Death Note Volume 4 Review
There’s menace in the air in Death Note Volume 4, as Light’s labourious plan to ensnare L is finally brought to fruition with the return of Misa’s memory and her reinstatement as the second Kira. From her pen a new spate of Kira executions begins and as L and his team start to investigate how this could happen it is up to Light to make sure he stays one step ahead and deliver his coup de grâce.
Every great anime series has one episode where everything just comes together so well, the writing, the directing, the sound design, to leave a sharp indelible mark on the viewer that raises the benchmark for the series from that moment on. In Cowboy bebop for instance it was Episode 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels, in Death Note it is Episode 25. Tetsuro Araki’s direction of this episode is simply superb, his mastery of montage in particular setting a really haunting tone that drives the drama magnificently. As the episode opens he uses 2 montage sequences to excellent effect, the first eerily sets up a little flash into L’s childhood and establishes the rather sombre psyche of the character at this pivotal time in the story. The second shows Misa as she resumes her work as Kira that is hauntingly beautiful and very dark.
Immediately this imbues a sense of threat into every pore of Death Note, later on Araki uses another montage at a very dramatic time that had me thinking of a similar moment in Ballad of fallen Angels that really had me admiring just how much of an imprint Araki has managed to make on Ohba’s Manga story, because none of these sequences are actually in the original Manga, most of which replace long reams of exposition, and yet all of them fit the series like a big comfy pair of woolly mittens and imply so much more information than Ohba’s words. It’s extremely rare that an anime director manages to improve on a manga as richly designed as Death Note is. So what Araki has managed to pull off here is more than a little impressive, from the aforementioned use of montage, to a sombre exchange in the rain between L and Light and the scene succeeding it that both make heavy biblical references, and Toshiki Inoue’s epic, operatic scoring, and the fantastic art direction that makes effective use of primary colours - most notably reds; everything just comes together perfectly to impress real gravity into the drama that is a little lost at this point in Ohba’s manga because of the aggressive, exciting pace.
This is still mainly Ohba’s work though and as ever it is the methodical plotting that drives Death Note. The way the writer controls all the characters and takes all their interactions and weaves them into a meticulously crafted plot has never been less than impressive. In bringing the chapter between Light and L to a close Ohba manages to excel his usually high standards with how Light’s plan falls into place and how he manipulated and second-guessed each move that L, Misa, and Rem would make. You really get a satisfaction from each plot revelation that you only find in the best thrillers.
As one important chapter of Death Note closes, we have to wait for the next one to commence because most of Episode 26 is taken up by an elongated recap of the story so far. It’s a little strange for a lengthy flashback because there’s not really much in the way of ongoing narration, so it’s a bit like watching a 10minute “previously on...” segment. After the recap we get an impressive segue into a 4-year time jump that establishes a new world order.
I’ve tried to avoid plot spoilers as much as possible for this volume because of the pivotal nature of certain twists that appear right from the start, so I will keep my discussion contained to Episodes 25 and 26, but one thing I will say about Episodes 27 and 28 is that they excitingly take the story into a new direction and there’s a very interesting switch in the dynamics of what is perceived as good and evil within the Death Note Universe. Up until now Ohba has always twisted convention by having the main character play the antagonistic role in the series, and he further blurred the lines by making the Light’s rival L a mirror image of himself. Now the setting of the series takes a twist into a time when Kira’s actions have made a real change across the world and now countries have embraced his executions as the justice of the new world. This creates a delicious twist of irony where the Kira investigation team can no longer count on moral support from the general populace, and they face the real possibility of now being the “bad” guys! All this depth in a series that was serialised in what is essentially a children’s comic!
The DVDThe Death Note anime was commissioned in Japan for 39episodes, and after 24episodes shown in Volmues 1-3, Manga UK have switched to releasing just 4 episodes on a single DVD-9 disc for this 4th volume. The episodes on this DVD are presented to the exact same standards as those in the first volume release, so I will simply quote the A/V section from that review here:
”Presented anamorphically in the original 1.79:1 ratio, this NTSC>PAL conversion looks pretty good. Death Note was animated by MADHOUSE at a higher budget than your typical “longer” series and it looks very slick indeed, it also incorporates computer animation and the hazy shading you tend to find in large budget shows, yet the inevitable digital banding is not very noticeable at all. The series also has a very bleak colour scheme with lots of greys, and while low-level noise is certainly present in the image, it is nowhere near the amount I was expecting. In general the colours are very strong, sharp, natural and no bleed, alas the amount of chroma noise in the image does let them down a little bit, but considering the muted nature of the image it’s hardly an excessive amount. Brightness and contrast levels are very impressive, and detail is good with no noticeable Edge Enhancements. There does appear to be a very fine, ghosty haze around character outlines which isn’t easy to spot, and I can’t decide whether this is some sort of banding effect or a form of composite ringing, certainly there are no other noticeable forms of composite artefacts like dot crawl or cross colouration. Overall though, this is a fine transfer where even the NTSC>PAL ghosting isn’t too distracting.
In keeping with their more streamlined policy towards audio options, MangaUK have provided the original DD2.0 surround audio track and an English DD2.0 surround dub. The Japanese track sounds very clean and is generally quite pleasing. The dialogue is always clear and audible, with no distortion when things get more heated, and the bass sounds solid and forceful when needed. Dynamics across the front stereo soundstage are strong, breathing life into the fanciful sound design, but the rear channels occasionally sound a little flat in comparison to the front stereo channels. Luckily it’s not noticeable enough to cause any concern.
The English track is of comparable quality to the Japanese, with just the dialogue sounding a little quieter in the mix, and ambient noise – most notably room echo – being much higher in the mix, in fact in some scenes they really pile on the room echo to the point of disruption of the dynamics, which is a shame. Optional English subtitles are available, with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall. All on screen text is also adequately subtitled.”
ExtrasAs with each disc in previous volumes, this single disc volume comes complete with the following:
Audio Commentary for Episode 25: Karl Willems is joined by Alessandro Juliani and Colleen Wheeler who play L and Rem respectively. As with previous commentaries in this series, this features some rather dull exposition on what’s happening on-screen and who played the voice of which character, but this episode is strong enough that the trio do settle down into a more engaging discussion on the events and themes of the episode.
English Voice Actor Interviews And Recording Sessions: We join Alessandro Juliani and French Tickner in the studio as they dub the voices of L and Watari for episode 5. This is interjected by interviews with the two, where they discuss their career history and the events of the episode.
Aside from another Production Gallery, the only other extras on this disc are trailers for: Buso Renkin, Naruto: The Movie, Mar, and Bleach.