Death Note (2017) is a Netflix original adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same title.
The manga originally ran from 2003-2006 and was quickly adapted into an anime series beginning on the tail end of 2006.
Because of its immense popularity, a string of less-than-stellar live-action versions have popped up here and there, with the newest being Adam Wingard’s American take on the story.
The premise simple: a mysterious notebook bearing the name ‘Death Note’ falls from the sky, and with it comes a set of rules— the most important being “any human whose name is written in this note shall die.”
When the story’s protagonist Light Yagami/ Turner finds this to be incredibly true, he decides it’s within his right to rid the earth of evil by killing off all of the world’s criminals.
Now, as a fan of the source material, I have been seriously waiting for an adaptation since the days when Zac Efron was originally approached to play Light. I genuinely thought that the story was gripping enough to hook an American audience in the way some other anime simply couldn’t.
Oh, you sweet summer child, you…
Let me preface this next part by saying that I believe filmmakers should definitely have some creative licence when approaching a remake. I don’t expect a shot-for-shot adaptation; I try to keep my expectations realistic.
However, while it’s simply impossible to appease an entire fanbase, I’m starting to have a serious problem with studios, script-writers and directors projecting “creative licence” in the form of shitting all over the source material.
Aside from the basic plot and character names, everything that made the original Death Note appealing was transformed into a grossly Americanized bag of clichés. Literally. Everything.
While, yes, the characters (basically) have the same name and roles, this adaption has made them so different from their original counterpart it’s laughable. Light Yagami turn Turner becomes an idiot lovelorn teenager with conscious; Misa turn Mia becomes a methodical death-fetishizer; L becomes a heavily irrational and overly emotional dumb dumb.
After about 30 minutes into this film, I tried to completely take the anime out of it since it was obvious that we were headed in a wildly different direction. Even still, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
The original manga was a psychological thriller balanced upon an intricate cat and mouse game between the story’s main characters. The 37-episode anime saw very few actiony chase scenes, and certainly did not see one being carried out by Light and L. Of course, the movie decided to change up the story, but this was the bread and butter of what made Death Note interesting in the first place. When you remove all of that and replace it with a Final Destination-esque story, you create something incredibly trite.
Pair that with the fact that the story has some seriously blatant plot holes (oh, so ‘Watari‘ isn’t a codename, and he doesn’t have a last name?…) and some plainly bizarre writing (why is he talking about being Kira loudly in common places?), I think that this adaption was a complete and utter misfire.
It wasn’t all bad, though: stylistically, this movie was definitely pretty. It encompassed a glossy neon-noir look that paired well with the film’s supposed theme. Although a lot of the deaths were comical at best, I found myself thinking that the film at least looked nice.
Willem Dafoe was a great and believable Ryuk, even though, again, Ryuk’s motives weren’t very Ryuk-like. Keith Stanfield’s L will also surprise you: despite the criticisms he got for bearing no physical similarities to the original character, he played the character very well. Unfortunately, the story’s most important character, Light Turner, was plainly and undeniably miscast with Nat Wolff.
After finishing this film, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who was this movie for, exactly? Fans? That doesn’t seem to be the case with the bastardization. Teenagers? The 18+ rating would suggest not.
Here’s my main gripe about these anime/ cartoon adaptions that are popping up: they’re only being green-lit by studio execs because they come with a loyal following. Us fans are going to want to see the movie; we’re going to give it free press. I just don’t understand why then, fans seem to be such an afterthought.
I don’t think that the concept, or the lack of action sequences would turn away an American audience. I think that there is a big enough audience (there are dozens of us… DOZENS!) that likes some good, genuine storytelling. That’s not to say the Death Note manga or anime are completely without their faults and nothing should have been changed for the live-action movie, but it was a very cheap move to reduce it to explosions, action chase scenes, and an uninteresting high school romance.
If you’re going to make an adaption of a beloved story, it’s simple: do it right or don’t do it at all.