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Death Note – Another Anime Adaptation Fail?


It is starting to look like live action adaptations of anime are about at the same level as videogame adaptations. Meaning they’re all fucking terrible!

I think I went down the list of all the bad adaptations when I did my Ghost in the Shell review. If you want a refresher, check that one out.

The problem with Death Note is really the reason why I can’t stand The Walking Dead series. All the characters are wrong. Sure, The Walking Dead also has bad casting and a multitude of other issues, but what really pissed me off were how wrong every character was written.

Every single character in this American Netflix film adaptation of Death Note is all wrong. Every one of them. Let’s start with Light, our main character. Light is simultaneously our protagonist and our antagonist. He’s Walter White before Breaking Bad existed.

He’s the Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes.

Light is a super genius, with a strong sense for justice. Now in the live action Japanese films, Light is a normal student with a normal family life. Like the anime, he sometimes helps his father with solving some of his cases. His strong sense of justice comes from who he is as a person. There wasn’t some tragic event to help explain why he wants to see criminals pay, he just does. So when he starts to go too far with it, it kind of makes sense for that character.

He mostly does what he does, helping his dad because it challenges him. I honestly don’t think he cares all that much about helping anyone.

In the Netflix adaptation, they made his sense of justice be the fact his mom was murdered in an accident. The one who did it was able to escape justice by buying off the jury.

I think it has a bit more impact if Light really didn’t have a reason for using the death note, other than he just wanted to. Here they try to justify him using it, I guess trying to make the character seem more sympathetic. But the character shouldn’t be sympathetic, he’s the fucking villain.

So now that Light is no longer our villain, who do they use to replace him?

Well! They make Ryuk, the death god, the bad guy. So here is the thing about Ryuk, he isn’t a bad guy. He is mostly just a spectator. He gave Light the death note, sure. But he isn’t forcing anyone to use it. He doesn’t really care, even in the Netflix version he tells Light, if you don’t want it, just leave it alone for 7 days and I’ll hand it to someone else.

But they also contradict that by making Ryuk angry whenever Light refuses to use the book later in the movie.

I can see why it is easy to try and make him seem evil, he looks like a gothic soul devouring monster. But really he’s just this bored god that loves apples.

Now for our third middle finger. They took most of the evil things Light ends up doing and carry it over to a different character, his girlfriend Mia. Seeing this switch was maybe the most frustrating part.

But first some explanation is involved to understand why.

When I compared Light to Moriarty, I meant it. His Sherlock Holmes is L, another young but brilliant detective. He’s set his sights on KIRA, the one taking responsibility for all the accidental deaths criminals seem to be having around the world.

Kira being Light. By the way, all of this is passed over in a fucking montage in the Netflix version. Another giant middle finger. They pass over Light using the book, actually killing people. Again, I think they were trying to make Light seem more sympathetic to the audience. COMPLETELY MISSING THE FUCKING POINT OF THAT CHARACTER!

Also they might have done it that way because it’s only an hour and 40 minute long film. I had my doubts they could do the story justice with only one film, a ton I knew had to get cut. Hell, even the two hour live action Japanese version had to be split up into two films.

So a 90 minute movie just wasn’t going to be enough. Which is also why the film ends suddenly on a cliffhanger. This really needed to be a series. At least 6 hour long episodes would have done the trick. Why they made this into a film doesn’t really make sense. Also considering this is Netflix we’re talking about. They love their series.

The first misstep was making a film and not a show of this, and the missteps that come after it, might have been prevented if this was a series. Though that still leaves us with terrible representations of these characters.

The only time Light really acts the way Light should act was at the end when his grand idea comes to fruition. But the problem is, that should be the whole film. This intense cat and mouse between Light and L. Literally the whole film should have been Light using the book in creative ways to try and get L’s real name.

That’s really the whole plot, Light trying to get L’s name. There didn’t need to be shootouts, police chases and explosions, this isn’t that kind of story. It’s really a chess match between these two characters. And done right that should have been riveting as hell to watch play out. Think back to Breaking Bad when Walter White was going up against Gus, someone who was just as smart as he was.

