It’s become almost cliche now. The moments where in a story where two adversaries are facing off and they are playing mind games with one another that they each tell us their theory on the I know that they know that I know etc, etc. And it can be exciting to see the twists and turns these minds take in formulating a single move (whether to smile at a certain comment, or would that be a give away). It can also be exceedingly dull when neither of the characters are as smart as they think they are and their reasoning is both obvious and infantile.
What brought this up?
I’m rewatching Death Note – for the third time, yes, I know. I know.
I can’t help it. I love the plot. I love a lot of anime but Death Note stands, if not alone than at least a little off to the side of where most other anime stand. There are no epic fight sequences and only a few explosions. No magical transformations and gravity defying leaps into the air. Death Note is a thrilling crime story where both the killer and the detective trying to play the cat stalking the mouse and end up locked in one of the most intriguing mental play-offs I’ve ever watched (or read for that matter).
The difficulty being that the crime begin committed isn’t really a crime. Light has found a book that allows him to kill anyone if he writes their name in the book and can picture their face. The story is told mostly from his perspective though as the story progresses we begin to see more and more from L, our detective who has to catch a killer when he can’t even figure out how they are killing.
Both characters are brilliant, driven and ultimately, both are willing to die for their beliefs. Light believes he can create a better world using the note while L believes that the mysterious killer is evil and must be brought down. Both believe they serve justice (though Light strays further and further from this path as the story progresses).
As the two characters meet and begin to work together to solve the crime there are many sequences where the action halts and the internal dialogue is expressed. Both characters are desperately trying to trip the other character up. Light needs L’s real name and L needs proof that Light is the killer and he needs to know how Light has managed it.
All and all, this series works and it draws me in completely. So what makes this story work?
Clever dialogue, intelligent reasoning and very few holes in the logic behind the story. As long as you can believe that the Death Note can work, the rest of the story works perfectly. Even the rules for how the Death Note works are clearly established and maintained throughout the story. Both of the characters are complex and their development is clear. Light’s transformation as he gives in to the temptation of the Death Note is both logical and yet mesmerising.
The only complaint I would have of this series is the length and the lull in the centre of the story. This is caused when L seems to lose his way and in essence gives up. We all know that if characters sit around waiting for things to happen, the story gets dull.
Have you got a favourite television series that has taught you something about writing?
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