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Death Note (Movie) DVD Early Review
By Marc | August 22nd, 2008

Wow, nearly a month before the DVD is released.

This review is spoiler free.

The first movie based on the Death Note manga finally gets an American DVD release from one of Viz’s sub-brands, Viz Pictures.  Being one of Viz’s most popular brands, one would hope Death Note would get a grand treatment, and luckily it is.  Let’s take a look at what is right and wrong with the DVD of Death Note.

First let’s take a look at what exactly Death Note is.  In the movie Light Yagami, a Japanese university student finds a notebook called the Death Note.  Without spoiling anything or going into to much depth, you write a person’s name in the Death Note, and they die.  Light is training in the field of criminal investigation.  He is very intelligent with a strong sense of justice.  So the question to be asked, if you were smart, had a strong sense of justice, and constantly saw murderers, rapists, and people who committed other terrible crimes get off because of privilege, technicalities, or lies… what would you do?

Unlike the manga where Light was largely nuts from moment one, the Light of the movie is largely your average guy at the beginning, and the movie characterizes him as the kind of person you could imagine as a good friend, or even yourself.  Finding the notebook Light takes the alias of Kira and begins to strike down the wicked.

Enter L.  L is the world’s greatest detective.  And along with the police, L believes in the word of law, and that justice will prevail.  Kira has killed men, some guilty in jail, others declared innocent and free, Kira is a murderer who must be stopped.

The easiest way to see both character’s viewpoints is the cover of the DVD, “I am justice”, split down the middle.  They both see themselves as justice, and it is easy to side with either character, both, or to even see the point of the character you disagree with.

If Light’s identity becomes known to L, he is arrested and the wicked may run free.

If L’s identity becomes known to Light, he will die, and Kira will continue to murder regardless of the law.

Hopefully that gives you a good overview of what the movie is about without really spoiling anything.  I absolutely loved this movie and believe it to be a perfect adaption of a manga/comic.  It isn’t necessarily 100% true to how things were done in the manga, but at it’s core it is perfectly Death Note and only changes things to help along the fact it doesn’t have upwards of 1000 pages to tell a story.  If you know nothing about Death Note you can watch the movie and fully enjoy it.  If you are a Death Note fan, you can watch a different take on the story and mythology of the series and smile a little when you notice something that maybe someone new to Death Note might not notice.

That being said, Death Note is the first act of a twofer.  The movie was made as a two parter, so if you aren’t willing to sit through two different movies, it might be best to just move on.  The first movie ends on the perfect cliffhanger with a major change to the status quo, but not leaving you smack dab in the middle of a scene wondering what happens to characters.  The second movie hasn’t yet been scheduled for either a limited theatrical release or DVD in the USA as of the writing of this review, while Viz’s website says news will be coming soon (along with a few pictures and a trailer) for the second movie, Death Note: The Last Name.

The packaging of the DVD is very basic, but with a fun little gag that Death Note fans will get a kick out of.  It comes in a standard black DVD case.  The front cover you can see at the top of this article.  On the back you get three short paragraphs explaining the movie to you.  It lists all the stuff you expect to see on the back of a DVD case, audio specs, a bit about the extras, a few screencaps, along with a few quotes about how awesome the movie is.  One of these quotes I feel I must share, because it makes no sense.  The quote is from ‘Time Out New York’ and is as follows, “Leaving the door wide for the inevitable and welcome the sequel.”  Take it as you will.  When you open the case you get the DVD, which is held in a 6 point hub that vaguely reminds me of Trivial Pursuit, which holds the disk nice and tight, but with only a slight press allows you to lift the disk right out with no trouble.  You also get a single insert.  On one side you get information about some of the cast members, along with who their English voiceover actors are.  The other side is the thing Death Note fans will enjoy, “Death Note: How to use this DVD”.  Riffing the first page of the Death Note in explaining how the Death Note should be used, this gives you three steps on how to use the DVD referring to the person holding the insert as “The human” or “The owner”, just as the Death Note itself would.  To keep the fun, I won’t tell you what the three ‘rules’ are.

Onto the DVD itself.  The video quality of the disk is very good.  The video is anamorphic 16×9.  Night scenes have deep blacks.  Colors are vivid when they should be, as is the picture.  When things should be dull they are.  Some compression artifacts show up, but only if you are looking for them.  There are no video overlays for onscreen text, but more on that later.  There are no noticeable flaws in the video, and it was quite enjoyable.