You never get the sense that Light is on the same level as L. He mostly just comes off as this nerdy kid trying to impress a girl he likes. The only time it feels like the Light from the anime series is at the end, but by then it is way too damn late.

To give you an example of who this character is, he kills his own dad with the death note to remove suspicion off him. It is what defines his character as someone who is able to do anything and everything to outwit L. In the Netflix version the opportunity comes up, but the person who wants to use the death note on him is Light’s fucking girlfriend. His girlfriend!!

They pushed every evil thing Light does onto her. They even make her the one who goes after the FBI agents working the Kira case.

Light does fucking nothing in this movie. I think the most Light does is uses L’s butler to go find out his true name. That’s it! That’s their big chess match. My god this film is awful.

Oh, by the way, in the anime Light wins. He kills L. The bad guy fucking wins. If the people making the Netflix adaptation didn’t have the balls to do this story justice, they shouldn’t have done it at all.

It is accruing to me that if you aren’t familiar with the anime or the live action Japanese adaptations of Death Note, you might be a bit confused with what I’m ranting about.

The plot goes like this, now I’ll be switching back and forth to each adaptation, maybe less of the anime series, mainly because I haven’t seen it since it premiered on Adult Swim many years ago. I did however check out the Japanese live action films last year in preparation for the Netflix film.

Light, a high school student, in the Japanese version he was a college student, I can’t off the top of my head remember what he was in the anime, I believe high school, but really it doesn’t matter.

Light is a bit of a loner, he’s got his eyes on this cheerleader, who seems to want to be doing anything other than cheerleading. She’s your kind of archetypal bad girl character. She’s hot and cool, I bet she even smokes and drives her dead dad’s vintage red muscle car, too. Yes, I’m referencing 10 Things I Hate About You.

This is Mia, the one I was talking about earlier.

In the Japanese live action version Light does have a girlfriend of sorts, but he doesn’t seem to care about her all that much. Hell, in that version he kills her with the death note to help clear his name with L. But also it seems like they are using Mia as a substitute for Misa.

Misa is a pop idol that also has a death note. She becomes obsessed with Kira/Light. She’s also fucking crazy. I can’t remember what happens with her in the anime though. But she helps Light with his fight against L.

The only time we get to see that Light is smart, is when we see him doing other students’ tests for a fee. That is literally the only time we get a sense that this kid is smart.

In the Japanese and anime, they took some time to establish that this character was highly intelligent. In those other incarnations it is also set up that Light helps the police with their cases. This is why later in the anime and Japanese films L invites Light to join the investigation to help capture Kira.

None of that is in the Netflix series, though they did include L being a part of this orphanage that raises the world’s greatest detectives? What? Pick and choose your stupid plot-lines. They remove Light being a part of the task force to get closer to L, but keep L’s idiotic backstory? Why?

The great thing about L and Light is they actually become friends. Sure, Light is secretly trying to uncover L’s true name so he can kill him and L is all but sure Light is Kira, but still the two become close friends.

None of that is featured in the Netflix film by the way.

So Light gets the death note, immediately using it on a bully at school. So here is how the death note works. If you write a name down in the book, that person will die of a heart attack if you don’t specify the cause of death. But really, as long as it is plausible, you can kill that person anyway you want.

Again in the anime and Japanese adaptations, heart attack was the only way he killed them. He’d just write their names down and let the book do the rest. In the Netflix version, they start right off with a decapitation. That’s a bit more exciting to see on screen than someone holding their chest I guess.

The keeper of the death note is Ryuk a Shinigami. AKA a death god. Like I mentioned, he may look evil but really he’s just bored and dropped his death note on earth for some entertainment. Shinigamis have death notes, books they write the names of people about to die.

Ryuk dropped his, letting a human find it, wanting to see what he’d do.

In the Netflix film, it’s kind of the same, but his motivations are more ambiguous. It seems he’s been doing this a lot on earth, just handing off the book to random people. They even included a note someone wrote warning the user not to trust him. Again, I can’t reiterate more, Ryuk has never been the bad guy, making him nefarious is like making Harvey the giant invisible rabbit evil.

Light uses the death note right away on the person who killed him mom. I mean, duh, of course that is who he would go after first, aside from that bully of course.

