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Death Note Omega Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Death Note OmegaTo change the world you have to do the dirty work.

What They Say:
Light Yagami is a genius high school student who is about to learn about life through a book of death. When a bored shinigami, God of Death, named Ryuk drops a black notepad called a Death Note, Light receives power over life and death with the stroke of a pen. Determined to use this dark gift for the best, Light sets out to rid the world of evil… namely the people he believes to be evil. Should anyone hold such power? The consequences of Light’s actions will set the world ablaze.

The Omega Edition includes 2 feature length films Re-Light #1 & #2, an artbook, and a premium, metallic chipboard box. Contains episodes 1-37.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release certainly delights as we get the original JApanese language tracks here in stereo in lossless form while also getting Spanish, Portuguese and French language tracks in lossless form, which was a real surprise. Combined with the same in subtitled form, the accessibility of this series is certainly up a bit higher. The show is one that works a dialogue angle to be sure and that’s the strong side of the series where it moves between internal and external dialogue along with other forms that are all brought to life with the quirks as needed. But it also works the dialogue and music to make things like eating potato chips absolutely critical and intense, which while comical to think about really does say a lot about the sound design here. Death Note works the intense drama style well and the end result is a strong one for viewers as the mix comes alive beautifully throughout. We listened to the Japanese track primarily and had no issues with dropouts or distortions during playback.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Spread across five discs for the TV series and then feature films on the sixth disc, the show has a really great look to it with the remastering done in Japan recently. Animated by Madhouse, it has a distinctive look as it captures the design of the manga and brings it to life with dark tones throughout. Even during daylight scenes things tend to be more overcast and oppressive, adding to the overall mood. Most of it takes place at night or indoors in order to avoid having to darken the exteriors much and that helps a lot. We’ve seen some of the comparison video shots in motion and there’s definitely a whole lot to like here. Colors are solid with the right amount of intentional grain brought into it to give it the style they want, especially as it shifts to various styles of camera footage. The dark colors here definitely hold up well without any noticeable blocking or fuzziness to distract and the detail for the show in general is definitely really strong, giving it a rich and lived in feeling that connects well with the material itself. While the previous DVD editions were decent enough for what they could do with the format and encoding tools of the time, this edition takes it up a few notches and reveals the quality of the show in a positive way.

The packaging for this release is working a compact angle that’s definitely welcome for those that have a whole lot of discs in their collection. With a slightly thicker than normal case to it, we get a soft slipcover that holds the set and a mini-manga collection. The slipcover uses a good look at Ryuk with his eyes blazing red as he fades into the black background. With the text overwriting everything in a soft form, it has a detailed and engaging look to it that really is striking and haunting, especially with the logo standing out with a brighter grey. The back cover goes for just the omega symbol underneath the wrap. The wrap itself breaks down the basics of the show with a simple premise and a detailed look at wha’s included in the set from TV to film. IT also breaks out the technical well enough and a good but incomplete list of the extras. It’s a little odd with no artwork here to sell it, but it works well enough. I’m still not a fan of how Viz does their technical side since it doesn’t make a lot of things clear though. In the box we get the oversized keepcase that has a great image of Light and L together with the chain/handcuffs that bind them together set against a massive apple, which if you haven’t seen the show may look utterly comical. The back of the cover gives us a haunting look at Light as well as a simple look at what the show is about. It also mirrors the back of the slipcover with the technical side and various logos. The reverse side of the cover is a nice little delight with a very fun and playful image of Misa that I like a lot. While we don’t get any show inserts proper with this set, we do get a really nicely done bound mini-manga that has the first chapter from the original run of the manga, allowing fans to see what the source material is like.

The menus for these releases keep things simple as they’re basically clip pieces that dominate each disc with the screen. The various clips work well to build tension and set the mood as they’re dark in nature like the show, so it achieves the right goal. The upper right gives us the logo, awkward piece it is with the rotated text, while the bottom has a simple strip that has the selections in an easy to read form of white on the belt strap that it looks like while the highlight is that of Shinigami wings. Submenus load quickly and easily, though I found the extras menu a little difficult to read with the font and the greyer look to the lettering. It’s all still easy to use overall and it has a smooth and solid design that fits the theme of the series well.

