Thursday, February 21, 2013

Anime Recommendation: Death Note (entertainment, tv, manga/anime)

There's really not much to keep us entertained at this time of the year. It's still too cold to go out, the NFL season is over, February sweeps is almost over, March Madness hasn't begun, and MLB spring training is just barely getting underway. I'm not sure who's getting ready to watch the World Baseball Classic, and the NHL and NBA are in the middle of their grind of a season. I mean, this is exactly why Vince McMahon created the XFL right?

So I'm going to recommend an anime for the coming weekend. For those unfamiliar with anime (Japanese animation movie/series), it's a terrific entertainment medium filled with a variety of genres and amazing stories. I know every one of you loved Toy Story 3, so don't use the fact that it's animated as an excuse.

A few points as to my criteria for choosing this and (future) recommendation(s):
1. Something that is easy for newcomers to get into. Minimal self-referencing and tropes.
2. Something that is easily accessible, available in its entirety on Youtube, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.
3. Something that can be finished over the course of a binge weekend or three. Not something with 150 episodes.
4. Something recent, within the last decade or so.
5. Entertaining. You may or may not feel like you want to recommend it to everyone you know, but you won't feel like you wasted your time watching it.

My guess is I'm mostly recommending this to people who are new to anime, so it's kind of fitting that I chose Death Note as my first recommendation. It is one of the most popular animes of the past decade, helped by the fact that it was actually broadcasted on Adult Swim in the US. The original material was manga (Japanese comics), but in addition to the anime version, they also made a live-action movie of it in Japan. That's how popular it is.

Quick description: Genius high school student finds a shinigami's (think grim reaper) notebook which allows him to control people's deaths. There are moral issues at play, but the real meat of the story is the cat-and-mouse game between the student and the genius detective out to stop him from using the notebook.

One word review: Smart
Much of what goes on is explained through voice-overs from the main characters. Think of it like Dexter. The thought process is deep and detailed, and really, really smart. It makes you want to follow what happens next as they go back and forth. In many ways the series is comparable to the first season of Dexter. The ability to go through the thought processes of both sides will also be familiar to fans of The Wire. I was hooked on The Wire about 3 episodes in. I was hooked on Death Note by the end of the second (half-hour) episode.

Other notes:
1. Death Note is technically a shonen manga, meaning teen/young adult. Think of it like Harry Potter. Adults will find it enjoyable, but this explains why the main characters are so young.
2. The opening and closing theme songs are important parts of the production of an anime. I personally did not enjoy the opening theme that much in terms of how it matched with the tone I wanted from the anime.
3. Semi-Spoiler, highlight to read: Although there are 37 episodes in all, in episode 26 there is a plot device such that I would tend to consider the episodes from there on out to be like a season two or a sequel, and I believe that that is the best mindset with which to watch those episodes.
4. When I first watched it, I watched the English dubbed version on Youtube. The distribution company has since asserted its copyright and you have to pay to watch the episodes on Youtube. You can watch the entire series for free on Hulu, but it will be the subtitled version with original Japanese voice acting. Embedded below is episode 1:

Enjoy! Please watch and let me know what you think!

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