Death Note Series Review: Not Quite Cat and Mouse

Overview:

I seriously can’t believe I hadn’t reviewed this anime already. I was probably holding it off for a special occasion and the lead up to Halloween works for me. Plus, having watched the Netflix movie recently the anime was on my mind so I rewatched the first half of it again so now seems a good time to write this. What is it about? Light, typical high school genius, finds a notebook that claims that if you write someone’s name in it that person will die. Of course he tries it and then he thinks he can change the world by wiping out all the criminals. Enter L, the detective who is going to hunt down the killer that leaves no evidence. I examined the relationship between Light and L in a feature on conflict a fair while back but here’s the link if you are interested.

By the way, this review has spoilers. Big ones. Just warning you.

Review:

Just have to say straight out that I love Death Note. This was one of the titles that really hooked me as an adult anime viewer and is part of the reason I became such a fan of anime. That isn’t to say the series is perfect or that I don’t have issues with it, but in terms of showing me that anime could be more than magical girls or giant robots, Death Note perfectly hit the spot and made me start looking further afield for shows to watch and I haven’t really looked back since.

I’ll start with the main criticism I have of the show and then I’ll get to gushing about how amazing it is.

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The major criticism of Death Note is the story. It is incredibly juvenile when you sit back and actually look at the plot without the atmosphere and tone making it look far more sophisticated than it is. Teenage boy gets a book that can kill people and decides he wants to play god. Other teenage boy  wants to prove he’s the best detective in the world by solving the unsolvable. Fight, fight, fight (admittedly, this is a mental battle but it is on par with anything you would see in most shounen stories) and then one of the two is defeated.

And while that is pretty basic, it is incredibly rewarding to watch, only the story doesn’t finish there. They then introduce some new antagonists for the protagonist to face off against and mostly duplicate the steps from the first half, only with less enthusiasm and atmosphere, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to stretch content and not let the series rest.

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For all that Death Note is quite clever in some of the things it does, the plot is not one of them. At its core it is an incredibly obvious make the audience question what they would do in a situation type story. And once we establish that Light is not a very stable person given he rationalises the deaths of thousands fairly quickly (which could be a statement about a lack of emotional intelligence in geniuses but mostly just comes off as unhinged), it is clear that despite being the protagonist, Light is the villain of the story, responsible for far more deaths than any of the criminals he consigns to death.

There are also issues with some of the twists in the story as they attempt to make it look like excellent planning and genius skill level on behalf of Light and L, but the anime continuously falls back on coincidence to keep things moving. What if Misa hadn’t visited Light at the university when L stole her phone and then she was arrested? What if Light hadn’t just run into Naomi on her way to the police station? What if Rem hadn’t acted to keep Misa safe? There are so many moments where things happen by chance but the characters act as if they were all factored in. Though that is a problem any time a character is supposed to be a genius. Most writers aren’t so even if they try to think about what a genius might do in a situation it usually comes off pretty contrived.

So now that I’m done tearing the plot apart, why do I love this show so much?

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The challenge between Light and L is amazing. Okay, I know I said earlier it is pretty standard shounen affair with both declaring themselves to be the face of justice and becoming entirely fixated on defeating the other, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great to watch. Despite the moments where these characters seem to slip up in their thinking, it is fun watching both characters try to find the tiniest chink in the other’s armour. Their natural attraction to one another, as someone who is thinking on their level, adds and extra dimension to the challenge, and even at the silliest moment (the fist fight while hand-cuffed still annoys me) these two characters are at their best when facing one another head on.

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I also just love Light as a protagonist. He’s so much fun to pick at and analyse. Did the book and the power make him crazy or was he always that way and the book gave him opportunity? There are arguments you can make both ways and evidence for both. I particularly love the scene with Naomi as Light is genuinely forced to think on his feet to deal with an unforseen situation. This is not the overly confident, maniacal laughing Light from the latter part of the series, but is the student still finding his way and looking carefully at all the angles and trying to find the best solution to his ‘problem’. That Naomi pushes him nearly to the brink before he succeeds is wonderful and there’s a real sense of tension in the entire exchange. My heart honestly fell a little when I realised Light had come out on top. I’d kind of hoped Naomi would find a way to be the first step to Light’s demise.

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Naturally Ryuk is another big draw to the show. His observations about humans and his general disinterest in the overall situation is quite entertaining. I would have liked him to have had a more active role at times given sometimes he seemed willing to help Light and other times he seemed obstinate for the sake of it. But still, as a Death God with no actual loyalty to Light, he was a pretty well done character.

I guess I should bring Misa up. She is kind of a necessary character for the plot to get going given without her mistakes they may never have gotten close to figuring out what was going on. Otherwise, most of her interactions in the story are pretty forgettable.

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The overall atmosphere and tone of the anime are wonderful. I love the use of symbolism and colour, even if it is in your face obvious most of the time (back to that idea of being a little juvenile). It just works beautifully at building tension and suspense. Also drama. How they manage to make a kid writing in a note book that intense is one of the absolute mysteries of the show.

