The Death Note Musical is extremely underrated. Even fans of the manga and anime have probably never heard of it, which is the biggest injustice there is.
To be clear, this is a review of the complete 2015 English concept album- and is also full of spoilers!
I can’t guarantee all the songs will be included in every live performance of the musical, or that they’ll say the same. I’ll try to keep this short!
The overture encapsulates the ‘feel’ of Death Note spectacularly. It’s a powerful, sinister ambiance accompanied by the sound of ticking- interrupted by a diminishing chord. The chanting starts at around 18 seconds before breaking off into ghostly wails, where the ticking continues in silence until it abruptly stops; mirroring the time running out for Kira’s victims.
Overall, it’s an intense start but a good one.
A very interesting fact about the overture is that, while wearing headphones, the ticking is binaural and feels as though it’s moving around the listener’s head. It really adds to the atmosphere, so I’d recommend headphones for the best experience.
Where is the Justice?
The first real song of the musical, ‘where is the justice?’ Is Light’s expression of his morals. In it, he discusses the flaws of the justice system and expresses his distaste for allowing criminals to continue walking free. It’s a straightforward message about his ideals, made more dramatic.
They’re Only Human
The Shinigami’s song is all about their fascination towards humans, two immortals picking apart mortals’ actions and discussing the futility of their short existences. It’s quite existential. ‘They’re Only Human’ is a little more obviously twisted than the other songs, though without the context of Death Note it’s impressively romantic.
This is where things really get going. It’s the building storm of what’s about to go down; Light has the powerful tool of the Death Note in his hands and is beginning to plan the Earth’s ‘cleansing’ by washing away all ‘human sins’. It’s got clever ties to Where is the Justice? In the lines ‘finally a chance to get a little justice’, as well as the beginnings of the protagonist’s serious god complex.
The song has great build-up, playing like a ballad, really earning the name Hurricane.
Ryuk’s song, ‘Kira!’, explains his decision to interfere with the mortal world out of boredom; only Kira faces the consequences. Ryuk is essentially explaining how Light won’t have any lasting effect on the world, and neither have any other ‘Kiras’; as Ryuk says, ‘the only thing you can change is your name’. It may seem like a strange comparison, but Kira! Feels a lot like a Disney villain song, or even Price Ali from Aladdin.
If you ignore the context, ‘I’m Ready’ could easily be a hit j-pop love song; it follows the traditional j-pop formula. The rapping segment is unexpected but makes it all the catchier, almost like it should be in a DDR arcade machine and not a musical about a Death Note.
‘I’m Ready’ is showing the contrast between Misa’s love for Light, and Light’s epic ballad about justice. The song is literally about her being willing to lend a hand in committing mass genocide against humanity, though…
We All Need a Hero
By far, this is the most ironic and tragic songs in the album. It’s sung by Sayu, Light’s younger sister, who sees Light as a kind hero; ‘a light that’s always burning bright. It’s tonally distinct from all the other songs, upbeat and hopeful. Of course, Sayu has no idea that Light is the monster, Kira.
The Game Begins
Here we have L, the super-intelligent detective, analyzing Kira’s first mistake and trying to work out who he could be and how he achieves his kills. It’s got a subtle nod to L’s theme in the anime, with the piano notes playing at the beginning. The initial opening has a tightly controlled vocal performance that slowly shows more tension and excitement from L. The music is perfect, growing as the song progresses with L.
There Are Lines
Light’s father, Soichiro, is singing about his morals and principles about justice that conflict (unknowingly) with Light’s own; with Light pretending to follow along if only to appear innocent. As Soichiro sings ‘never cross these lines’, Light literally sings across those lines; even though he’s not crossing his own moral code, he definitely goes too far in the eyes of others. Light also skips the line ‘you don’t load a gun, instead of going directly to ‘you don’t close your eyes and shoot’; in Hurricane, he made it a point in comparing the Death Note to a loaded gun. The writing of this track is astounding.
