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Death Note volume one
voice cast: Brad Swaile, Alessandro Juliani, Brian Drummond, Shannon Chan-Kent, and Colleen Wheeler
director: Tetsuro Araki

183 minutes (12) 2007
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Light Yagami (Brad Swaile), is a brilliant student who is tired of watching the world seemingly fall apart. Ryuk (Brian Drummond) is a Shinigami, a death god who collects the dead in his death note. Anyone whose name is written in the death note will die inside an hour and, unless specified otherwise, it will appear to be from a heart attack.

When Ryuk leaves his death note on Earth, and Light finds it, the two see an opportunity, for Ryuk to be entertained, and Light to do some good. But, as criminals the world over drop dead and the law enforcement agencies scramble to catch the murderer, nicknamed 'Kira', only one man, the reclusive L (Alessandro Juliani) is smart enough to find him. A detective without a face or a name, a killer who only needs a name to do his work, and a supremely bored death god all collide in a struggle for the true nature of justice.

Death Note is, from the get go, a phenomenally intelligent and unusual series. The premise is both simple and completely enthralling; what would you do, if you could kill with total impunity? The way the series explores this concept is fascinating as Light, initially, is presented as a hero. He's a smart, kind, and civic-minded young man who looks at the havoc that crime wreaks on the world, and by implication on his father, a senior police officer, and embraces the death note as a means of making things better, for everyone.

But at the same time, he's a murderer. A mass murderer in fact, and as the series goes on, Light's casual, callous manipulation of those around him, even as the splendidly laconic Ryuk is manipulating him, is both fascinating and unsettling to watch. He is, in many ways, the living embodiment of the 'absolute power corrupts absolutely' maxim, and there's something almost Shakespearean about the battle of wits between him and L.

L, voiced by Alessandro Juliani of Battlestar Galactica is a more distant figure in this first volume, glimpsed and heard more than actively seen. A relentlessly perceptive figure he, in many ways, is Light's counterpart, a young man who found a more altruistic outlet for his intelligence. He's also a very credible threat, closing in on L to a surprising degree within the first three episodes.

Together with the nightmarish clown-like Ryuk, the two of them are at the centre of a series that's as subtle and intelligent as it is unsettling. This is one part character drama, one part crime story, one part horror, and the animation and direction only highlight the tense, almost intimate nature of the two men's relationship. Fascinating, intelligent, dark and surprising, this is anime at its very best.

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