Death Note Volume 5 Review

L is dead and Kira has reigned supreme, unchallenged for four years. Light is now the head of the Kira Task Force as the new L, but his life is getting more complicated by the day as not one but two successors to L have arisen from Watari’s orphanage: Near and Mello. Now Light has to fight a battle on two fronts: Against the methodical child Near who is heading a US anti-Kira task force called the SPK, and Mello who has aligned himself with the Mafia, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to take Kira down and prove once and for all that he is Near’s superior! Death Note is now on a countdown to the conclusion of Tsugumi Ohba’s epic paranormal thriller.


There are major changes in the dynamics of the show right away in the final volume of Death Note, Light is now in sole control of the Kira Task Force, Near is essentially taking the place of L at the start of the story when he was working independently of the Japanese police, and now we have a 3rd morally ambiguous element in Mello, who through the abduction and ransom of Light’s sister: Sayu, has obtained the 3rd Death Note book. Added into this mix in episode 29 is a new Shinigami named Sidoh, who was the original owner of the lost book that Ryuk tricked the Shinigami King into giving him. He’s now entered the human world to retrieve his book, and quickly learns of the location of Mello and his henchman who has become the official owner of the book. Light meanwhile has also located Mello’s base through the use of Misa’s Shinigami eyes and comes up with a plan to steal back the Death Note and end the threat of Mello for good. Unfortunately for one member of the Task Force, this plan involves one of them obtaining the Shinigami eyes.

Episode 29 is a very dramatic, action packed episode that whizzes by at such a breakneck pace that it’s a little difficult to take in all that happens. It is this episode that really drives home the difficulty Tetsuro Araki faced in adapting 12 volumes of a weekly manga serial into just 37 episodes. In episodes 1-28 he remained as faithful as possible to the manga’s first seven volumes, whilst trimming down the reams and reams of monologues and expositions to make the anime more streamlined. The final 9 episodes (episodes 29-37) had to cover 5 volumes worth of manga, so we see a considerable truncating of the manga’s narrative. This is felt the most heavily in the early episodes of this volume, which have a very unsettled sense of plot dynamics and direction.

We see this see-sawing in Episode 30, which starts off by establishing the social changes that Kira’s new world order has brought about. We see how powerful the exchange of names has become in society, with ordinary citizens of Japan being absolutely terrified of having their names recorded down for even the slightest of offenses. Japan has truly become a nation ruled by fear, and its TV networks now run programmes that push a pro-Kira agenda, with the sleazy director of Sakura TV: Demegawa setting himself up as the main public announcer for the teachings of Kira. In America the US President makes a world broadcast announcement that the US government will no longer pursue Kira as a criminal, stating that because of Kira the concept of War is becoming a distant memory around the world, and most of the world’s organised crime organisations are lying in ruins. With the benefits and repressions of Kira’s new world order effectively stated, we see that there are no longer strict moral rules of what is right and wrong in the Death Note universe. As Light informs his fellow investigators: “If Kira is caught, he is evil. If Kira rules the world, he is justice”, this conflict in a sense means Death Note has become a battle to define Kira, as saviour or devil.


In Episode 31 the narrative settles down into a more conventional cat and mouse duel between Light and Near, sticking pretty much to the formula set when Light was battling L in the first half of the show. So we’re back to crafty schemes from Light and logical detective reasoning from Near. Once again Light makes plans that involve recruiting a new Kira, and Near starts sowing the seeds of doubt back into the Japanese Task Force by announcing to the team that the most likely suspect for Kira is the new L (whose identity he is still aware of). Episode 31 certainly feels like an old friend has returned for a visit in its familiar dynamics, but there’s also a sense of over-familiarity creeping into the narrative after the flashy dramatics of Episode 29.

