A couple years ago, it was announced that Netflix was working on a film adaptation of the classic Japanese manga/anime Death Note. There were…many mixed opinions on this due to Hollywood’s poor track record with live action adaptations of manga and anime (Speed Racer, Dragon Ball Evolution, Ghost in the Shell). Regardless, Netflix pushed forward as director Adam Wingard assured people that he was “staying true to the story’s concept of moral relevance…” but also creating a new interpretation for an American audience.
The film was released a couple days ago and OH BOY are people not happy. It’s a shame, because Death Note is an exhilarating story that’s practically gift wrapped into being a strong basis for a film. So why exactly didn’t it work? Well let’s start with the first reason.
Light Turner is a Wimp
Light Yagami is one of the coolest, smartest, and most intimidating antiheroes of all time. Here’s this high school kid who’s athletic, get’s good grades, and could probably do whatever he wants when he grows up. Then he receives the power to kill anyone with just a name. He realizes that he could rid the world of all evil and become A GOD as he begins a crusade of his own form of justice.
Light Turner is the typical handsome yet friendless loner. His problem is that he’s a total wimp. He has to ask Mia if he can kiss her, he’s ready to put his plans on halt once the cops are tailing him, he actually wants to stop being Kira to run away with Mia, and when he encounters Ryuk for the first time, Light lets out one of the funniest screams of all time (Google it, it’s hilarious). He really only has one clever plan in the end of the film, while the others are mostly Mia’s.
Now that’s the character Light should’ve been like. Mia is incredibly determined, manipulative, and a little power hungry. Tie that in with the fact that she was a popular cheerleader, and you basically have the female version of Light Yagami. A real improvement to the film and a more interesting adaptation would have been to make her the wielder of the Death Note. Light doesn’t have to be a guy and I could see her as the calculating and cunning Light Yagami.
The Fault in our Death Notes
This adaptation has WAY too much emphasis on Light and Mia’s relationship, a relationship that did not exist in the original manga by the way. It’s a major focus of the film surprisingly, and not in a good way. Whenever the two are making out together while writing in the Death Note, it comes across less like two wannabe gods with a warped sense of justice and more like two spoiled brats bored with life who get off on having the power to kill people.
At times I feel like I’m watching a depressing young adult movie like The Fault in our Stars (ironic considering Nat Wolf was in that movie). Because that’s what made Death Note great, right? A tragic romance? I hate to break it to Wingard, but the real reason that Death Note was so great was this:
Light vs. L
Light and L are two sides of the same coin. Light is the traditional handsome protagonist, the guy you’d be rooting for in a traditional story. But he views justice as something to take in your own hands as he kills every single criminal menace. L is a pale, sickly looking individual who is designed to look like a villain. But he views justice as something that belongs to the people and one man shouldn’t be judge, jury, and executioner, values that an audience would typically root for. Their respective character duality makes it difficult for a viewer to root for one over the other.
While both are very different, they share a common belief in justice as well as incredible intelligence and wit. In the manga and anime, these two were always neck and neck with each other. Each one developing a plan to outthink the other only to have it countered with the other’s scheme. It was exhilarating.
Here, we don’t get that battle of wits. While I rather enjoyed Lakeith Stanfield’s interpretation of L, these two never directly go against each other. We see them have a really out of place chase scene that’s concluded by some random person bonking L unconscious, but that’s really their only competition with each other.
An adaptation should have the luxury of being able to make changes from the source material. That’s fine. It’s a different interpretation, so filmmakers should be able to showcase their unique vision and perhaps bring something new to the table. But a cardinal sin in adaptation is not maintaining the core of the story. Light and L’s rivalry is legendary in the anime community, and having it replaced with a depressing young adult romance is really sad to witness. Now having a tragic romance is fine! It just can’t dominate the film more then the core.
And finally, the biggest issue:
So…Light has revealed how he planned everything that happened during the Ferris wheel accident. His father knows he’s Kira. L has found the page responsible for killing all the agents. The cards are on the table. Things have become incredibly interesting at this point. What happens next?
Nothing. The movie ends. I kid you not. Just when the film finally gets you hooked, it ends. We don’t know if Light’s arrested, if his father lets him off free, if L writes Light’s name on the page or if he gives the pages to the authorities as evidence. While this does stink to high heaven, there is a reason. Wingard has gone on record to say that he wants to make even more Death Note movies and this was to serve as a sort of prequel.
To this I have to say where do you go from here? L has the page! He could easily go to his FBI contacts, test the page on some death row inmates and have definitive proof the Light is Kira.
While it was cool to see things like Willem Dafoe playing Ryuk and a different yet interesting interpretation of L, Netflix’s Death Note focuses more on tragic romances and franchise potential leaving it blinded to what made Death Note so great to begin with.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy on the Internet.
So, what do you all think? What were your thoughts on Netflix’s Death Note? Will we ever get a good American anime adaptation? Leave a comment below, and let’s get this conversation rolling. Until next time, this is Xander, signing off.