Secrets & Lies
This song really captures how L and Light are essentially two sides of the same coin- they both stick to their own form of justice, and neither cares about morals. Small nods to the soundtrack that emphasizes this includes the use of a piano for L’s lines and a guitar for Light’s.
A fun little detail is L overlapping Light saying he’s a gift from heaven with ‘what information is alluding me’; in a twisted way, the Death Note was a ‘gift from the heavens, just not the nice kind. L at this point isn’t aware of the Death Note’s existence. There’s also the theme of Death Note playing in the background, quietly.
Both characters finish with ‘as long as I get one more shot’; for L, it’s the chance of catching Kira making another mistake. For Light (or Kira, really) it’s the chance to kill again.
Mortals and Fools
This one starts off as more of a gentle song. It’s a blend of Rem and Misa’s inner thoughts about love, and it being only for ‘mortals and fools’. On its own, like other songs in this musical, it would still make a beautiful piece.
There is foreshadowing in Misa’s line ‘love can make you come alive’ and Rem responding, ‘or take your life away, as well as ‘life is for taking’.
L and Light’s duet about being stuck at a stalemate, with an intermission from Misa, is one of my personal favorites. It perfectly sums up the situation they’re both in, with one desperately trying to stay ahead of the other; it really is ‘All or nothing’ where L is searching for evidence against Light. Misa is still trying to get Light’s attention, with her new song being full of ‘private little hidden clues So we can find each other in a crowd’.
I’ll Only Love You More
Misa’s confession song to Light, disguised as an innocent love song, is certainly something. Much like I’m Ready, if you take away the context it could fit in at a concert- but pay attention to the lyrics and you’ll know what and who she’s really singing about.
Here we have Light’s father trying to deny that Light could ever be Kira; ‘Timelines and coincidences Can’t replace hard facts’. He can’t imagine his son being ‘Some insane unfeeling monster, somehow raised by [him]’. However, further into the song, we have him feeling more uncertain with ‘Am I blinded to what my son lacks?’. Light’s father also seems to have a serious moral dilemma about being unable to do the right thing if he is faced with the truth. It’s quite a heartbreaking song because we know Light really is Kira. In some ways, it’s like We All Need A Hero.
Playing His Game
Unlike the previous duets between L and Light, in which they both had distinct patterns, lyrics and instruments, Playing His Game give them the same instruments and lyrics. They are essentially blending into the same kind of person; often they’ll be able to finish each other’s sentences It’s almost as if they’ve given up their individuality to win the ‘game’. L and Light are still trying to outsmart each other, but this time it’s by trying to get each other to let down their guard.
This song borrows Hurricane’s melody for added dramatic effect; like Hurricane, it’s the beginning of the end, this time for Misa. She’s literally living on borrowed time as she refuses to betray Light’s identity.
When Love Comes
This is Rem’s last song; she sings about how love is worth dying for and expresses her peace. She is about to end up sacrificing herself for Misa, as foreshadowed in Mortals and Fools but seems to think that it would be worth it.
The Way it Ends
The music in this is upbeat, with some more digital notes to match L’s theme in the beginning. But it’s about L ‘going through the motions’, realizing something is wrong while under the Death Note’s influence. Light, knowing he was doomed L, comes across as triumphant at first; later as he begins to realize he is about to lose the only kind of friend he has left, the tome switches from triumph to uncertainty. ‘One step ahead but you were with me all the way’ makes it sound like Light really had thought of L as a friend, if only to a small extent. ‘When you wish you had a minute more… a minute more’ feels especially somber as the music fades. The Way it Ends is the last song from any of the characters, which is fitting.
This ghostly final song is much less intense than the Overture. It represents the shift back to normality now Kira (Light) has died; ‘hear now as the world rejoices, shades of grey’ possibly meaning the justice system going back to grey rather than Light’s black-and-white worldview. There’s also the ‘breeze’ blowing through the trees as opposed to a Hurricane. While depressing, it’s the perfect atmosphere for a tragedy.