The extras for this release are pretty great overall as what we had from the original releases all make their way over here. Listed as over three hours of content, there are copious amounts of interviews with the Japanese creative side, some really fun stuff with the English cast, and some solid time with the Japanese side as well. The release is fleshed out with audio commentary material, production art and extras related to the feature films themselves. There’s a great deal of material to dig into for fans of both the Japanese and English side that will really take you beyond the main viewing experience itself.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the twelve volume manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note is a thirty-seven episode anime series that aired in late 2006 and into 2007. Animated by Madhouse, the show worked a pretty intense design overall with a dark and oppressive feeling that helped to take the show up a few notches. When this series first came out, there was a lot of anticipation for it because the manga had been a bit of a phenomenon, especially with some of the copycat real world foolishness that went on. With strong domestic manga sales and a lot of crossover appeal, the property did very well here and did so well in Japan that we ended up with some live-action material as well. And it’s currently still in development for a proper Hollywood version as well. The concepts here are definitely very accessible and that’s a lot of the draw, especially since it’s not too “Japanese” for some tastes.

The premise for the show is one that is really interesting as we get the idea that there are shinigami from another plane that have Death Notes, notebooks where if a human writes a name in it, that person will die from a heart attack. These things have caused trouble in the past but have been mostly limited, more so in recent years since the shinigami have little interest in the world of man as they’re in a real low place where they’re practically sloths. One of them named Ryuk, however, is looking for a little excitement and he drops his notebook into the human world where it lands into the hands of the brilliant young high school senior Light Yagami. And with that one lucky moment, the world changes radically because of it. The moral question is an important one that’s asked at the beginning where if you had the power to kill someone without truly being traced by it, would you? And who would you kill and why?

For Light, the son of a police detective of note himself, he goes through the curious initial process of not believing the rules of the notebook and what it does. When he tries it as a lark and it works that changes everything. His world becomes vastly different as he realizes the scale of what he can do, mostly to seek justice because of that ingrained side of him due to his father. But his world changes even more when Ryuk becomes visible as only those that touch the notebook can see him. While there’s a surreal aspect to this, Ryuk has such a curious charm about him with his appearance, dialogue, and love of apples that he becomes a really intriguing observer in all of this. He’s fascinated by Light as he does things with the notebook nobody else has before. His thought processes has him figuring out creative ways to use it and protect himself from discovery as well. While you suspect that a lot of average folks may have gotten the notebook before and used them in mundane ways, Light takes it to a whole other level.

Light’s progress throughout this is really engaging to watch as he eliminates a range of criminals locally at first and then expands. Within weeks there are dozens dead of heart attacks until he learns of the creativity that he can employ, which results in some disturbing and tricky things happening. What becomes fascinating is seeing how the world reacts to it, giving name to this faceless killer with Kira – essentially a variation on Killer to Japanese ears as they realize that he must be in Japan based on the initial pattern. How the world reacts is something that the show delves into well in the first dozen or so episodes as there’s a mixture of fear and excitement as people see things becoming better as crime drops (literally) while criminals of all stripes are in a panic over it. There are a lot of fans of what Kira is doing and plenty of detractors, but there’s a caution to criticizing too far because it may spur Kira to go further than he has in what he views as criminal.