The first opening theme is also fantastic. The second one however… well it isn’t a total train wreck is probably the nicest thing I’m going to say about that screaming drone with eye-hurting visuals. Of course, the second opening kind of coincides with where I usually stop watching because to be honest, after L leaves the story there is little real appeal in this show anymore. The end is worth watching the first time so you know how it ends, but rewatches allow you to just stop and not have to deal with the Mello and Near fiasco.

And that makes Death Note truly unique in that it is an anime I absolutely recommend even while admitting I don’t rewatch the end of it very often because it isn’t very good. That first half is pretty compelling and well worth trying if you’ve never given it a go.


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Karandi James.

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Hamatora Season 1 Series Review

Overview:

At the cafe Nowhere the detective agency Hamatora makes its base. Made up of a group of Minimum Holders (people with superpowers) they take on all kinds of jobs as long as they are interested. However somewhere in the city there’s a killer targeting Minimum Holders.

Review:

In case it sounds like the overview above is pretty derivative of a lot of other stories, you are absolutely right. As are the characters, the activations for powers, and the problems these characters face. We’ve seen pretty much everything here before, though maybe not in quite as many different colours (this show is bright). Despite that, Hamatora manages to be a fairly decent entry into the detectives with superpower line up. It isn’t going to blow you away but you should get a laugh or two out of it and as long as you aren’t going to question the physics of their powers and whether or not what they just explained actually made sense, you should get a reasonably decent story out of it.

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Hamatora’s main characters are Nice and Murasaki. Murasaki is the glasses wearing and slightly more sensible of the team (also a bit more grounded in reality realising that they actually have to take jobs that earn money occasionally) and Nice is the airhead who is going about life at his own pace (except he isn’t that much of an airhead when it comes to some things). These two met at a school for Minimum Holders though it seems neither graduated and Murasaki (who has an awesome power the few times he gets to use it) was pretty much always in Nice’s shadow. As a side note Murasaki was on my top 5 list for male characters who wear glasses.

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The other main pair that work for Hamatora (there’s another character as well as the staff of cafe nowhere but they are more important in season 2) are Birthday and Ratio, and already the names in this show are making you roll your eyes. While at first it seems like all four of these characters will play an important roll and we might get a team working together, the story chooses to focus almost exclusively on Nice (and Murasaki by default) with these two doing occasional filler stories and support roles. Which is a shame because their relationship and history are kind of cool.

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Another ex-student of their school, one who doesn’t have a power but now works as a detective, is Art. He’s serious and down to earth and is responsible for a lot of the jobs Hamatora manages to get. However, for a large part of this season, Art tries to keep Nice away from the serial killer case that is foreshadowed right from the start so instead of following along with the main investigation the audience is sidelined to the kiddy table with Nice and he goes about investigating an array of ultimately fairly pointless cases before he finally crosses paths with the case that the story is actually about.

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And remember what I said about the show being bright. While the normal character designs and clothes are enough to do your head in, the entire colour palette of this show is excessive in the sheer range of colours it throws at you and that’s before they start applying the effects for powers. The powers take an already incredibly bright show and make it nearly nauseating to look at.

That’s probably the show’s greatest weakness. It is trying impossibly hard to be cool. Cool soundtrack, bright colour scheme, characters who don’t have any real allegiances or ties so are free to make whatever call they like, and yet the story is so incredibly ordinary and while the characters are interesting enough they aren’t that different from anything we’ve seen before (though why Nice wears band aids on his face continuously is a mystery I’ll never solve).

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Despite that, this show is fun to watch. It isn’t amazing and you’ll have figured out mostly where this is going from the start. There are some good fight sequences though there’s also a little bit of gore (not extreme but it is a story about a serial killer). As a standalone story this would have worked just fine if they’d had one more episode to tie up a few loose ends. Unfortunately we end more or less after a major twist and then the second season spends a lot of time undermining some of the better elements of the first season but I’ll save that complaint for when I get around to reviewing season 2.

This is worth a look at if you are looking for something actiony with a bit of comedy. There’s issues but nonetheless it remains entertaining.

Trickster Episode 11

Review:

The opening sequence of Trickster this week decided to play around with the visuals instead of sound, though I have to ask why there is suddenly some sort of floating base. Anyway, Hanasaki remains an inept main character and not a particularly interesting one. Amazingly enough after Akechi turns up he regrets being a complete tool. Kobayashi is the real star of the episode and I have to agree 100% with this comment.

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Despite that he still shows up at the end quite dramatically and I guess they want us to watch next week to find out how bubble boy can save the day. Once again though, whether any of the ‘boy’ detectives can actually detect is being called into question given they really rely way too much on outside assistance to find anything.

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.

Trickster Episode 10

Review:

This episode kind of defines everything that is wrong with Trickster. We have one of the core cast members abducted by the guy who has been set up to be the master-mind villain and now he’s been taken back to his lair to be brainwashed. That should be an amazingly dramatic episode. Instead we get some half-hearted psychological games that wouldn’t work on a three-year old (but magically work on Hanasaki so what does that tell us about his basic personality other than he lacks one) and we spend the rest of the episode fluffing about with the other members of the detective group who are involved in a case so lame they don’t even really bother to explain what they are doing or why (incidentally it involves a fake haunting and even knocking the building down at the conclusion of that story didn’t make it interesting).