For the audio you have a choice of four audio tracks.  All four are basic Dolby Digital tracks.  You have English 2.0, English 5.1, Japanese 2.0, and Japanese 5.1.  The 5.1 audio tracks have a bitrate of 384k and the 2.0 tracks are both 224k.  The 2.0 tracks are a bit louder than the 5.1s, but both have good levels all around.  Music comes through nice and loud, and voices are clear.  I look forward to the day we have a Death Note Blu-ray to hear how awesome it will be uncompressed or lossless.  In my opinion the Japanese actors all play their parts very well, both physically and vocally.  I’m not a fan of having live action movies dubbed, but truthfully, I really enjoyed the Death Note dub.  I first saw the dub in theaters a few months back, and honestly, I never had a live action dub suck me in as much as this one did.  Normally with live action dubs voices always sound wrong to me, voices are always so different from the person’s lips that I’m just never able to enjoy it, but with Death Note I really did enjoy it and plan to watch it dubbed again.  I still prefer the original audio for any live action film (animated is a very different animal in multiple ways), but if you like watching things dubbed only, Death Note is the best example of a dubbed live action movie I’ve ever seen.  For those who are fans of the Death Note anime, the same voice actors from Ocean Group are used.  For those watching in Japanese you get a literal sub track (the dub has a slightly different script to make it sound more natura, along with some cursing added for a criminal or two) in a white font with a black border.  The subtitles are very readable, the font is a bit thin, but nothing that will cause you to have issues reading them.  Also (for what I believe is a Viz first) there is a sign only subtitle track.  This track is for those watching one of the English language track to translate signs, computer text, newspapers, etc. that is in Japanese.  The lack of a sign subtitle track was one of the few major complaints people had with Viz’s theatrical showing of the movie, and it is nice to see that after the better part of a decade, Viz has finally realized that maybe they should add them (although I will note that there is a Japanese vocal song once or twice in the film, and no translation is provided for the lyrics in these).

According to the back of the box the disk has five extras.  The first two things are…
Bilingual (English/Japanese Audio)
Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0

We will go ahead and ignore those, since those obviously aren’t extras.

The three real extras listed on the back of the box are.

Director’s Interview
Death Note Anime Trailer
Viz Pictures Presents

Fortunately (or unfortunately) those are not the extras that you get on the disk, so let’s take an in depth look at what the extras actually are.

First, the extras menu is quite interesting and I feel it needs to be mentioned.  The available extras change as time goes on sitting on the menu.  There are three different batches of extras, each of which only stays onscreen for fifteen seconds.  I’m sure whoever came up with the idea thought it would be fun and cute, but it is frankly annoying.  You can’t see the extras choice unless you highlight an apple.  When you highlight an apple you get to see the text of what the extra is.  The problem being that there are more apples than there are choices, and each group of selections only stays onscreen for 15 seconds.  The apples that you can choose are a bit more clear then the others, but still.

The extras themselves are relatively good, but the back of the box is a bit dishonest.  First, the trailer for the anime is frontloaded before the main menu with other trailers, the menu and title buttons are locked during this by the way, so enjoy hitting the forward button over half a dozen times to even get to the ‘trailer’ for the anime.  Second, “Viz Pictures Presents” is not in the menu system anywhere, that is because it is the same extra as the interview with the director, but I need to explain this a bit more thoroughly.  When the movie ran in American theaters, there was a twenty minute documentary about the film that ran when the movie was over.  This is what the extra is, but they have altered it.  Instead of a slightly over twenty minute documentary, they’ve split it into eighteen minute or so long chunklet’s and labeled them as over a dozen ‘interviews’.  It makes the extras look like substantially more than they were, and ruin’s the feel and pacing of what I felt was a very good documentary.  You also have a collection of both Japanese and American trailers for the film.  Then you have a short text profile of the director of the movie.  The last extra is hidden as chapter 21 of the movie (the scene menu only shows 20 chapters total).  It is a short trailer for Death Note: The Last Name.  Overall the documentary and trailers would have made fine extras if not ruined by the documentary being split apart and an annoying menu system.

Death Note is an excellent film and a fine adaption of it’s source material.  I recommend anyone who likes anime, manga, asian cinema, or just a good movie to take a look.  It has well written characters, a deep story that will pull you right in, and is the perfect way to spend two hours.

The Movie: A (A near perfect movie that shows characters you care about, and a story based around showing us more of these characters, which also makes you ask yourself a few questions about yourself and what you would do if put in the characters’ places)
Packaging: B (Standard, good quality DVD case.  Grammar mistake in a quote, along with incorrect extras listed.  Basic features also listed as being special features)
Video Quality: A- (Great Video, a bit of artifacing, but nothing that takes away from the video unless you are looking for it)
Audio Quality: B+ (Audio quality is good with a decent, if a bit low, bitrate for all the audio tracks.  Everything comes through loud and clear, but sometimes you wish for a bit more punch)
English Dub: A (Best live action dub I’ve ever heard, previous dub cast used.  Acting is of a high quality not normally found in live action dubs)
Literal Subtitles: A (A nice clean font that is easy to read.  Subtitles represent the Japanese audio and not the English dub)
Extras: B (Messy extras menu, documentary split apart, not accurate to the packaging.  The documentary is good, and there are a decent selection of trailers, would have been an A even with the menu had the documentary been in a single piece)

Overall (not an average): A (Very good film with a very good presentation on DVD, while the setup and presentation of the extras is flawed, that doesn’t hurt the grade for what is still a great movie with a good documentary about it)

I look forward to the American release of the next Death Note movie, and will no doubt watch both for many years to come.

Screencaps are lossless PNGs taken in VLC.  As always if you have any screencap requests leave them in your comment.

Categories: Anime Review, Movie Review
  • http://www.AnotherMovieGuide.com Rick Boyer

    A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks