Review of Death Note: Blu-Ray Collection

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“You must believe in God, despite what the clergy tell you.” – Benjamin Jowlett

If Death Note succeeds in at least one thing, it is that it has possibly created the most interesting and intriguing character of all anime. This is a big claim to make, but there are so many ways that you could describe lead character Light Yagami: genius, ruthless, draconian, misguided, charismatic, megalomaniacal, psychopathic, influencer, passionate, deadly and godly. It is hard to think of another anime character so complex that they can be described in so many different ways.

It is also hard to think of a modern anime or manga that has attracted so much controversy. While there are some series that have attracted people’s anger because they contain sexual or violent scenes, Death Note has had been through several attempts to ban it in various countries including China and Russia, has been the cause of several school expulsions in America, and was even linked to a real-life murder in Belgium.

The story follows the highly intelligent 17-year-old student Light Yagami, who one day spots a black book falling past his classroom window. After class he finds the book, the “Death Note”, and takes it home with him, reading a set of instructions that say:

  • The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
  • This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
  • If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen.
  • If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
  • After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Light tries the book out and discovers it actually works. After this, he encounters the book’s original owner, a Shinigami (death god) called Ryuk, who was bored and thought things would become more interesting if he dropped it in the human world. Light decides what to do with the book: he opts to use it to make the world a better place, by killing wrong-doers. He wants to make the world free of criminals, where only the good can survive in peace. Thus, Light starts to kill as many criminals as he can, and soon ends up being nicknamed “Kira”, a Japanese corruption of the English word “Killer”.

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When so many criminals start dying all other the world, Interpol gets into contact with the world’s greatest detective, a man simply known as “L”. Using a fake video, L is able to track down Kira’s location to Kanto, and soon Light ends up in a battle of wits with L, as well as the Japanese police, of which his father happens to be a member.

As the story continues, the battle between Light and L intensifies as the viewer tries to figure out what will happen: will Light be caught, or will he be able to discover L’s real name and put in the Death Note? Also, we witness how much Light changes. He starts off a vigilante, and soon ends up becoming almost godlike in his desire and power. Light wants to become the god of this new world, and he is not going to let anyone stop him.

As stated, the main reason for watching Death Note is Light. This is a character that you can look at in so many different ways, and can develop so many different opinions on. One the one hand, he is an egotistical, draconian serial killer with a messiah complex who is responsible for the deaths of millions over his lifetime, and is so ruthless he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. On the other hand, you could argue that because he is trying to kill bad people the ends justify the means. Over the course of the story, Light’s activities cause crime worldwide to drop by 70% and he even manages to bring about world peace. Also, as far as gods go, his abilities seem to be more on show than God’s. Then again, you can argue that while Light is in a way well-intentioned, he is corrupted by his powers and misguided by his own ideas.

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This is also why I think that Light is charismatic. Draco, the ancient Greek lawgiver from whom we get the word “draconian”, was incredibly harsh, executing people for the smallest of offences (e.g., stealing a cabbage), but during his lifetime he was incredibly popular. People threw their coats at him in appreciation – which actually was a mistake because so many people threw their coats that according to legend he suffocated under a massive pile of them.

Similarly, Light gains many followers as Kira, and these are followers that he is able to manipulate to his advantage. In this modern age of “post-truth” politics, it seems as if it is those with charisma rather than political know-how who get into power.

This leads us to the storytelling. Original writer Tsugumi Ohba, along with artist Takeshi Obata, are able to do something remarkable: they are able to take Light Yagami, who is the biggest murderer in possibly all anime, and make him likeable. You sympathise with his cause, because his cause is ultimately to make the world a better place by getting rid of people who are awful, even though the thing he is doing is awful too. Ultimately, there is that bit of us that is a bit like Light, in that at some point just about everyone, whether as a child or an adult, has thought of someone particularly bad and hoped they would die. We all know of sci-fi stories about wanting to travel back in time and kill Hitler; we all wanted to get our own back on people who have committed atrocities around the globe; even during the US election, I bet you there were millions of people who looked at Trump and Clinton and thought to themselves: “Wouldn’t be brilliant if one or even both of these people just dropped down dead, so that the US can have a leader who is actually good”.

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If you were to ask me which character in western fiction Light is most similar too, oddly I would go for a sitcom character: Rik Mayall’s right-wing MP Alan B’Stard in the satirical sitcom The New Statesmen from the late 1980s and early 1990s. B’Stard, like Light, is horrid in so many ways: corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and bigoted. However, B’Stard is also rather likeable, mainly due to what is seen as a lack of hypocrisy. B’Stard was honest about his views. The character is honest when says things like: “I hate queers almost as much as I hate poor people”, or when he once suggested the way to cut NHS waiting lists was to shut down the health service, and he is the only character in all fiction to be proud of the fact he has an incredibly tiny penis and it takes him less than a minute to orgasm.

