I just got around to finishing off Death Note and putting that classic in my ‘fully seen’ anime repertoire. It had the reputation of even some of my friends who don’t normally watch anime having seen it and hugely recommending it so it taking this long for me to get through when I wrote a post on it back in October is quite a crime, but basically, I watched it all through in sub again as the person I was watching it with in dub, well, it was hard to get any pace with someone else who was pretty busy a lot of the time. At the same time, I raced through No Game No Life extremely quickly because it captured everything I want in an anime (and even some fanservice I didn’t really need) very concisely and like probably everyone else who’s ever watched it, I’m gutted there isn’t a followup season with more of Sora and Shiro defeating everyone in front of them. Obviously spoilers for both series will follow.
There’s something these two have in common. That is of course… that they were both made by Madhouse. But aside from that, there’s another thing they have in common and that’s that they focus on mind games and protagonists who are almost too clever for their own good, that you could almost say have inside information from the author that they use to get an advantage over their enemies. And I’ve figured out through watching and loving these two that that is exactly the sort of unbelievable storytelling I can completely look past because what it tends to gift us instead is incredibly smart protagonists who reason out everything they say and do and always have ways to subvert your expectations up your sleeve.
Death Note may be notorious now for its over-the-top ‘I know that you knew that I was going to do this’ scenes (aha! but you didn’t count on me knowing that you would figure out that you knew that I knew that I knew that you knew) but there is something so ridiculous about it and without it I think it would be a lot harder creating plots that the viewer has a hard time following. There’s something to be said perhaps about the falseness of dressing it all up to appear smart and that that’s not actually what smart people do but that’s hardly the point. Death Note is a head-on battle of minds between Light and L, taken beyond the grave in the latter’s case. In that it takes license to be as over the top as shonen tournaments and completely fulfils its role of entertainment.
And so, when I think of all the gambits, the masterplans, the schemes, the lengths that Light went to to hide his Kira activities and take steps towards becoming a dictator all under the noses of people watching his every move, I think of a twisted genius with always another answer, another trick. A genius for whom it was intense fun to watch for many episodes. And L and Near, the good guys, the ones you should want to catch him, seeing them almost instantly figure out Light’s moves through logistic reasoning but having to wait until the last second to catch him, that was compelling as you never knew when they might have enough to make the move. Indeed, going into the last episode, I was not sure who would win, whether there might be an episode of Light, claiming victory and slowly examining his brave new and dark world and that made the shock of Light seeing his plans and life unravel before him all the more satisfying as he was finally speechless. It had all been wound up so tightly and unravelled in a surprisingly moving way with Matsuda emotional and highly shocked, being the most angry and punishing of the entire taskforce. (side note: I love Matsuda, who doesn’t love Matsuda, he’s so lovable) So Death Note finished well and left me with great satisfaction having seen the mind war between two incredibly smart individuals play out. Two great strategies but one won out.
And, as I said in an earlier post I did on No Game No Life, it was the strategy that Sora constantly demonstrated in the early episodes of NGNL that hooked me and thankfully he did not stop there. It’s a completely different show tonally and visually to Death Note, a comedy with bright pink and orange-hued visuals filling the screen as opposed to Death Note’s drama in a black reality. But the actions of Sora are similar to both Light and L in that he is also a repressed genius who always knows the right way out of a sticky situation and again, that makes him so watchable. So watchable. In addition, the other characters, Shiro, Steph, Jibril, Izuna all rate extremely highly on my cuteness spectrum and so I am big fans of them all.
Most of all though, and although she’s the least ‘cute’, I’m calling her my favourite girl from the anime of No Game No Life, Jibril, because she also has a strategic gaming mind similar to Sora’s and although she was defeated her thirst for knowledge and humorously powerful malevolence continues throughout the rest of the anime. Her introduction episode, ‘Interesting’, is one of the best single episodes of anime I’ve ever seen as she takes a Japanese word association game and turns it into a reality-bending marvel. Sora knows what he needs to do from the minute it sets off (by testing the game with a hydrogen bomb) but the sheer one-upness of this game is incredible. Including the different stages it goes, turning out that the beach and getting the girls naked is not only Sora having fun but it feeds into his plan, it makes it a sheer masterpiece of forward-thinking and strategy that I can only applaud.
And No Game No Life did something like that nearly every episode, never backing down on its stakes, Blank never losing as they claimed and setting them up very well for the next stage which is in the light novels but as I don’t read those I am now very starved. There’s a movie coming out soon. I may just satiate myself with that.