I’d like to tell you about a really popular TV show that I’m kinda embarrassed to admit I hadn’t watched until just recently.
So, there’s a series of murders going on, and we the audience get to see the murderer behind them. That murderer believes himself to be killing to improve the world, and needs to stay free to continue his “work”. In a struggle to maintain a real world existence and a private life of death and killing, the two inevitably collide, but he uses his connections with the police to stay one step ahead of them and live to kill another day.
Plot of Dexter, anyone? Actually, it’s the story of Yagami Light, protagonist of the anime psychological thriller Death Note, who is given a black notebook by a giant goth clown demon and given permission to kill anyone whose name and face he knows. Yes, I said giant goth clown demon, now can we move on please? It seems the kind of power that would make you an unstoppable murdering machine, but luckily there’s a nameless, faceless world-class detective named “L” who’s out to put an end to this man killing all the deadly criminals in the world. The result is a brilliant game of chess, where both protagonists are constantly working to uncover the identity of the other without letting themselves get discovered.
Death Note is a show consistently ticked off on the first fist of anime fan fingers, (by which I mean, it’s consistently in people’s top 5) which is why it may come as a shock to my readers that I’d never seen it before.
And it’s not like I didn’t TRY to watch it. I did, twice. And twice I failed at that first mental leap, the same mental leap you’re presented with in Dexter – sympathy for the villain.
But as any Dexter fan knows, it’s not about liking everything he does. It’s not about going, “Woo, kill them all!” while slathering for blood. It’s a morbid fascination; the way he squirms out of danger is impressive, and you watch so you can be shocked, and to marvel at whatever crazy plan he enacts next.
No, it’s not perfect. He’s a villain, sure, but he does have an irritating maniacal laugh. The whole system of the Death Note notebook rules seems bizarre and contrived (until the rules start to get bent to the “hero’s” advantage). And, as per usual, the intro music goes from bad to worse with super-death-rock-screams and shouts. All this gothic black crow stuff is not the art style of my choice, but it’s a consistent style, and it overlays a twisting, turning, strategic plot. “L” is a brilliant character, and all his quirks make him the most fascinating thing in the whole show.
Watching it, I never knew who to root for, which is a damn good indicator for some balanced storytelling. As a whole, Death Note has to be one of the most original anime out there. And if you liked Dexter, there’s a fair old chance you’ll like this MORE. Yeah, I went there. Watch both and then write me some comments about which is better and why (and go easy on the spoilers!)