The interesting thing about the death note is figuring out all the different loopholes. You can delay a death by a few days, even controlling someone. That’s the main thing that interests Ryuk, is seeing the different ways Light can find a loophole.

Of course none of that is present in the Netflix film.

Literally the next morning Light shows the book off to Mia, his crush. And together in a montage we see them killing criminals.

They adapt the name KIRA, meaning death in Japanese but also light. In this passage of time people have started worshipping Kira for everything he has done.

This grabs the attention of L.

L is a weirdo. He doesn’t wear shoes, eats nothing but candy, is about as socially awkward as one can get. But he’s also I genius, using his smarts to go after criminals. He has the same sense of justice as Light but one that hasn’t been corrupted. He’s weirdo Sherlock Holmes basically.

In the Netflix version we first see L investigating a mass murder at some club in Japan. What happened in there wasn’t clear. It looked like everyone just killed each other, even the women who worked there. Good job, Kira.

L eventually figures out that Kira isn’t in Japan. He tracks Light’s location by spotting a few of his first few kills. The kill in particular being the one Light used the death note on to impress his girlfriend. There was a local hostage situation going on and Light stepped in, killing him.

L makes his presence known publicly to Light at a news conference. Mia instantly wants to kill him, I guess Light does too he mostly just wants to stop now. One exciting chess match with the other player instantly wanting to give up.

One rule to the death note is, you need a face and the name of the person you wish to kill. Light couldn’t just write L in the book and expect it to work.

In the anime and Japanese live action versions, getting close to L is the main goal for Light, he also has to detract attention away from himself. I’m not really sure what Light’s goal is in the Netflix version. When L calls him out, it is meant to be this big blow to Light’s ego it’s enough to make Light forget his original goal, killing criminals. Instead focusing on going after L. But in the Netflix version he mostly just wants to stop now.

It’s Mia who sets things in motion, going after the task force, led by Light’s dad.

L suspects Kira is law enforcement because of who gets the death note treatment. So everyone on the team is under investigation, leading to Light being the main suspect. In the anime and Japanese live action versions it was bit easier to suspect him, seeing as Light has helped his dad in the past with catching criminals. It’s also known how smart Light is, so it was kind of a no brainer for L. In the Netflix version I’m not sure how he starts to suspect Light. They set up Light’s dad as bait, if Kira killed him that meant Light might not be the killer. But if he spared his life… that would confirm it.

In the anime, Light doesn’t take the bait and kills his father.

But in the Netflix version, he lets him live. Mia on the other hand was bloodthirsty, wanting to kill him for disrespecting them publically.

They basically neutered Light. No more chess match, no more rooting for the bad guy, no more cat and mouse games. Just have Mia do everything. Even Ryuk wants Mia to have the death note now.

Light figures the only way to get to L is to use his man servant, writing in the death note to go find out his identity. You can stop the death of anyone if you burn the page, but you can only do it once.

When L raids Light’s house, Mia takes the book, writing in it Light’s name. She’ll burn the page if only he gives up ownership to her. All of this happening at the prom by the way. Another fucking cliché.

This is also the only time Light shows some intelligence and ruthlessness. He has to quickly improvise a plan to get out of this situation.

He sets Mia up, using a website dedicated to posting the names of criminals people wish Kira to kill. Light uses it to find people who can help him who he doesn’t care if they die.

So Mia falls to her death, since she was the one who killed the FBI agents working the Kira case, her slip of paper with their names on it is in her home, in one of her books.

L acting unusually emotional contemplates writing Light’s name on the page, killing him. But I guess he stops, I don’t know the film ends after that.

Damn was the film disappointing. They watered down the battle of wits between Light and L, tried to make Light more likeable. But they added a bunch of gore and a hot pursuit scene, so that all for makes up for it. Sarcasm.

If you are a fan of the anime, skip this, you won’t find anything you’ll like here. If you aren’t familiar with the source material however, I don’t know. You might enjoy yourself. You won’t have a clue that the characters aren’t how they should be. So you might not have the same biased feeling going into it like I did.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of the film if you watched it.

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