Viz Media // 2007 // 130 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // July 11th, 2009
"I'll tell you the story of a human I once knew...one who tried to change the world and become a god."
Death Note, the popular Japanese manga has sprung novelizations, three live-action movies, and an anime series popular both at home and abroad. So what do you do once the show finishes its run and there are no more episodes? You recycle your content, of course!
Call Death Note: Re-Light, Volume 1 a condensation. Call it a clip show. Call it a Japanese special brought to DVD for American fans. Call it a dramatic new retelling of the events from the beloved Death Note anime series from the perspective of a Death God.
I call it a waste of money.
When rogue Death God Ryuk deliberately drops his notebook in the human world, it gets inherited by Light Yagami, teenage student. Realizing the power of the book, which can kill any person whose name is written in its pages, Light vows to purge the world of evildoers and rule the planet as its new god. But Light has a nemesis in the form of L, an enigmatic detective called in to solve the case, and who grows ever closer to determining Light's true identity.
Light and L battle to the end -- but what does this all look like to Ryuk's point of view? Now back in the land of the dead, a Death God asks Ryuk to tell him about his time spent on Earth. Almost fondly, Ryuk recounts the tale about a time when he wasn't bored...
It would be easy to single out Death Note: Re-Light as a shameless cash grab on the part of Viz Media, but one should remember that this is not a particularly uncommon occurrence in Japanese anime. Every anime eventually airs a "special" (translated: clip show) episode recounting the events that led up to current canon. Most even try to spice the proceedings up by adding original animation and new fan service of some kind, and Death Note: Re-Light is no exception. We get a retelling of established events from the perspective of Ryuk, the Death God who comes to Earth and starts the whole troublesome ball rolling by dropping his notebook off at the feet of Light, narrating his tale to another curious Death God back in the land of the dead. Death Note: Re-Light, Volume 1 compresses entire chapters of the story into a lean two hours, cutting and massacring the plot in unimaginable ways, under the guise of Ryuk "retelling" the story to another Death God.
Where I take particular umbrage with Death Note: Re-Light is in two specific areas: it breaks its own rules almost immediately, and it sucks. We shall discuss both in due order.
Breaks Its Own Rules
If these events are supposed to be told from the perspective of Ryuk, then perhaps we will get some interesting insight into the mind of the Death God, some insight into his enigmatic mind. On paper, this is an intriguing idea, especially if we got an entirely new take on the same sequence of events, some matter of profound revelation -- except that none of this happens. Almost immediately, we jump away to events occurring at the police headquarters, where we know for a fact Ryuk is not, because he's with Light in his bedroom. The entire premise of narrating events from Ryuk's perspective, gone, kaput. It's a lie. It's a beautiful lie, but a lie all the same. There is no insight, no observations. All we get is a clip show of events we've already seen, or in a few extreme case, a complete abandoning of the established narrative events, like how Light and L first meet, where Death Note: Re-Light just starts making new crap up.
I've reviewed condensations before. Two good examples of how to this properly are Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig: Individual Eleven, which omit a significant amount of backstory, errant plots, and character development in order to condense the primary story into a bite-sized morsel. Yes, such DVDs are a cash grab and should be immediately identified as such, but if care goes into the editing and in adding new footage interjected in order to cement sequences together that previously had not been connected, they can be useful for casual or curious fans. You can't just randomly go cutting out things, mind you. Without meticulous cut-and-pasting, the narrative would simply implode. That is exactly what happens here in Death Note: Re-Light. We lose everything of importance. One minute Light has the Death Note, the next he is screaming about being a new god and murdering everyone in sight. Why? No time for that. Let's be honest here, people: Death Note only survives as a narrative because of its tense, psychological justifications, the cat-and-mouse games between Light and L, the meticulous procedural investigation trying to catch Kira. Take away those elements, and the show sucks. Massively sucks. Imagine watching Death Note in fast forward. It is awful.
Death Note: Re-Light makes me sad as an anime fan. The tiny morsels of new footage added into this feature are not even close to being worth the price of admission. When ten-year-old kids know how to go onto the Internet and pull all manner of manga and anime direct into their video-enabled portable devices, Viz trying to justify charging twenty-five dollars for a clip show DVD makes me fear for the future of the import industry in America.
In terms of technical presentation, this title is essentially a port from previous Viz versions, with a clean but excessively soft transfer that blurs the image, with muted earth tone palates and wishy-washy black levels. Audio is stereo English dub and Japanese language, with moderate bass response and clear dialogue. A surprisingly competent English dub offers a nice choice for those who dislike the multitasking of reading and listening to things at the same time.
In terms of supplements, we get some garbage Shonen Jump adverts, a small (10 minute) featurette discussing the show with the Japanese cast and crew, and three Japanese television promos -- probably the most interesting feature by default.
Did I mention that the new animated footage is very well done? It is, really. All 3 minutes of it. Hope you enjoyed it. It's all you're going to get on this DVD that doesn't suck.
Honestly, I can't even recommend this for diehard fans of the series. There's nothing here worth your time. Death Note is a fantastic anime series, but Death Note: Re-Light, Volume 1 does it no justice. It only steals your money.
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Viz Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Original Promos
* Official Site