramatic music from the soundtrack plays over the main menu. Sub-menus are all static but the same colour and style as the main menus. Access times are fast, and overall the style fits nicely with the tone of the show.

A few good extras are on these discs. First are two very interesting Behind the Scenes features across both discs, each running about 12 minutes. The first has an in-depth interview with Brad Swaile (Light), and the second features Alessandro Juliani (L). Both actors discuss their history in the business, how they came to be in Death Note and the characters themselves. We're also given a 12 minute interview with the Japanese Animation Director and Character Designer that talks about how they came to work on the show and their feelings about it.

Additionally, there's an interesting voice actor commentary on Episode 7, which doesn't discuss any great details but those involved do talk a fair bit about the episode and how things happened in it. To round things out, we get the clean opening and ending, and a few production art galleries. There's definitely some good depth to the extras here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
You usually know the formula of a manga series coming from the pages of Shonen Jump in Japan; it'll be a tournament style story with young heroes challenging to better themselves. But every now and then something breaks the mould, and Death Note is one such series. Not only is it unlike the vast majority of its sister series, but it does something that very few series do, and that is focus on a character who essentially becomes the main villain of the piece.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The story begins as a shinigami (a god of death) called Ryuk drops a book called the Death Note from his realm to the human world. A young man called Light Yagami, the son of the police chief, is bored with his day to day life. One day at school, he spots a book outside from his classroom window, and on investigating he discovers it's the Death Note. It contains all sorts of instructions on how to kill someone simply by writing their name in its pages. All you need to know is their name, and have seen their face. Being an intelligent student, Light shrugs it off at first, but soon his interest is so piqued that he tries it out on a man he's seen before who is abusing a woman in the street. Sure enough, within moments the man dies, and Light realises that the Death Note is very real.

When he returns home, Light meets Ryuk and finds out more about what the Death Note is and what it can do, as well as the shinigami and their realm. Light thinks that his discovery of the notebook means he was chosen, and decides that it is now his job to punish all the evil people in the world, and he wants the world to know about it. His delusions of grandeur, and constant killings of criminals from the TV, alerts the police and, in particular, a key genius detective known only "L". L is a man who never shows his face, even to the police he works so closely with, but in the special case of the serial killer they've nicknamed "Kira", he assembles a task force of four officers from the police, including Light's father.

The assembly of the Kira task force and L's introduction force Light's hand, as he comes under investigation as a potential suspect, and so is forced to react to L's constant attempts at catching him out. Neither Light nor L want to lose the battle, and it's clear that both will have their work cut out to outwit the other as they are so evenly matched. And although Light's initial motives may have been quite moral, he soon has to dispatch some innocent people as they get closer to finding out who he really is.

What is great about Death Note, even at this early stage, is the character development, in particular that of Light. In the space of eight episodes we watch him go from a normal high school student to a serial killer with little regard for the consequences of his actions. He starts off suggesting to Ryuk that what he is doing is for the greater good, only killing criminals to dish out true justice. But his sense of morality becomes twisted, and gradually it all changes. His murder of Raye Penber literally starts his downward spiral, as suddenly it becomes more important to protect him and his position than what really mattered - bringing the criminals to justice.

But of course, he has a great adversary in L, who tries to thwart him at every turn. Both are quite evenly matched in how they think, and try and catch each other out. At times you think one has outwitted the other, only for them to reverse it. At this stage, that's really what Death Note is about, Light versus L in a battle of wits. It makes for a riveting show, and there're plenty of dramatic moments throughout the show when you think Light might get captured or he might get one over on L. The supporting cast adds to the show a bit, but really they're firmly in the background at this stage. The most prominent is Light's father, who stands to lose an awful lot through his son's actions.

Perhaps the most negative thing you could say about Death Note is that some of the back and forth actions between Light and L are a little too contrived at times, and there's a bit too much explanation of some of the things that happen. It's great to see the thought processes of the main characters, but sometimes it goes a little bit too far.

Having said that, it does show how well plotted the whole series is so far, and after eight episodes I would have to say that Death Note has one of the most interesting and tightly scripted stories of any Shonen Jump based series I've seen. The production values are really good as well. Animated by Madhouse, the series looks fantastic with great animation and superb character designs, which stay wholly faithful to the manga they're based on. Another thing to add would be that Manga's presentation of this series, the first properly produced in conjunction with Viz Media, is exemplary. Death Note is a series really suited to being seen in large chunks, so getting eight episodes at a time is a great move, and the discs look and sound great.

In Summary:
Death Note stands out from the crowd by offering a real twist in your traditional story, focussing on the character that becomes the villain rather than your usual hero. It's riveting to watch as Light and L face off in a battle of the minds rather than your traditional fighting, and with great production values and an excellent release from Manga, it's very easy to recommend this show. It could easily become one of the best series to be released this year.

Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Behind the Scenes with English Voice Actors,Interview with Japanese Animation Director and Character Designer,Audio Commentary for Episode 7,Production Art Gallery,Clean Opening and Closing

Review Equipment
Samsung LE40M86 1080p HDTV, Philips DVP 5980 region free DVD player upscaling to 1080p via HDMI, Pioneer HTP-GS1 5.1 Surround Sound System.


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