L reveals himself to Light and their battle of wits evolves to new heights in Volume Two of Tsugumi Ohba’s brilliant crime serial. Matt Shingleton takes a look at MangaUK’s R2UK release.
As we left Volume One of Death Note, Light’s potato chips + hidden mini-TV ruse ensured that L couldn’t detect him carrying out his Kira killing duties and so the hidden cameras are soon removed from the Yagami household. L hasn’t given up on his suspicions entirely though – or how he puts it: there’s now a 5% chance that Light is Kira based on what they saw with the hidden cameras. That’s a probability that is about to go on a rollercoaster ride in the episodes on Volume 2, as L and Kira take their battle of wits to a whole new level. The big change occurs right off the bat in Episode 09 when Light passes the Tokyo University entrance exam as the top freshman in the year, although it’s a title he has to share with another student named Hideki Ryuuga – who turns out to be L using the name of a famous pop idol. He soon reveals himself to Light, making it all too apparent that the name Hideki Ryuuga is a trick to try and catch Light into revealing himself as Kira; because if he enters the name in the Death Note, the face of the pop idol would unconsciously spring up in his mind.
Just explaining the nuances and technicalities of the psychological tricks L and Light play on each other throughout this volume is exhausting, you can’t help but admire and be completely drawn in by the complexity of Tsugumi Ohba’s writing. For most films and TV series, the use of the terms “exposition” and “contrivance” are usually used in a negative light, but in Death Note Ohba as turned contrivances and lengthy reams of exposition into an art form, with L taking the initiative in his game with Light and constantly applying psychological pressure, and every single action that each character takes from then on out has numerous consequences and ripple effects that have to be closely considered. Tetsuro Araki’s direction continues to perfectly complement the complex and extremely expository script, knowing when to stop the action and linger intensively on the mental combatants and then ramp up the style with expressionistic thought sequences.
We see the games and the relationship between Light and L develop through Episode 10 and in Episode 11 the series really come into its own as an action piece when a second person, claiming to be the 2nd Kira, hijacks a TV station and forces them to play tapes of messages and rules that they want impart to the public, police and the original Kira. The matter becomes more dire for the please when this new Kira exhibits the ability to kill people from their face alone and even one member of the Task Force succumbs to the powers of Kira number 2. This leads to an exciting solitary raid on the station by Soichiro Yagami to commandeer the tapes before they can be played, in what is really the first proper action episode in the series, showing the story can swing from a heavily dialogue-based psychological thriller to action thriller with extreme ease, never missing a beat. The episode is also significant in demonstrating the dire situation the police face when it comes to bringing Light and now the new Kira to justice; and it also offers a welcome break away from Light being the main antagonist.
In Episode 12 the 2nd Kira reveals herself to be Misa Amane, a part time model whose parents were brutally murdered and then the murderer executed by Kira. Since then she has developed an obsession and idolisation of Kira, and when she was confronted by the female Shinigami: Rem, who gave her a notebook. Misa quickly sold half her lifespan to get the Shinigami eyes so she could augment the original Kira, and that gives her the ability to also spot Kira’s identity from sight. The introduction of Misa and the dynamic she brings to the series has been an occasional source of frustration and criticism for fans of the Manga serial. The main problem stems from her complete blind devotion and subservience to Light’s every whim, which not only sees her disregard the life of anyone but Light on numerous occasions, but it also warps her into an annoyingly persistent, bunny boiler type of character who doesn’t really have the intellect to keep up with or understand the deadly game Light is forced into against L. There’s definitely merit to the argument that Ohba portrays women as rather one-note, either clueless or shallow or obsessed individuals, but I also think there’s merit to the idea that characters like Misa are Ohba’s way of satirising the rather chauvinistic attitude Japanese society still holds towards women and how some women do seem to play up to this and certainly Shōnen serials tend to portray some of their female characters.
There is also the fact that Light cannot simply get rid of Misa when her crush on him causes her to make reckless public announcements of their union, as Rem warns him that she knows how long Misa’s natural life is, and if Misa dies before then, she will write Light’s name down in her own notebook. Add to this the fact that Misa is constantly flaunting the rules Light sets up for their relationship and pretty much signposts the fact they started seeing each other around the same time as the second Kira was supposed to have met the first, and you have two female roles who hold a lot of power over the main characters – both directly in Rem’s case, and through stupidity and incompetence in Misa’s. One of the simple joys of watching Death Note are the moments when actions from Misa and L plunge Light into impossible situations and really make him squirm, Ohba may have created a rather malevolent and arrogant leading role, but he makes sure that Light receives enough grief and anguish to keep the viewer satisfied. We see the relationship between Light and Misa commence and develop in the remainder of the episodes in this volume, and from it we see the noose getting tighter and tighter around Light’s neck, as he attempts to juggle the psychological pressure from L with cleaning up after Misa’s sloppy work as the second Kira. Of course, we the viewer wouldn’t have it any other way, because it allows Death Note to remain as tense and gripping as the very best crime thrillers.
Death Note Volume 2 is presented on DVD to the exact same standards as the first volume, so I will simply quote the A/V section of my previous 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.”
It’s always good to see real extras on western Anime DVD release, MangaUK have managed to provide a little more in this department over volume one:
Audio Commentary for Episode 11: Recorded by Voice Director: Karl Willems and ADR Writer: Stephen Hedley, you’d expect having the two guys mostly responsible for the architecture of the English dub would have a lot more to say than you find in the usually vacuous Voice Actor commentaries, but I’ve got to say these two make for even worse commentators! 90% of their dialogue is just boring exposition of what’s happening in each scene with the odd bit of character motivation thrown in for good measure, and to make matters worse, when they do talk about certain characters they completely misread their actions. Near the end Willems does remember to ask a relevant question to Hedley about how he moulds a finished script from the straight English translation of the Japanese dialogue, which warrants a rather brief response. Better than nothing I guess.
English Voice Actor Interviews And Recording Sessions: This is a ten minute interview with Brian Drummond, who voices Ryuk for the American dub, along with comments from Voice Director Karl Willems. As with the interviews in Volume One Drummond covers his entry into the voice acting industry and his opinions on Death Note and the character he plays, while Karl later chimes in with his opinions on Drummond and his work.
The final extra feature on the first disc is a Production Art Gallery.
Audio Commentary for Episode 14: This time it’s the more traditional pairing of English Staff Associate Producer Jiro Okada and Voice Actress Shannon Chan-Kent, who voiced Misa Amane for the American dub. As with the producer/stress commentary in Volume One, the topic of conversation here rarely gets anymore in depth than name-calling the actors who dubbed each character and making little observations about the show, like: “L has eyes like a frog!”. At least they don’t just sit their describing what’s going on in each scene. The commentary for Episode 11 is annoying, this one is just tedious.
English Voice Actor Interviews And Recording Sessions: This time it is Shannon Chan-Kent’s interview alongside Karl Willems and it covers pretty much the same ground as the previous interview feature.
The only other extras on this disc are a Death Note Film Trailer and Bleach Trailer.
Death Note continues to go from strength to strength in Volume Two, with the rapid advancement of the mental war between Light and L and the introduction of the most powerful third party in the form of Misa Amane and her Shinigami companion Rem. It’s definitely a case of “three’s a crowd” for Light as he struggles to stay one step ahead of L and keep Misa in line with a series of Byzantine plans. This R2UK DVD Box Set presents Death Note to the same standards as Volume One and throws in an extra audio commentary to boot, although the lack of any features that cover the Japanese production is sorely missed.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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