Otaku USA Magazine
Death Note, Volume 1

Light Yagami, brilliant and diligent honor student, is bored, and so is Shinigami Ryuk. When Ryuk decides to cure his boredom by dropping a Death Note-a supernatural notebook with the power to kill those whose names are written in it-in the human world, Light happens to pick it up. Thus begins the rise of perhaps the greatest serial killer in human history, Light Yagami, aka Kira, as he seeks to cleanse the world of injustice by systematically murdering criminals. But he’ll have to get past L, the world’s most brilliant detective, in order to reign as humanity’s new god. So begins a struggle of giants, the most enjoyable part of the Death Note series, as Light and L circle one another and play endless head games, constantly looking for the opening that’ll lead to the kill.

The first volume sets the stage, which is generally the case for an introductory disc. Thankfully, the series gets going fairly rapidly. Light begins his killing spree within the first episode, and it isn’t long after that until we meet L and the two start their face-off. Lucky that L’s a genius, so he quickly narrows the field of suspects down to Light, sliding into their duel without wasting a ton of time sorting through random mooks. With four episodes on this disc, it gives a nice meaty introduction and satisfying hook to bring you back for Disc 2.

As for the release, it looks well put together. The packaging art looks clean and gorgeous, and the deluxe edition comes with a bonus figure of Ryuk, with other deluxe editions and figures slated for future volumes. For DVD extra content, there are the usual art galleries and textless credit sequences, plus a behind the scenes feature and a director’s commentary on the first episode, both featuring the English localization staff and cast-either a bonus or disappointment depending on whom you ask. Sadly, there are two kinds of commentary tracks: interesting insights into production antics and processes, and plodding affairs that don’t provide any worthwhile information; the commentary here is definitely the latter, with the director spending most of the time simply telling the audience what’s happening in the episode, information best gathered by actually just watching the episode. The behind the scenes feature is much more enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of any of the English voice cast here.

Speaking of the dub, I’m happy to say it’s not as horrible as the online preview some time ago led me to believe. There is a slightly annoying tendency to heavily pad out dialogue even when no mouth movements are visible on screen, rather than allow for pauses, lending a somewhat unnecessarily awkward and rushed feel to some conversations. However, the casting is solid and the voices seem within reasonable range of where they should be. I’m still not completely sold on the dub performances over the Japanese yet, but I didn’t once try to rupture my own eardrums!

All in all, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Viz has done a solid release of a fan favorite.

 [Excerpted from the February 2008 issue of Otaku USA Magazine]