Episodes 32 – 35 stir things up a little by introducing the final pair of new characters into the story, there’s the man Light recruits as the third Kira: Teru Mikami, and a new “voice of Kira” on TV: Lights University ex-girlfriend, Kiyomi Takada. Mikami is revealed to be a person who is quite similar in nature to Light in his compulsion to deliver justice to the world, but his ideologies are more polarised than Lights so he views the world in absolute black and white, which causes him to become over-zealous in his worship of Kira. Mikami’s introductory scene (which actually takes place at the end of Episode 31) really demonstrates Tetsuro Araki’s effective use of subjective montages, with an extremely stylised sequence that shows the pen is truly mightier the sword as Mikami sets about his work as Kira. Every name written down is performed like a master swordsman slashing his way through a group of wrongdoers, it’s certainly a memorable introduction.

Kiyomi Takada is reintroduced in Episode 32 as an answer to the contrived scenario of Light being unable to make direct contact with Mikami because his own team are now observing his every action very closely, which he gets around by sending messages through Takada. So we have the old familiar set up of Light manipulating a love struck woman, which reminds us of how poor the characterisation of women is in Death Note. Still, at least Takada actually behaves like an adult woman rather than an airheaded girly-child.


More successfully developed in this episode is the characterisation of Mello, the one truly rogue element working against Light. Near is just a pubescent Xerox of L, but Mello has a subtler and more complex character arc, where he starts off as a Light-esque character, the more ruthless rival to the cool and calculated Near, but as his character is more aggressively pursued by Kira he becomes more ambivalent in nature, and starts to understand the true purpose of his role in the three-way battle. I wasn’t very fond of the character when he’s first introduced, as he seems more like an angsty teenage clone of Light, but he did gradually win me over quite considerably.

So we lead into the finale, which takes place across Episodes 36 -37. Naturally I won’t be revealing the details here, but I will say that it is understated in setting, deeply ironic in places, and completely overstated in its dramatics, and Tetsuro Araki really embraces the bombastic nature of Ohba’s writing here and goes completely over the top with the stylisation. It’s a shame that we don’t get the coda that the manga ends with, but it’s an extremely satisfying conclusion nevertheless, and caps off what has been a truly excellent adaptation that should take its place among anime fans as one of the great serialised TV thrillers.

The DVD

I’ve got to give MangaUK credit for releasing the full series in just 5 volumes, offering value for money that you won’t get on R1. The episodes in this final volume 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.”


Extras

We're back to 2 discs now, so naturally the extras are spread across both. Here they are:

Disc 01:
Audio Commentary for Episode 30: Just Karl Willems and Cathy Weseluck, who plays the voice of Near and could also be a voice double for Jodie Foster. Cathy dominates the chat and makes sure the tone is quite serious and sticks to technical comments, both about the recording and the themes of the show. There is some joking about but mostly this is quite a focussed feature and it benefits from that.

English Voice Actor Interviews and Recording Sessions: Cathy Weseluck and David Hurwitz (Mello) are the topics of this interview, most of it is exactly the same as the interviews in every other volume of this show, so it’s quite dull. One thing of note is seeing Karl telling David to redo lines with American enunciation, because his Canadian accent was showing through in the pronunciation of certain words. This is particularly stupid when you consider that Mello isn’t even an American character. He was raised in Watari’s orphanage in England!

Production Art Gallery: Self explanatory.


Disc 02:
Audio Commentary for Episode 37: This time Karl’s joined by Brad Swaile (Light) and Brian Drummond (Ryuk) in a far more jovial commentary that doesn’t really impart any useful information about the show, just name calls and little chats about the recording process.

English Voice Actor Interviews and Recording Sessions: Braid Swaile (Light), Heather Doerksen (Kiyomi Takada), and Kirby Morrow (Teru Mikami) talk about their time on the show and their take on the characters, again this is to the exact same formula as previous interviews, although the actual recording footage is a little more interesting in this one.

Aside from another <>Production Art Gallery the only other extras on this disc are trailers for: Buso Renkin, Naruto: The Movie, Mar, and Bleach.

Overall

A fittingly sensational and tense finale to a great anime thriller, Manga UK have done an excellent job in bringing Death Note to R2 DVD, providing excellent value for money across just 5 volumes despite the extended length of the series.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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