Who Was 'Death Note' For?

Trying to appeal to everyone, 'Death Note' 2017 misses what made the original manga special.

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Trying to appeal to everyone, ‘Death Note’ 2017 misses what made the original manga special.

Somebody had the wise idea to make an American version of Death Note. Originally slated as Warner Brothers project, the adaptation had a long road to fruition. Director Adam Wingard was really interested in directing the movie, but just as production was about to being, Warner Brothers decided to shut everything down. In steps Netflix to save the day, just as they have countless times recently, to resurrect the movie and provide a platform that a movie that would otherwise not exist.

Honestly, I’m not sure what it is we ended up with. Death Note 2017 takes the backbones of the franchise created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. There are characters that share the same Japanese names from the original including Light, L, and Ryuk. There is even a female character that goes by the name Mia, a subtle change from the Japanese character of Misa. It’s a story about a teenager who is tired of the rules society has placed upon criminals and wants to deliver his own kind of justice.  He does this by unleashing the powers of a magical notebook that Death God has placed in his possession. Of course, killing people indiscriminately even if they are criminals will put a target on your back. Thus, Light has a secretive detective known simply as L on his coattails. Drama occurs and a Ferris wheel collapses then transition into a cliffhanger that doesn’t make sense for any of the characters. It’s a big of a mess to put it ‘lightly’. So, the big question is who exactly is Death Note 2017 for?

Fans of the Manga/Anime

This would be the most obvious group to target with an adaptation. Death Note was an extremely popular Japanese manga—ten years ago. Certainly, throughout the years, new audiences have been shown the hit manga series, that was also adapted into an extremely well-done anime series. The original story is like this new adaptation until it isn’t. It has many of the same cast of characters, but the motivations behind all of them are different. Light doesn’t mainly use the Death Note to impress his girlfriend, it uses it because his kind of justice represents a gray area. He is the perfect anti-hero. He only kills those who need to be killed until it starts getting out of hand.

Light doesn’t mainly use the Death Note to impress his girlfriend, it uses it because his kind of justice represents a gray area. He is the perfect anti-hero. He only kills those who need to be killed until it starts getting out of hand. He is picked by the death god Ryuk, because Ryuk knows he will be amused by Light, due to Light’s cunning and intelligence. Light would not run like screaming for his mother at the first appearance of a death god, he is more curious.

L probably ends up being the closest resemblance to the character as depicted in the manga. His mannerisms are translated to the screen wonderfully by Lakeith Stanfield. It’s just that his arc doesn’t make any sense. In the end, he is looking for revenge against Light? Wouldn’t that make him just as bad? It absolutely ruins the character. Never mind how they changed Mia. Misa was always a bit of an airhead, but she was completely smitten with Light. Mia on the other hand just wants to be famous. Even if that means she is a famous killer. 

Death Note was popular for the chess match between two geniuses, Light and L. The big moments and reveals were all about how they could one up each other. That dueling of the minds is barely in Death Note 2017 and misses the element that really made the original exciting.

Newcomers

This probably makes the most sense for what the adaptation ended up being. Scrolling through Netflix and come upon the title Death Note. That title rings a bell for a lot of people. Since the manga and anime were popular, there have been copycat occurrences of Death Notes at countless schools. It was more prevalent then, but there are still cases of it being mentioned in the news every now and then. Children see it as an opportunity to write some names in a book and wish terrible things upon them. It doesn’t usually go over very well with parents. What newcomers get is a story that is easily digestible, horrible music cues, and a terrifying monster. They will even get a little bit of Whitewashing, which isn’t even Death Note 2017’s biggest problem. Will newcomers really be satisfied by the story? I doubt it, but it isn’t the worst anime adaptation ever.

Fans of teen dramas

Netflix audience really likes teen dramas. It was hard to go on the service without seeing an ad for their hit show, 13 Reasons Why. Death Note 2017 and 13 Reasons Why actually have similarities, the biggest of which is they both deal with controversial topics. Suicide and teenage murder aren’t exactly fun for the whole family. Death Note 2017 hits some other check marks like attractive teenagers, the finale at the school dance, angst, and gruesome imagery. Talking about gruesome imagery…

Fans of Final Destination

In the manga, Light decides to kill his enemies mostly by making them suffer heart attacks. It makes plenty of sense. Over three million people suffer heart attacks each year and it doesn’t make any of cases all that suspicious. Death Note 2017 finds the absolute most gruesome way to kill many of the victims. The first character to die suffers a decapitation, but it is the most egregious sequence imaginable. The camera doesn’t cut away for any of this gruesome action either. This is most likely Wingard’s signature on the film since he previously directed the horror film, You’re Next. With violence like this, it is kind of hard to place the film into any traditional rating. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think this is PG-13 violence and that is the audience that would probably enjoy this the most.

Fans of Willem Dafoe

The most exciting casting that came from Death Note 2017 was that of Willem Dafoe. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of him in this film as Ryuk. It’s as if budget constraints made it so he had to be out of focus for a lot of his appearances. Luckily, there is another opportunity to see Willem Dafoe in a movie this year.

Death Note 2017 certainly won’t please fans that might’ve been looking forward to a Hollywood adaptation of the hit manga. The material has been adapted previously in live-action Japanese films, but those didn’t fare much better. The only way to really get the heart of Death Note is to emphasize the chess match between two exceptionally gifted teenagers. More than the empty killing or death gods, the most intriguing aspect was always who was going to win. Even once the manga and anime decided who won, interest in the series declined. It’s all about the game and although newcomers to the franchise could do a lot worse, the story really shines in how it was originally conceived.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.