The first episode is great. Then again, they always are. They have to be, or else the series can't bring in enough audience in order to continue.
Aside from the first episode, I also like the episode where Light manipulates Ryuk into locating hidden cameras that were planted by L's men in his bedroom. Light prefaced his request with concern for how Ryuk can eat his apples. Ryuk realized that if there are cameras in Light's bedroom, he cannot eat his apples. And he explained to Light that if he cannot eat apples, his "body will start contorting randomly, or I'll start doing handstands." Light expressionlessly responded, "I'd rather not see that." For some reason, that makes me laugh. No wonder I miss Ryuk when he's not in an episode.
I first encountered Death Note from its numerous fan art and fan comics. I had some vague idea that it's a shounen anime with two guys as main protagonists. Then one day, after seeing yet another fan comic about it, I was intrigued enough to check it out.
Death Note is well-known for a notebook called... Death Note. The main idea is that if you write a person's name in the Death Note, that person will die. Light Yagami's life changes the day he finds the Death Note. The series chronicles Light's use of the Death Note and how he evades authorities. Other reviews describe it as a cat-and-mouse game. And still, other reviews describe it as a deadly game of chess. I think I'll go with the chess metaphor.
Death Note was created by Tsugami Ohba. It started as a manga with 12 volumes. Then it became an anime with 37 episodes. It also spawned live action movies, videogames, and a light novel. It also popularized the notion of a notebook where you can write names of people whom you wish are dead.
Light Yagami is the smartest senior high school student in Japan. He, too, is bored with his life and is disgusted at the crimes occuring in the world. One day, he sees a black notebook and picks it up. It came with instructions explaining that it's a Death Note and how to use it. Light tests it and discovers that it works.
Ryuk tracks down Light. He explains why he dropped the Death Note and that he has to stay with the human who now owns the Death Note. Light then reveals to Ryuk that he will use the Death Note to cleanse the world of criminals and people who cause trouble for others. And then he will become god of the resulting purified world. Ryuk becomes interested and watches Light carry out his plans.
Using the Death Note, Light kills off notorious criminals around the world. The cause of these criminals' deaths is always a heart attack. The public names the mystery killer of criminals as "Kira" and cheer him on.
Interpol takes interest in Kira. Except for the fact that Kira kills off notorious criminals with heart attacks, he leaves no clues. So Interpol brings in the world's best detective, an individual who conceals his identity behind the name "L."
L showed his amazing deductive powers by demonstrating, on live TV, that Kira exists, that Kira is in Japan, and that there are certain people that Kira cannot kill. This infuriates Light, and he vows to find and kill L. At the same time, L confidently declares that he will catch Kira. Ryuk summed it up best: basically, Light and L are looking for a person they do not know, and the first to succeed will kill the other.
Both Light and L have to be a step ahead of the other, and they have to anticipate the other's actions. To make matters more complicated, Light's father is a high-ranking police officer and works with L to catch Kira. Also, Ryuk has powers that can help Light in his pursuit of L, but on principle, he refuses to lend these powers. Oh, and the Death Note has several rules that must be followed.
Then Light, who helped his father with challenging cases in the past, is asked to join L and the police task force to capture Kira. Shortly afterwards, a second Kira appears. Throughout the series, the question is, will Light get caught? And more importantly, do you want him to get caught?
L is a likable character as well. He was originally meant to be an attractive man, but he ended up being eccentric, eschewing shoes, fond of sweets, with dark circles under his eyes, and always sitting on his hauches. I could do without the fondness for sweets. It feels too moe. It's hard to choose between Light and L. But one thing's for sure: when L left, so did my interest in the series. Death Note is defined by the battle of wits between Light and L. Other battles of wits in the series don't match up.
Ryuk is awesome as well. I miss him when he's not in the episode that I'm watching. He looks frightening and endearing at the same time. And I love his addiction to apples and his hands-off philosophy. Every now and then, Light manipulates him to suit his needs, but hey, that's unavoidable if you're hanging around with a person who has a god complex and is feverishly eluding authorities.
Death Note's atmosphere starts out bright and gradually darkens, which mirrors Kira's rise to power. However, I feel like it went on longer than it was supposed to. Again, after L left, the series lost a good part of its charm. Perhaps Ohba realized that and ended the series accordingly.
Let's see... the anime's first opening and ending songs are quite catchy. I don't care for its subsequent songs, though. Oh yes, and Death Note also has the token annoying, cutesy girl in the form of Misa Amane. She's in love with Light, but don't expect any romance in this series. Any romance suggested is not real and is purely for Light's nefarious purposes of becoming god. So Misa-haters probably take satisfaction in the fact that Misa never really gets her man; Light is just using her all along.
If you're not the cerebral type, or if you don't prefer cerebral series, Death Note will probably give you a headache. I had a hard time keeping up with all the twists and turns the first time I read/watched this series. Hell, even now, I don't think I understand all its twists and turns. But the storyline, the epic battle of wits, and likeable main characters made up for the headaches. Now when I come across questions, "Do you prefer Light or L?" or "Do you hate Misa?" I am no longer lost.