Again, similarly Light lacks hypocrisy. He obviously has to lie to hide his identity from the police, but as Kira there are no double standards with his brand of justice. If you are suspected of having done something wrong, regardless of your race, gender, sexuality, class or whatever, you are down for the chop. There are those he does keep alive for his own purposes; those people will be due to die later. The main differences between the two characters is that Light is not comedic, but serious in his goals. Also, if B’Stard did exist, his name would no doubt go in Light’s book.

Ultimately, it is up to you the viewer as to whether Light is good or not. Is he a brilliant vigilante righting wrongs, or just a murderer? Personally speaking, I would classify him as an antihero. His goal is basically to improve the world by letting the good survive, it’s just that his way of achieving his goal is so unforgiving in its scope. As to whether I want him to succeed, shockingly for myself there is a big part of me that says: “yes”.

Regarding the rest of this collection, the only extras are two OVA collections which retell the entire series. The quality of the animation is good, there appears to be nothing wrong with the subtitling, and the soundtrack mainly provided by metal acts Nightmare and Maximum the Hormones is great. On the downside, the second half of the series is not as good as the first due to some characters not appearing in it, and depending on whether you are for or against Light, the ending might disappoint you.

If there is any problem with it, it is there could be another Death Note related murder: in the form of a Hollywood adaptation of the series next year, with Nat Wolff playing the role of a character named “Light Turner”. Now, I personally don’t mind them changing the name of the character and setting the story in the USA. That is no different to taking The Seven Samurai, setting it in the Wild West, and turning it into The Magnificent Seven. Yes, there are always going to be people upset that the cast is not made up of Japanese actors and that there isn’t a Japanese actor in the lead, possibly even calling it racist, but by the sound of things, it’s at least a bit better than other manga adaptations I can think of. What I’m bothered about is the fact that L is being played by American actor Keith Stanfield when in the story it is made clear that he spent much of his childhood in England, while his assistant Watari is still being played by an Asian actor, Paul Nakauchi. This seems inconsistent. Surely you should change all the characters or none of them.

The big problem however, is that I cannot think of a decent American adaptation of an anime. If this is the first then that would be great, but I doubt it will, and what I suspect will happen is that more American parents will panic about their kids being corrupted.

In the end, the best thing to do is watch this series and decide for yourself, because it is a brilliant story with so much going on around it.

Title: Death Note
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Crime, Horror, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 1081 minutes

Score: 9/10

The Tatami Galaxy Review

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One autumn evening, a college dropout stops at a ramen stand where he crosses paths with a self-proclaimed deity of matrimony. This odd encounter sends the man hurtling back through space and time to his starting days at college, giving him another chance to find the rose- coloured campus life that escaped him years before. Along with his mischievous friend Ozu, the unnamed man finds himself trapped among the endless possibilities that could change his life as he tries to grasp the opportunity that seems to dangle right in front of his eyes.

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Of the plethora of anime I’ve seen since taking up the hobby almost three years ago, The Tatami Galaxy is probably one of the strangest I’ve ever seen, and I mean that as a massive compliment. In almost every way you can think of, it seems to toss aside any and all notions of conforming to any genre norms or general conventions of anime, which makes for an incredibly refreshing show that will be unlike almost anything you’ve seen before.

The most instantly apparent way that Tatami Galaxy sets itself apart from every other show is with its visual style. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the director of this series, Masaaki Yuasa, who has made a name for himself with other visually unique anime such as Ping Pong the Animation and Kaiba, and The Tatami Galaxy is definitely no exception. This show in an absolute assault on the eyes, using a whole array of bright, vibrant colours and textures that can often change from scene to scene, and a lot of the time even from shot to shot, occasionally incorporating elements of photography and video. It’s very hard to describe, and it really has to be seen in motion before you can get a good grasp of what it’s like, but, needless to say, it looks superb. I always love it when an anime tries to do something different with its art style, something that stands out from the crowd of somewhat samey-looking anime that are around nowadays. As much as I do love some good old fashioned moe, it’s nice to see something new, and it’s certainly something I’d like to see more of. The visuals here are plain mesmerizing and I could probably recommend it purely on the strength of the animation and art alone. The wonderful animation is provided by one of my personal favourite studios, Madhouse, who have produced anime such as Yuasa’s other work, Kaiba, as well as other popular series such as Death Note and Hunter x Hunter. This certainly ranks among the most unusual work I’ve seen from them; however, in terms of animation alone, it’s probably the best. Anime Limited’s release is the first time this show has been available on Blu-ray outside of Japan, and it really benefits from being in HD, where the bright colours can really pop. I honestly can’t imagine DVD doing this show justice, so it’s great to see it finally make its way on Blu-ray in the West.