Not surprising is that a lot of forces are aligned to figure out who he is and stop him. While we get some grim moments early on with an FBI team that’s sent into Japan that gets too close for comfort, the first half of the series is truly focused on the dynamic with L, a mysterious genius that’s kept himself hidden for years while solving unsolvable crimes. L figures out a lot quickly that helps to narrow the focus and there’s a lot to like in his deductive moments. For Light, L provides for a proper opponent to play against in achieving his goal as there’s a real and true obstacle he has to surpass. Light may be somewhat altruistic in his intent at first, to make the world a better place, but once L enters the picture it becomes a lot more personal and his mindset is one that is buoyed by the sense of accomplishment in how he’s changed the world, making him feel like a god. That means he’s more likely to make a mistake, but Light is so damned calculating with how far ahead he looks that the mental chess match that exists between him and L takes an epic feeling here.

With thirty-seven episodes here, Death Note is the kind of series that really requires that episode by episode breakdown to dig into its meanings. I love the concept behind it and what it does but I’m also frustrated by it. I had seen it originally cross the nine(?) DVD releases that came out on a bi-monthly basis years ago and found it engaging but problematic the further it went along. Revisiting here over three days, twelve or so episodes per day, you can see the patterns better and engaging the larger story in a better way. But it also reinforced why the series starts to fall apart for me over time in three different ways. These aspects don’t diminish the series for me in a sense because I love the risks that it takes and that it works some big ideas and questions and really challenges itself and the viewers, but it also left me wishing for, well, a different series. One that was tighter and more focused.

The first problem is that any cat and mouse game will invariably become more complex than it should as time goes on to raise the stakes. It’s one reason I avoid primetime US network shows like The Blacklist and others that play in this arena because it just collapses under its own weight. Death Note has to find new ways to challenge itself between Light and L, one of which involves Light eventually joining the team to investigate Kira while still being investigated by L. It’s a neat angle at first but the further it goes on the more foolish the twists and turns become. The second piece that didn’t work as well for me long term as it did short term was the introduction of Misa. While she shakes things up and adds an actual female character of note that has regular impact and changes the dynamic for a while, it ended up pushing the show in some weird and awkward directions at times as the charade that has to be pulled off simply doesn’t click well. I like Misa at times, but her arc here and interactions with others left me frustrated more often than not.

The biggest problem for me is that the final third or so of the series just became uninteresting. Once L is removed from the picture and it shifts to the dynamic with Near and Mello and we have the five year skip with Light now in charge of the investigation, it’s the culmination of a storyline that is being pushed to the brink. Again, there are fantastic moments here with some great tension to them and I like the minor explorations of how society has adjusted to all of this, but it became so much more complicated than it should be or need be that it became harder to become invested in it. It’s fun to see Light getting caught up in more and more layered and twisted routes, especially as he’s so invested in being a god now, but Near really just comes across as a second rate opponent after L, a shadow that never connects well at all. Again, there are some fantastic moments throughout with great scenes and sequences that ratchet up the intensity and it all comes together strong enough in the way that it has to end.

This set also includes the two Re-Light feature films, which are recut versions of the TV show in theatrical form. The first works the first two arcs of the series while the second film works the final arc. Coming right off the TV series and not being a fan of recompiled shows like this, we didn’t dig into it much other than to double check that they’re actually there. Recut compilation films like these are interesting though to see how much can be removed, the choices made, and the way the narrative is reconfigured to tell the tale so I’m definitely glad that they’re included here.

In Summary:
Viz Media has done a great job here with Death Note in its Omega collection. The series is one that makes for a very solid upgrade here with the Blu-ray side in both audio and video and I love having it all in one tight collection compared to what DVD fans got back in the day. The inclusion of all the extras, a sample of the manga, and the Re-Light moves makes this fairly definitive in my book. The show itself is one that really does warrant a deeper dialogue than a complete collection review can dig into, but I have a real love of the show for the distance it goes and that we essentially get a series where the villain is the lead and we get into his head in a big way, right until the end. It’s a fascinating view of how one could change the world and the lengths one will go to in order to achieve it while losing themselves along the way. And damn if this show didn’t make eating potato chips something that I still view as an intense action a decade later. Very recommended across the board.

English Language, Japanese Language, French Language, Spanish Language, Portuguese Language, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: March 1st, 2016
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 1111 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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