Netflix’s DeathNote Review: Falling Flat

Photo: NETFLIX

One of the biggest anime series to come out of the mid-2000s starred shinigami (gods of death), gothic super stars, quirky sweet toothed detectives, and one of the most diabolical anti-heroes ever to grace television. It managed to make apples and simple notebooks absolutely terrifying and asked the question if you were given the power to kill anyone you wanted… would you do it?

Photo: VIZ

DeathNote premiered in 2006 and lasted only through 2007. Based on the manga by Tsugumi Ohba, DeathNote tells the story of Light Yagami, a brilliant high school student and his very special notebook that has the immense power to kill anyone whose name is written inside of it. He takes on the alias of “Kira” and begins a vigilante quest to kill murderers and terrorists all around the globe. But soon, Light finds himself in an epic game of cat and mouse with the elusive and peculiar detective named simply L. Watching Light trying to not get arrested while spending time with his superstar girlfriend and trying to wrangle Ryuk, the shinigami that follows him around, you’ve got a stressful, albeit entertaining, show that left viewers on the edge of their seats.

Even though it’s been ten years since the anime ended, the series still has a cult following that is prevalent at anime conventions, cosplay events, and even, it would seem on Netflix.

The newest incarnation of the DeathNote franchise was released on August 25, 2017 on Netflix and stars Nat Wolff as Light, Margaret Qualley as Mia (Light’s girlfriend), Keith Stanfield as L, and Willem Dafoe as Ryuk the shinigami. It’s received less than stellar reviews bringing in a 42% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes and is being criticized for two major reasons: the white washing of Japanese characters and trying to just cram in way too much in 80 minutes.

The story follows the basic premise of the anime: bright young man finds supernatural notebook and uses it to kill people until a weird detective catches on. But that’s really where the similarities end.

Own Death Note on Blu-ray

Characters

Like any good story, a lot depends on the characters and how they are portrayed and interact with each other.

Light is not the calculating, manipulative character he is in the anime. He’s so evil and diabolical in the manga and anime and in Netflix’s remake, he seems a bit more comical and not nearly as conniving as he could have been.

Photo: YOUTUBE

What was possibly one of the most epic games of cat and mouse ever seen in a story between Light and L was barely a thought in the story line… the characters only barely ever coming into contact with one another much less learning to work together to “try to catch Kira” whom they both knew to be Light. What was once suspenseful is now sped through without too much thought.  You understand where Light is coming from, trying to right the wrongs in the world… but somehow you don’t seem to care like in the anime. A character who was once so charismatic despite his villainous ways is now transformed into just another teenage boy more focused on his girlfriend than furthering the story line.

Photo: YOUTUBE

L is one of the biggest disappointments for me. This character is so iconic with his white shirt, bare feet, long black hair, and smudged eyeliner you can spot him from a mile away. And yet if you didn’t tell me Keith Stanfield was L, I would not have been able to guess it. It’s hard to embody the quirky and yet lovable L and I think Stanfield’s performance (like so many others in this movie) fell flat. For someone who is supposed to be a prodigy, so brilliant that he baffles those around him, L sounded to me like he was just reciting his lines while trying to sound mysterious.

The best part of the entire film was Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, the shinigami, that gives Light the DeathNote. While we never manage to see Ryuk clearly, you don’t have to… what we do manage to see is terrifying and Dafoe manages to bring the god to life in such a shrewd and twisted way. He always sounds humored by the simple humans while his voice just drips with venom. He plays the perfect puppet master hidden in the shadows, always pulling the strings. I’d say it was a pleasant surprise… but it wasn’t. The minute it was announced that Dafoe was going to be portraying the shinigami, I knew he’d be the perfect choice to bring Ryuk to life.

The Live Action Death Note

Story

The characters in the anime brought so much depth to the story and added a heightened sensation of paranoia to the story. You loved seeing Light evade the police but you also found yourself cheering for L: two sides of the same coin bound to fight against each other forever. However, in the Netflix edition, there really was no “game” that Light and L played with one another. They never teamed up, they never befriended one another, and we never got to see that sense of betrayal at the epic climax.

Instead of the story focusing on Light and L, it focuses on Light and his super bitter and angry girlfriend, Mia.

Photo: ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT

Together, they team up to kill who they deem to be evil in the world but eventually the power goes to Mia’s head and she goes to betray Light by trying to steal the DeathNote and writing his name in it. Never mind that in the anime, Mia (actually named Misa) was a world famous super star and had her own DeathNote and shinigami (Rem, anyone?). Instead of them being somewhat interesting and complex characters (okay… maybe not Misa…), we have two shallow teens who are power hungry after years of abuse from bullies. In a way, it really cheapens the story to nothing more than a typical teeny-bopper high school, woe is me, coming of age story.

Photo: FAN POP

And (I don’t want to spoil too much for you just in case you’re ten years too late and haven’t seen the anime yet) but let’s just say that the biggest thing that happens in the entire series DID NOT HAPPEN. The epic game of cat and mouse comes to a pivotal head and we get a plot twist that could live up to those of George R.R. Martin… and yet it is nowhere to be seen in this remake.

The story of the anime questioned what makes a person “good” and “bad” and what it means to be a hero and a human. It makes you question what you would do in such a position of power… sadly, the Netflix version seems to forget that and, instead, you find yourself disinterested in any of the characters and their stories.

Visuals

Where the acting and writing seemed to fall flat in this newest version of DeathNote, the visuals and special effects were exceptionally well done.

Photo: NETFLIX

The creation of Ryuk is haunting and eerie. Taking a demon from the anime and bringing him into “the real world” was a task that the creators and CG artists definitely succeeded with. They made the artistic decision to keep him blurred, in the shadows, and just beyond the frame of the shot, which added a major creep factor to Ryuk. Sometimes, all you would see was his glowing eyes and his shadow looming in the background. His presence reminded you that this was meant to be a supernatural horror story and not a teen romance with some murder thrown in just for fun.

One thing to mention is that this show is most definitely not for children. With a story focused on killing people, they don’t hold back from the deaths whether it’s decapitation, jumping from buildings, or being hit by cars. They show everything in grisly detail and while it seems a bit gratuitous at times, you have to applaud the special effects when it comes to those scenes.

FINAL SCORE
4/10

Photo: NETFLIX

As a fan of the anime from 2006, I found this recreation to be painfully dull, rushed to the point of taking away from plot and characters, and (quite frankly) unnecessary. In 2006, Japan released an almost perfect film adaption starring Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light and Kenichi Matsuyama as L. If you’re looking for a live action remake of the anime, just go to that one. Might as well go to the source if you want something done correctly, am I right?

+Willem Dafoe’s back must be hurting, because he carried this movie.

+Special effects were really well done and didn’t cheapen the story, they enhanced it.

-Acting seemed forced from all actors (besides Dafoe).

-Story was too rushed.

-Characters were unlikable.

-Biggest plot twist and climax from the anime was not included.

Amanda Woomer-Limpert is one of the Geekiverse’s newest writers and has been a DeathNote fan for ten years now. Back in her cosplay days, she may or may not have cosplayed as Misa-chan.

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About Amanda Woomer-Limpert 80 Articles
A former Disney Cast Member slightly obsessed with cats, beards, Star Wars, and all things Disney!

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