Anime is such an interesting entertainment. Although commonly misunderstood for children’s viewing, the content and insinuated themes are often more assimilated to adults. In fact, there is a lot of anime where children have absolutely no right to watch.
Death Note is one of those animes. Not only does it tackle the debate about vigilantism in a very unique way, it creates an intellectual battle of the minds that little old me struggled to sometimes follow when I watched the series. I was always very relieved when the main character, Light, explained his devious plan at the end of a narrative arc.
Unfortunately, the intricate layers applied to the anime are lost in the American adaptation.
The movie follows Light, a high school student, who comes across a notebook that has the power to end the life of anyone in the world. All the writer needs to have is the person’s name and know what they look like. Light then takes the law into his own hands and starts killing criminals which leads to a criminal investigation after he starts leaving the calling card: Kira. This also attracts detective extraordinaire L who tries to bring Kira to justice.
It has been a long time since I watched the anime, but it’s still easy to classify this film as an adaptation and not a recreation. In fact, there are moments in the film where I questioned if the creators were even taking the movie seriously. I certainly couldn’t.
The movie immediately starts off on the wrong foot with something reminiscent of an 80s high school drama. Light, with seemingly zero interest in sports considering how he runs, is found completing other people’s homework beside the football field. Here we also meet his crush, Mia, cheerleading on the oval. Oh wait. What’s that? She’s smoking? Gosh, wow! But where was she keeping her cigarette and lighter?
The writers do manage to move quickly into the first act turn, which keeps the viewer’s attention. However, the turn is marked by the screaming Light as he realised there’s a Shinigami attached to the Death Note. Screaming is a necessary reaction when faced with a god of death, but the kid flicks between comically terrified and mildly intrigued so often that the reaction has little merit.
The writers did not, however, carry across Light’s intelligence from the anime. Yes, there was a clever turn at the end in how he manipulated his way out of death’s grasp, but that sort of decisive action was all the way through the anime. It wasn’t just when Light considered the notebook, either.
In the anime, I distinctly remember one of the first meetings between Light and L and it was a tennis match. It switched between the conversation and both of the pair’s internal monologue as they tried to fish for information. The closest the movie ever got to this was a scene between the pair at a café which only managed to highlight Lakeith Stanfield’s (L’s) acting ability.
Another strange element was Light’s relationship with his girlfriend, which was the complete opposite to the anime. Misa Amane in the anime had her own death note and was infatuated with Light. Light never returned the feelings and was only ever cruel or manipulative towards her. This created such a strange lead character because the audience wanted him to succeed while also realising that he was a really crappy person. The movie misses this crucial element to Light’s character. I don’t believe you’re meant to like him. In the anime he does what many anti-heroes do, but Light is also almost void of emotion and is solely focused on himself and his power.
I do, however, have to give credit to the comically gory deaths throughout the film. The grotesqueness of the first death caught me completely off guard and created a pretty hilarious journey from then on.
Unfortunately, there’s only more negatives after that. The 80s-techno soundtrack with neon lights created a distracting viewing experience. Especially because I remember the Anime openings generally being centred around hard rock and screamo. And if I get started with the Ryuk problems, this article will never end.
The adaptation of Death Note was created poorly and gave the sense that even the creators weren’t taking this project seriously. The elements that made Death Note an incredible anime were totally removed and the story seemed to be hollowed out of anything really intellectual. Although I found it enjoyable to scrutinise, the film cannot compare to its roots and will most likely be remembered as another terribly done American Anime.
Still nowhere near as bad as M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, though.