In a first episode that lays out the basic story very efficiently, the main character finds the Death Note, a notebook that allows the user to choose the time and circumstance of another person's death, so long as he knows the face and name of that person. This main character is Light Yagami, a high school student who seems a little bored and a little dissatisfied with the world he lives in. So with the power he discovers in the Death Note, he begins killing hardened criminals in an effort to change the sad state of the world. The pace is quick in Death Note. So quick that by the end of the first episode, I was left wondering where it could go from there.
If it were left at simply that, Death Note might be a stagnant series where the main character kills a few people, feels bad, and repeats the cycle. But this is not the case, as Death Note is centered around Light, who is anything but your typical angsty teenage protagonist. We find very early on that he was not only bored and dissatisfied with the world, he wanted to change it dramatically. When he finds the Death Note, he wastes no time putting a plan into action. He realizes he can not only change the world, but become something of a god among people. He doesn't, however, simply become mad with power. He's intelligent and calculating, and realizes the limitations and the possibilities of the Death Note, and of the world around him. He justifies the use of the Death Note because he only kills hardened criminals at first. He then justifies killing for one more condition: to defend himself against the one person who seems to be able to figure him out. He's an anti-hero who is so dark, so egocentric, and so crafty that you can't help but admire him.
Light Yagami isn't the only character worth following in Death Note. It seems nearly every character introduced brings something interesting to the series. Light struggles with the police and a mysterious figure known as "L" as they investigate the strange deaths caused by the Death Note, and provide a "challenge" for Light to overcome. Light is also followed by the eccentric-looking death god Ryuk. Ryuk always seems entertained by Light, but he claims to only be there to follow Light until he has used up the Death Note or otherwise dies. The dynamic relationships between these three are already interesting by the end of the 4th episode, so it should be entertaining to see where they go afterwards.
The series commands attention visually as well. Even when the action is just Light furiously writing away in the Death Note, creative camera techniques, lighting, and facial expressions heighten the emotional impact. And even though Death Note is a series mainly driven by dialogue and not action, I never felt like I was watching a lot of boring pans over still frames. The strong realistic style and a mix of perspectives are a couple more things that serve to break up any monotony.
The English voice actors do a decent job, but I prefer the Japanese audio either way. My main problem was that Brad Swaile, who plays Light, tends to stay more excited than the Japanese actor. From the Japanese version, I got a better sense of just how cold and calculating Light was because he contrasted the relaxed, and rather bored Light with the outgoing, public persona that Light puts on.
The special features on this DVD are mainly associated with the English production of this show. You get interviews with the English voice actors and audio commentary from the Director of the (North American) English production. I would have liked information about the Japanese side of the production rather than the interviews with the English voice actors, but what you get here is a nice little bonus anyway. I'm not sure if it was because they wanted to avoid spoilers, but everyone seems to speak in very general terms about the show. It's not very interesting for people who have seen the show already. A few production art stills and clean opening and ending sequences are also included as bonuses. Of course, no karaoke is included for either the opening or closing songs. Sometimes I wish production companies would take a cue from fansubbers: fans love extras, and fans love the original source material, so karaoke translations are appreciated.
It was very easy to speed through the first 4 episodes, with each one leaving me wanting to know what could possibly happen next. I wonder how long Death Note can keep up the pace, but by the looks of these first episodes, it's got a lot of steam to run on.