But hey, let’s play some dramatic music and make it all seem like this is really tense. That’s what Trickster does over and over. It delivers lame dialogue with bad timing with characters they’ve never made us care about and then blast us with the sound track as if that is going to make up all the difference.

By the way, I will argue against this line forever.

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Here is me hoping Twenty-Faces was being sarcastic because otherwise this show just got a lot worse.

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.

Trickster Episode 6

Review:

Trickster is continuing to roll along in unspectacular fashion. This week the agency is officially on break from pretending to detect but that won’t stop Hanasaki from finding ways to stick his nose into other people’s business. Mostly what I took away from this episode is Hanasaki is a genuine idiot. Not the kind that acts like an idiot but actually has something going on inside his head, but just an idiot. Prior to this episode, while I found him annoying, I’d always kind of thought that somewhere he was going to show that he’s actually quite smart, but no. Not happening. He really does just fly from one thing to the next without thinking anything through.

We did see some more of Noro (computer girl) and Kobayashi actually smiled this episode but I don’t think either of those count particularly as major developments.

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.

Trickster Episode 5

Review:

And we’re still playing hide and seek in the waterways for this episode of Trickster. Akechi forces more information out of the guy in hospital while Hanasaki finally gets released from school. Meanwhile Inoue tells Kobayashi to save himself and to leave him (which being Kobayashi he agrees to leaving Inoue in a heartbeat, too bad he sends the other back to save him). While there is plenty of running around and action in this episode it is all very by the numbers and the characterisation rarely manages to make you interested. I keep forgetting the name of the computer girl but she managed to get their communicators working again, too bad that it didn’t seem like that was any kind of a help or serve any purpose. She also used the little flying things we saw last week to make a new map, but again, they’d already more or less figured things out before that soe not exactly a saving the day moment. Getting a bit more of Inoue’s back story was probably the real takeaway from this episode and given he’s my least favourite character that didn’t exactly sell me on this.

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.

Trickster Episode 4

Review:

Trickster, I have news for you. Playing dramatic music at the end of an unresolved episode does not make the generic events of your episode anymore compelling or intriguing. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. They finally have something resembling an actual mystery though the whole set-up seems pretty pointless and I’m kind of convinced Akechi’s going to solve it just because he’s Akechi while the other characters are just going to continue to run around and go through the motions. And why are any of the characters surprised when Kobayashi refused to help just because it is the right thing to do? Particularly Inoue. If he’s supposed to be smart he really should have figured out that Kobayashi has built up a very fatalistic facade (or he might be genuinely fatalistic but that doesn’t seem overly likely given how sad he seems most of the time). Anyway, Trickster remains watchable but there isn’t a whole lot else going for it right now.

Trickster Episode 3

Review:

Confirmed that Hanasaki is a really annoying character. That said, his pep and impulsiveness are kind of needed given the characters around him so it makes him tolerable. It was nice to see Kobayashi start to exhibit some elements of a personality besides wanting to die this episode and the case they worked on (while not actually a mystery that we could get into) was a nice backdrop for getting to know how the group worked a bit better – except that they don’t really seem to be particularly good at their jobs and rely heavily on coincidnece. So now that Kobayashi is staying around and we’ve met all the characters, the question is whether or not the story in this show can finally get moving or is this going to be it? While neither good nor bad at the moment, Trickster feels like it could get better but it could also just kind of drift along and go nowhere. We’ll see what happens.

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.

 

Trickster Episode 2

Review:

I’m still intrigued but I’m also certain this show isn’t getting any better so those who didn’t much find the first episode interesting won’t miss much by giving this a pass. Hanasaki may be the most annoying protagonist that I’m watching this season and the mystery this episode was kind of meh but there’s just enough questions around the unkillable boy that I’m pretty sure until I get some sort of an explanation I’m stuck watching. That said, other than Hanasaki I haven’t remembered a single other character’s name. This is staying on my watch list but I’m pretty certain I’ll regret it later.

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.

Trickster Episode 1

Overview:

We have a detective agency and some boy who can’t die.

Review:

I’m going to be honest that this is probably the most interesting first episode so far (though there are still a number of shows to come out). That said, I’m not holding out a lot of hope that this one is going to maintain that level of energy or hold my interest for the whole season (please surprise me, I’d really enjoy that). From the opening monologue (which is your typical woe is me from a kid who is unable to die) the show at least managed to distinguish itself from all the other first episodes I’d watched this week and following that by dropping a robot from a blimp into the town and seeing the fate of the missing dog and I was kind of sold on continuing this series for a bit. The music in this is fairly generic but at least gave it a sense of pace and again, it’s one of the few shows this season where I’ve actually paid attention to the music. In honesty though, this first episode reminds me a lot of the first season on Bungou Stray Dogs (though it doesn’t seem to be trying quite so hard for the laugh out loud humour) and while I’m not going to judge it because of that, I am going into this expecting that it won’t be able to maintain the tone or pace.

 

Trickster is available on Crunchyroll.