Would you describe Death Note as a 'power fantasy in social thriller's clothing'?
Those were the words used by Gabriella Ekens, in her review of Terror in Resonance (episode 9), on Anime Network News this week.
She used that phrase to describe Death Note, in order to state why the anime under review was superior, despite some obvious similarities in plot, construct and characterisation.
(Which is making me want to check out Terror in Resonance now!)
It was in quotation marks too, which suggests that Ms Ekens lifted it from somewhere else. Though I don't know where. My extensive search for the source - by which I mean that I looked on the internet for about ten seconds, then gave up when it wasn't in the top twenty search results - has thrown up nothing.
So 'power fantasy in social thriller's clothing' = Death Note, would you concur or does that sound like denigration to you?
One of the reasons why Death Note so captured my imagination was the 'social thriller' aspect. The notion that power is usually seen as such a distant thing, particularly by teenage schoolboys, coupled with a sudden presentment of absolute power and what happens next, that's what drew me in. The fact that we weren't given a black and white notion of right and wrong was another biggie. So much was left for the reader to determine for themselves.
Those initial dilemmas faced by Light put me in mind of something that Mark Twain said. I haven't got the exact quotation at hand, but the paraphrase is - if we knew for certain that there were no consequences, which of us wouldn't kill?
I like to think the answer is 'most of us', but then situations and circumstances float through your mind. And if you had a Death Note in your grasp, wouldn't you scribble down a name or two? If you thought you could avert a war, or end abuse, or... suddenly the list extends into increasingly greyer areas.
That's the appeal of Death Note, to play out our darker fantasies against a what if and maybe world.
Then suddenly it's all about this:
But that's thrilling too! The clash between Light and L (then Near/Mello/Matt and L) belongs in that category where we also find Sherlock and John Watson. It's about a meeting of minds, clues sought and found, red herrings thrown, geniuses trying to thwart each other at every turn.
Which isn't quite the same story as when it began, is it?
I'm not sure that we have the like of the Wammy kids in real life. At least, I hope we don't, because that institution looked like serious exploitation of vulnerable children to me. In fact, now it's ALL about the power play! The thing that attracted me to this scenario - the Mark Twain stance on ethics by peer pressure - is no longer part of the plot.
There ARE consequences for Kira. They come in the shape of the Wammy kids with whomever else each side chooses to drag along. As pretty much everyone states time and time again, it's all about winning the competition and solving the puzzle. Matters of morality seem to slip away entirely by the close of the first arc.
So maybe Ms Ekens is right, along with whomever she's quoting. Death Note is a 'power fantasy in social thriller's clothing', and we can only assume that it was Tsugumi Ohba's fantasy, in which we all merely came along for the ride.
What do you think?