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The strange, surreal visual aesthetics of The Tatami Galaxy are paired with an equally bizarre story. The general premise of the show is that at the start of the episode, the unnamed protagonist will arrive at college in his first year, and pick a club, with the hopes that it will lead him to meeting a raven-haired maiden and falling in love, but it all goes wrong by the end, and time rewinds for a fresh start at the beginning of the next episode, with the protagonist having no memories of the previous episode, barring some brief recollections. Although the majority of the episodes work as stand-alone stories, they all intertwine nicely with one another, and it’s not uncommon to see events from previous episodes crop up, albeit in slightly different ways, due to the differences in the timeline. As I said before, the stories in the episodes themselves are just as unique and odd as the animation that they’re paired with. What I really like about each episode is how the absurdity isn’t constant, as, if it had been, it probably would have gotten quite tiring. Instead, most episodes begin with the protagonist joining a seemingly mundane club, but by the end of the episode, he winds up in some utterly crazy situation, such as falling in love with a doll, fighting in a ‘proxy-proxy’ prank war or hijacking a blimp. These stories alone would be entertaining enough, but when paired with the Yuasa’s direction and Madhouse’s visuals, they’re elevated into something truly riveting, and you won’t want to tear your eyes away from the screen. It’s just so full of energy and it makes for incredibly fun viewing. Despite the fact that The Tatami Galaxy is a crazy and fun show on the surface, you can’t help but feel there is a darker, more cynical message underneath it all; that no matter what your choices are in life, you end up in the same position regardless. We constantly see the protagonist starting over and over again from the start of his college life, yet no matter what club he joins, he never achieves his goal. Despite this, there is a slightly more uplifting message towards the end of the show that gives some greater depth to everything, and it certainly gives the audience something to think about.

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At the centre of all this madness is our cast of characters, who are also pretty great. The nameless protagonist is kind of a likable loser, and serves as our guide through the weird and surreal environment. It’s nice to have a grounded character to attach yourself to among all the craziness and I think his presence is a major factor in making the show work. In the last two episodes he also undergoes some fantastic and satisfying character growth that nicely caps off the series. Ozu, the fiendish-looking best friend of the protagonist who, in the words of the show, seems to exist to make the protagonist’s life a living hell, is probably the most fun character in the series and adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, which has a great payoff at the end.  The only weak character, in my opinion, is Akashi, the primary love interest of the protagonist, whose sparse appearances and lack of any real memorable character traits make for an incredibly forgettable character. As well as the main cast, The Tatami Galaxy also features a small but very memorable bunch of side characters, my favourite probably being the personification of the protagonist’s libido, the gun-toting, sex-mad cowboy Johnny, who always had me laughing without fail.  

Anime Limited’s release of The Tatami Galaxy is Japanese audio only with English subtitles only, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Not that the Japanese audio track is bad in any way, far from it; every voice actor here does an absolutely terrific job. The nameless protagonist is voiced by Shintaro Asanuma, who has supplied his voice to a myriad of different anime, such as Accel World, Assassination Classroom, Ace of Diamond and Tokyo Ghoul, and is brilliant in his role here, as is Hiroyuki Yoshino as the devilish Ozu. The only downside to the Japanese audio track is the speed at which everyone talks. After watching the first episode, I was convinced I was going to have to watch the entire thing at half speed. Everyone was talking so fast, and because I was so focused on trying and failing to read the subtitles at the speed they were going, I also ended up missing some of the visuals. Thankfully, this did get better after the first episode, becoming much more manageable, but there were still odd moments here and there where I totally missed something because the voice actors spoke faster than my brain could process the subtitles. This isn’t a problem that I think could be fixed, and is certainly not a fault with Anime Limited’s release, it’s just that this was clearly designed for native speakers of the language who don’t have to read along. It is mildly distracting, but I definitely don’t think it takes away from the show, and, as it goes on, you do kind-of get used to it. If anything, it adds to the rewatch value!

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The score for The Tatami Galaxy is provided by Michiru Oshima, who has also worked on the music for other anime such as Little Witch Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist and Patema Inverted, and she produces a wonderful, piano-centric soundtrack that oddly enough really fits well with all the weirdness on screen. I can only imagine how hard it was to score a show like this, so the fact The Tatami Galaxy has such a fantastic soundtrack is really is a testament to Oshima’s talents. The opening is performed by one of my favourite bands as far as anime openings are concerned, Asian Kung-fu Generation. They never fail at producing incredibly catchy rock songs, and have performed openings for shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, ERASED and Bleach. “Maigo Inu to Ame no Beat” is no different, and is an unforgettable and upbeat tune that I loved instantly.  

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Anime Limited’s release of The Tatami Galaxy includes quite a few nice extras on the disc, including Japanese commercials and promos for the show, as well as an interview with the man behind the series composition, Makoto Ueda, on top of the usual clean Opening and Ending you expect. In terms of physical extras, the Limited Edition set includes a set of four art cards and an artbook, all contained in a premium collector’s box. It’s really a gorgeous set, and one that this show very much deserves.  

In Summary

The Tatami Galaxy is an absolute must for almost any anime fan. Its unique and mesmerizing visuals and off-the-wall yet deep story and an entertaining cast of characters make this show a breath of fresh air, and one I can’t recommend enough.

Title: The Tatami Galaxy
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Slice of Life, Romance,
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2010
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 275 minutes

Score: 9/10