Thoughts on Netflix’s Death Note (2017) from a super fan

I have been waiting for the Netflix adaptation of Death Note for quite some time. When rumours started circulating way back when about Warner Bros. picking up the Death Note license to crate a live-action film — I was filled with excitement.

Ever since reading the first page of the manga, I have been a die hard fan for the story and world portrayed in Death Note. When the anime came along, I lept it up like a dog, hoarding water in their mouth like no tomorrow. I remember counting down the days until the Japanese live-action films released over here, running home to watch them. Hell, my other half and I even named our son Light based upon the series.

In the original anime adaption (and manga) of Death Note, L was portayed as childish with superhuman-like intelligence. In the Netflix version, L is grounded a lot more in reality, giving off a more Autistic vibe than child-like. Image source: MADHOUSE Inc

I think it is safe to say that I am a fan of the Death Note universe. Everything about the original stories, from the pacing to all the twists and turns have burned into my mind as if an experience I have gone through myself. It was my first manga, my first anime and now apparently — my first unpopular opinion.

I extremely enjoyed Netflix’s take on the Death Note universe. I was quite puzzled when I saw the backlash of even the first few trailers. “Boo, whitewashing. Boo, edgy emo kid.” were comments littered all over Death Note related areas of the Internet, many taking the recent Death Note as a personal insult.

To me, Netflix’s Death Note was a faithful remix of the original story that appealed to a new, wider audience whilst also giving fans of the older material something fresh to keep them entertained and guessing until the very end.

Throughout the film, the use of bright neon colours helped give the film an unusual aesthetic that aids in letting the film stand proudly in the unique nature of the source material. Image Source: Netflix

Instead of a cold, calculated strange person, L is now a possibly autistic, emotional but intelligent person. He still has the mannerisms that have made his character loved throughout the Death Note fans but now, he has feelings. He gets angry, he gets sad, he becomes conflicted.

A lot of people online have been moaning that this detracts from his character. As if it is a poor parody of what the character was in the source material. However, I argue that instead, this is a more realistic portrayal of a character that adds depth that was sorely missing in the original run.

Don’t misjudge my feelings, I do feel the “original” L is my favourite out of the two, but I feel that Keith Stanfield’s interpretation of the character takes him away from his borderline superhero design in the original story and turns him into a person that in some alternative timeline of our world could have really existed.

Make no mistake, the Netflix version of Death Note is a different story and a whole different universe when compared to the original. I like this fact but many others wanted a direct port of the original story. Image source: Netflix

In fact, the whole story (ironically) becomes a bit more believable in the Netflix live action version. Funny, I know, seeing as we’re talking about gods of death using notebooks to kill humans. But when you break it down, a super intelligent boy randomly finding a book out of everyone on the planet is a lot harder of a pill to swallow, especially considering his rant to Ryuk early on about how his feelings of the world needing to be cleansed pre-existing him finding the Death Note.

Instead, we don’t get a closet maniac waiting for an excuse to burst out. We get an average person who falls into this life by accident, using past experiences as motivation to use the book to find his twisted sense of justice.

In the run up to the release of the films, the trailers portrayed Light (now called Light Turner) as an edgy, angsty teenager. This immediately left a sour taste in the mouth of the original source material. This perfect student, now turned into a generic nobody. I’m happy to report that in the film, (at least in my eyes) Light isn’t an edge, angsty teenager. He does come across as a nobody in terms of the plot but I think that is why I enjoyed this version so much.

Ryuk in this version is a lot more sinister. Instead of acting as borderline comic relief, he is a menacing presence. My friend pointed out he acts more like Satan, pushing the hand to kill instead of hinting at his true intentions. Image source: Netflix

In the original stories, the Death Note itself was a plot device to compliment the main focus of the story, Light. This time, it feels as if it is the other way round. Light is now the plot device and the main focus is the Death Note itself.

As a fan that has read the mangas cover-to-cover too many times to count and watches the original anime series religiously, I really enjoyed the remixes to the original story. As previously stated, changes to the character of L stuck out as a positive, albeit unexpected change. In fact, most of the story has been remixed, leaving little of the original story and I feel this is the reason why people seem to be so unhappy with this adaption.

To me, it’s perfect. Having read and watched Death Note to no end since my first reading / viewing, it’s nice to not get the same story. There were plot twists I didn’t see coming in this new version, times where I didn’t know what to expect next and each character felt, for once in an adaption, mortal. They wouldn’t kill XX character, would they? There was no sure-way to know which is what kept me watching to the very end.

The original Death Note focused on the conflict between L and Light. The Netfix version seems to focus more on the damage and repercussions of using the book can cause. Image source: VIZ Media

This isn’t the Death Note I’ve been consuming since the initial release. This is a completely different story in a completely different universe. There are elements here and there based on the original story but for the most part, it tells it’s own unique story. And fan backlash aside, I think this was sorely needed.

Trying to watch the original with friends and family, especially those who don’t normally watch anime, there were too many times that plot elements that were staples in anime reared their head, confusing these friends and family, eventually turning them away from the brilliant story underneath. It must have felt like being a party and somebody telling a joke, only for them to not understand the punchline. They feel detached from the dialogue, excluded from the conversation.

The Netflix version does nicely with simplifying the core concepts without losing that special sauce that to me makes Death Note… Death Note. You still have the fight for different types of justice, you still have the suspense of understanding character’s motivations, you still have those moments that amuse out of the blue. Even if plot elements are missing from this version of the Death Note story, the emotions and core messages are still present, loud and proud.

The Japanese live action movies are a lot closer to the source material, acting more of a port of the story as opposed to a new story inspired by the same messages as the source material. Image source Warner Bros.

One thing I do have to make special mention of as well is the acting. I feel Nat Wolff played a convincing Light. Maybe not a good Light Yagami but a person with honest intentions falling deeper and deeper into villains. However, I would be lying if I said that William Dafoe wasn’t the standout performer here.

As soon as I first heard the casting news, I knew exactly what to expect and he did not disappoint. I’m sure if you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, you are imagining exactly what I was prior to seeing Netflix’s Death Note. I am happy to say he met every expectation and even exceeding in parts. He was menacing, creepy, demonic and dominant. This was easily one of my favourite performances I have seen of Dafoe.

I hope the series doesn’t end here. I read prior to the release of the film that there were multiple films planned and I really hope they come to fruition. The writing, in my eyes, was great — the acting was exceptional and the cinematography had plenty of moments which left me super impressed.

I highly recommend Death Note to fans and non-fans of the source material alike. There is something here for everyone. However, if you go in with a negative view, you’ll probably leave with that view intensified. Image source: Netflix

All in all, I am really glad that this version of Death Note exists in the world and now I impatiently hope we get more of this new, alternative Death Note universe. It’s too good to let rot. They have laid strong foundations for a really strong series of films and I can’t wait to see if/how it progresses.

My rating of Death Note 2017: 9/10

P.S — For those who are so angry and personally insulted by Netflix’s Death Note existence, please remember that before the past couple of days this technically didn’t exist as a film. It did not harm your existence then and it won’t harm it now. It does not hurt the Death Note brand to exist and if anything, introduces the same story concepts you love to a new audience that didn’t / couldn’t consume such an engrossing story in it’s original iteration